Tuesday, January 3, 2006

TED BURKE, like it or not

Slate's first poem for 2006 , "Indwelling" by Teresa Cader, is in keeping with poetry editor Robert Pinsky's preference for offering up spikier, less concentrated poems for the readers. Even though I'm often critical of his selections, I hand it to him for forcing the interested readers to think a little harder when coping with what a poet is trying to say. It keeps the mold off. There is a bit of the Bible and not a little of Ginsberg's Howl [www.pangloss.com] in these long lines, as in the way each stanza offers us a repetitive though effectively rhythmic with the way each new thought begins with "In the..." The shroud of Whitman lingers as well. The technique can be powerful and it's very seductive, too say the least, but there the pitfall is that you lose sight of what you're trying to say as you try to top yourself with a fiery image that is more striking than the one you wrote before it.In the wind hissing beneath the door sweep,A tribe of mice squeezing through pocket doors,In the pants pockets where the evidence remains,Those filaments of wool in the moth-eaten rug,In the masquerade of motion that sets off the alarm,The alarm that arrives via airwaves at dinnertime,In the worm that opens e-mail, eats the address book,The virus propagating on the unsuspecting screen,The images are well rendered, and Cader has done a rather interesting job of juxtaposing the varied items in the household, the sublime and the inane, the old-fashioned and the new fangled, in what would be called a postmodern comedy of objects, but there is something missing in all this detail. The images are disconnected from one another, isolated seemingly in the stanzas they occupy, without a personality to unite this miscellany of things-that-break-or-wear out . Objects , of course, are things are human invention , and their meanings(separate from their assigned purpose) will vary from owner to owner, and their eventual failures as either utilities or even as mementos , it might be assumed, as an effect in how a subject regards their dwelling and, in larger aspects, their changed relationship with the world as they've aged. It really isn't enough to list the things in the domicile with an attending remark of collapse or erosion, all this must build to a satisfying conclusion. The one Cader offers us--In the funneling, the grating, the sagging, the gravitating—O icon of muck and filch; there is nothing you won'tDivide, opening trap doors we forget to close.--simply won't do precisely because it reads as if she were seduced by the temptation to write one snappy set of images after another and, tired of her task , wrote a hurried "wrapping up" stanza to end the poem. This is a poem that could stand some work shopping, although the advice is simple enough. She needs to decide who it is that is doing the talking here, who it is this narrator would be speaking to, and then select what images in this first draft would work effectively in a re-imagining of the poem where the felt by delicately presented presence of a narrator would avail her, perhaps, of an ending that seem like a desperation move once the initial inspiration and interest began to flag. Cader writes well enough--I admire the economy and her reticence to either pontificate , engage in bad versions of Language philosophy, or pretend she is continuing what John Ashbery started when he commenced pondering the accumulation of things in his life; the language is sure and distinct. It will take the application of craft, that quality that should remain when inspiration fades, to make this more than an idea for a poem and into something I want to read and discuss.