18 jun. 2007


Catalpa with a skirt
of fluted ivory bloom

oblivious to dandelion
globe to reach stars

robin intent succulent
& loam-pulsing worm




But kilter askance snow is just
when mounded time
left over from when it was visible

Still around and nothing doing
you can't put it back into motion lacking
poem that in its stillest drops
never stops



What is your version, raking hay, reading law
In turret, transferring documenta?

What is origin of miscellany, misdemeanour,

from whence doggerel?

Whose profile is margin

where small animals lie, toad, minnow, book of Saints,

In the first poem, there the guiding idea that precise, objective observation of nature and careful choice of words are paramount. The poetic "subject" is in the background. Yet this is ultimately a paysage moralisé. The catalpa tree is personified as an aspiring organism indifferent to the humble dandelion weeds. The ideas are in the things, but they are very prominent as ideas.

The poem seems to ask for a certain kind of "close reading." For example, the words "skirt, fluted, ivory" suggest a woman, a musical instrument, and an elephant. There is a metonymic spill-over that you might want your students to notice. Language is compressed but still very clear.

In the second poem, the snow, in its dual states (falling/fallen) is the analogue of the creative process. The words "kilter" and "askance" point to other usages of those words, not other objects in the world. "Kilter is usually only found in the phrases "out of kilter" and "off kilter," but there is no such thing as a "kilter." Similarly with "askance," which is only used in the phrase "look askance" at something/someone. The effect of "kilter askance snow" is to suggest an altered state of perception of the object in question, bringing into play notions of equilibrium and slant/bias. Notice how (a) uses a short-hand, minimal syntax but is still perfectly understandable, whereas (b) requires a little more effort.

There is also a different idea of how the poem should look as a finished product. (a) is meant to be engraved in stone. (b) reads like an entry in a notebook. Smoothing out the rough edges would destroy it.

Finally, we have a poet for whom the external world does not weigh as heavily. The physical objects are props in the poet's mental theater. The result is a kind of ethereal, "floating" style, more similar to (b) in its subjectivism, but echoing the deliberate elegance of (a). There is pleasant preciosity here, as in (a). The implied narrative in (c) is a little harder to grasp, even though the syntactic flow is less jagged.

In each case, the choice to write this way and not that way is palpable in every word, every punctuation mark. You would not confuse poet (a) with poet (b) or (c). It's not just the style that's individuated, but the entire approach to language, self, and world. It's not that their language expresses a world view, but that the poem instantiates an attitude toward this complex triangle, a theory of what poetry is supposed to do.

You might prefer (a), (b), or (c) or none of the above. These aren't the only three ways of writing, but three among many, many aesthetic options available at any given time.

NOTE: Authors are revealed in the first comment if they are not obvious to you.

1 comentario:

Jonathan dijo...

Ronald Johnson, Clark Coolidge, Barbarra Guest.