Wednesday, September 6, 2006

"Banish Misfortune"; a poem by Ralph Sneeden


It's a reflexive habit to grouse over Robert Pinsky's selections for the weekly Tuesday poem, and I even got into the extreme and admittedly attention getting spirit of the bashing by suggesting that it was time for him to do more to earn his pay as Poetry Editor, or to move on. There's been good reason for the complaints, the bashing, the dissatisfaction with his results,but there are times when one of his poems is soexquisite , finely placed and arranged that my ire dissolves .

For the moment, all is forgotten, if not forgiven. "Banish Misfortune" by Ralph Sneeden is a sweeping yet brief piece of music,a sweet and surely constructed composition that amazingly gives off the air of swift and sure improvisation. It is, I think, the poem of a poet with that well tuned ear that senses the balance of language as it unfolds on the page during the writing and who is able to sense how it will sound when spoken. The aspect I enjoy is that the language is almost impenetrable, a series of concentrated images that elide into one anotherin what can be described as an entranced narrator's soft murmuring description.

We are not out of the woods,maybe in the wrong neck,
like birds intending stasiswho weave their clot
of straw in the grill beside the headlight.

These are the things an attuned observer would almost miss had they been just a shade less impatient. This is a poem of sitting still in momentary respite away from traffic, cell phones,demanding children or creditors, where the mindbalances and weaves together a number of vaguely recalled strands of thought, while the eyes brings to the conscious level arrangements within nature that are there before our intruding gaze and seem extraordinary when noticed. Even more extraordinary is the fleeting feeling of stepping back away from the frame one's imagination has placed around the tableau and senses themselves as part of the strange little diorama, the observer feeling them self observed..Sneeden uses simple, clear words to make his motions clear and concise, and provides us with a descriptive style that gives us vision, like a slow panning camera simulating a set of eyes taking in the terrain and its incidental arrangements, as in

When we watch the dog
watch the bee's hungry circum-navigation
of the apple fallen to the fading lawn,
that burrowing amusesus,
as if the excavationof imploded rot were somehow
different than the steamrising
from our coffeeor eaves of the future's
sun-lit mud room and rusty nail

This is not a poem that tries to abolish the world in pursuit of the perfect imagistic center to find refuge within; Sneeden's soft spoken narrator acknowledges the material world beyond this delicate frame and finds a hushed wonder in actually seeing what one has known only in theory, that nature will eventually and always grow around, over and through the best constructions humanity can throw at it. The birds building a nest in the grill next to the head light of an abandoned car is the simplest , clearest evidence that nature will not be contained, fenced in, or asphalted over.

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