Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Snowed In

John Hodgen's poem ,"Driving Back From Crotched Mountain, Winter Storm, New Year's Eve" is itself snowed in by all those subordinate clauses, all those asides, all those artful digressions from the image of the angry man waving his arms in the snow storm. The trick with this kind of poem is to begin with an image and then riff upon it at some length, seizing anything from language to memory that would elaborate on the initial image and provide the appearance of a thesis, and then return to the same image at the end of it all, that image being in tact save for the accumulated associations we now associate with it. In this instance, the man in front of his own driveway is supposed to be resonating with a gathered meloncholy that comes out as mute rage.

All sorts of associations are supposed to rear their heads in the collective memory of the reader and we're supposed to feel the slight tug of sadness the image suggests to our under attended sentimentality. Everything is here except the craft, as it reads as if we'd gotten our hands on Hodgen's notebook instead of the finished poem.

The man in front of me—what's he doing?—pulls over, no signal,
********to the side of the road,

gets out, begins sloughing his way, stooped and bent against the wind,
********to what I presume

is his driveway winding up and around the small box of a cabin
********that is his home.

He is waving me around, annoyed somehow, his left arm swooping low
********above the snow

in a way no man younger than himself would wave someone around,
********as if he'd been a soldier

or farmer all his life, as if he lived a little closer to the ground, his arm
********a sweeping scythe,

as if it were his holy job to wave the world to go around, as if he were
********my father, consigned

instead of hell to Peterborough, New Hampshire, where it turns out
********it always snows


These are notes, sketches, single sentence epiphanies that would work effectively had they been given an architecture ; the poem , rather than being a work where Hodgen's sparks speak, is more like a blathering . The subordinating clauses usurp Hodgen's intent and add only bloat, not momentum. The tone of it all reminded me of Russell Bank's thoroughly dispiriting novel "Affliction", where sons and alkie Dad muddle up their mottled affairs the more they try to talk about them. I thought the initial image, a man waving his arms angrily in the snow, was wonderfully suggestive, but what dilutes it and and finally kills it were the parade of similes attached to it. This suggests strongly that Hodgen thought the image, in itself, was inadequate. The effect of the digressions, linked so obviously to the defining trope, is explication rather than poetry. I don't mind drift in poems if what's being included can stand alone as poetic material and not didactic buttressing.None of the items in the above stream really have linkage; the effect is that these are the rattlings of meth head sweating out an ugly detox. The "as if's" are arbitrary and tyrannical. It would be interesting to have this piece work shopped and handed back to Hodgen for revision, with specific instructions (well, suggestions) that the diversions be given the gravity of experienced context, items drawn from memory. The aim would be to have the differences between what's been forced together in the same sentence provide a tone, a clue to what is perceived and how it's assimilated into larger, deeper memory. Overall, though, I think it's one of the many lost chances we see here when there's a good idea for a poem that is instead writ by a writer who has an eye on the clock and another on the exit.