Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wartime recurrence

In mathematics, it is not unusual to define an entity using a recurrence relation. 
For example, in defining powers of a positive integer:
       The 2nd power of  7  may be defined as  7  x  71 ;
               the 3rd power of  7  may be defined as  7  times  72
              and the 4th power is  7  times  73,
              and, in general, for any positive integer n,  7n+1  =  7  x  7n

Several weeks ago I attended a reading of fine poetry here in Silver Spring at the Nora School  -- a reading that featured DC-area poets Judith Bowles, Luther Jett, and David McAleavey.  I was delighted to hear in "Recessional" -- one of the poems presented that evening by Jett -- the mathematical pattern of recurrence, building stepwise  with a potentially infinite number of steps (as with the powers of 7, above) into a powerful poem.  I include it below:  

        Recessional      by W. Luther Jett

        A man is writing a poem
        on a very dark night
        in a time of war
        as planes fly over his head.

        He intends it to be a sonnet
        but the meter isn't right,
        so he settles for free verse
        and keeps writing.

        And as he writes, he becomes
        conscious of another man
        who is also writing a poem
        in the middle of a war-torn night.

        And with an awareness verging
        on vertigo, he realizes
        that the poem the other man
        is writing is about him.

        Indeed, it is about him writing
        poetry on a dark night,
        and how he--the first man--
        is a poem inside another poem.

        And the man writing about him
        is also a poem, being
        written by a third man
        on a dark night in wartime.

        And it becomes clear--
        as clear as things can become
        in times of war--that the third
        man is also a poem.

        The third man is a poem
        being written by a fourth man,
        and there are poems within poems,
        an infinite recessional.

        All these poems, being written
        by men who are, themselves,
        poems within poems
        being written by other men.

        And this is when the first man
        understands that if he is a poem
        within a poem within a poem,
        then it is all one poem.

        One poem with infinite verses
        being written with infinite hands
        on infinite nights in a time
        of infinite war.

        And with a clarity that is
        only possible when one realizes
        that one is a poem inside
        a poem the man begins to write:

        “A man is writing a poem
        on a very dark night
        in a time of war
        as planes fly over his head ....”

This poem by Marylander W. Luther Jett first appeared in The Wartime Issue (Spring 2006)  of Beltway Poetry, a quarterly online journal edited by Kim Roberts.  

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