Saturday, August 8, 2009
Edward Hirsch befuddles the Gnostics
Edward Hirsch is a perfectly fine lyric poet, sometimes a little obvious with the carefully placed poeticisms that crop up in his lines. There's what reads like a desire to be seen as thoughtful and sensitive to Jack Handy like "deep thoughts", a habit that will trip up what are otherwise readable and soundly evocative poems. The philosophical turns are not what he does well , as the language betrays an embarrassment from having to rely on instinct and feeling for a reason to write; intellectualizing a visceral response leaves you with a brittle, match stick construction that will simply tremble and collapse under a casual inspection. Hirsch is a superb poet of feeling and evocation, and the corrosive realm of ideas and argument are not his neighborhood to hang an address. The writing is rich in atmosphere, detail, concrete in metaphor and fleet of adjective and verb, is a poet best writing in the present tense. A case in point is his basketball poem "Fast Break":
In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984
A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn't drop,
and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump
perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession
and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling
an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender
who looks stunned and nailed to the floor
in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight
of a high, gliding dribble and a man
letting the play develop in front of him
in slow motion, almost exactly
like a coach's drawing on the blackboard,
both forwards racing down the court
the way that forwards should, fanning out
and filling the lanes in tandem, moving
together as brothers passing the ball
between them without a dribble, without
a single bounce hitting the hardwood
until the guard finally lunges out
and commits to the wrong man
while the power-forward explodes past them
in a fury, taking the ball into the air
by himself now and laying it gently
against the glass for a lay-up,
but losing his balance in the process,
inexplicably falling, hitting the floor
with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country
and swiveling back to see an orange blur
floating perfectly though the net.
Fluid, cinematic, switching between points of view,Hirsch creates a narrative line that he speeds up and slows down at will--the progress of that ball and the players trying to advance or impede its advance down the court leaves the willing reader breathless. "The Gnostic Gospels" Slate
is not Hirsch writing in current time, but rather as a voice among many in a long forgotten Christian sect which seemingly has been monitoring what Christianity has become through history and into modern time. The speaker, agitated, aggrieved( self righteous, shall we way?) announces the tenets of his faith and his suppressed gospel and eviscerates the falsification of the faith by a culture that has constructed false idols in consumer disguise:
We are like a surviving Gnostic sect,
*****living in caves and eating fallen fruit,
**********practicing our own brand of adoration,
which is devoted to wondrous signs,
*****inner mysteries, the radical unknown.
**********If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
*****If you do not bring forth what is within you,
**********what you do not bring forth will destroy you,
so Jesus said. Let others praise
*****the electrifying force of mass media
**********or kneel at the bruised altar of politics.
We keep faith with the technology
*****of the body, with the voices of pilgrims
**********naming the unnamed and resurrecting
dead languages of grief, inaudible pitches
*****of praise. We believe in the root power
**********of words, dreams, ecstatic trances, visions.
You are my twin and true companion,
*****Jesus said to the citizen, examine yourself
and be called "the one who knows himself."
It's true that our robes were stripped
from us, yet we are as stubborn as birds
searching for morsels of food in winter.
It's a plain case of us against them, the pure of heart, intent and action against the soul-less pragmatism that has de-centered Christ's teachings from care for the poor and the earth to distorted interpretations that remove the humanity from our dealings and replace them with bottom lines and expedience. It's a loaded spiel, and a hard one to say anything against; the audience for whom this poem is intended doubtlessly agrees with Hirsch to varying degrees to give him a pass for a weak poem.
The Gospel of Thomas intriguing myself and wonder if Christian faith can be re-tooled in a more politically progressive cast-- isn't it time for the Left to reclaim God and Jesus as the center of their moral certitude?-- and perhaps Hirsch does as well, but the poem he tried to write, the agony of the believer in a more human-centered Christianity toiling in their duties despite the shadow hanging over him, is more resentment than rant. Rants, when they work,get the blood pumping and instill the rage to get something done. The contrast between the gnostic gospels and the observed Christianity-Without-Christ that is the modern distortion of the Word is saturated with smug defeatism. It is the slave morality Nietzsche detested . I would call it befuddled and befogged.