Friday, September 21, 2007

A beaut of poem by Paul Guest


Paul Guest has a new poetry collection that’s been recently released, Notes for My Body Double<, from which someone on an online poetry forum posted this poem. It’s a beaut:

NOTHING
by Paul Guest
Between Buck Owens and Vivaldi what’s left
to listen to but the stars, so I do, dialing
the radio down to indeterminate static,
what I always thought was absence, an aria
of sizzling nothingness. Instead
it’s the Milky Way radiating arrhythmia
all the way back. It’s gossip
of the vacuum. That nothing has never been
truly nothing is why I believe,
even still, in love. Beside two rivers
I have lived nearly all my life
and these beneath one sky
muttering its endless alphabet of sine waves.
Jupiter with its flock of moons
and the stone from which we hope
to squeeze one drop of water,
red Mars pulsing in the blank field of night—
I’ve wanted to leave Earth
behind, gravity’s orphan at last,
but not Earth with its two good seasons and two bad
and not its angel-winged clams
luminous in the mud bed of a river
so distant from me
I can’t remember where
that water is, except that I’ve dreamed it,
except that in it I sank
all the way down.



A wonderful choice here. Our old friend Paul Guest writes in a way wherein he manages to be a poet without obviously luxuriating in the vanity of being a poet. "Nothing" is like an inspired discourse from a friend who is moved to share what's been maturing in their thoughts for awhile; the phrases, the rhythm of the strophes, the analogies, the direct and indirect digressions are seamless. In these instances one is wise to be quiet and witness an uncommon verbal dexterity. This is a bright and wonderful weave of wonderment.

He does so by letting on an incident a young boy might do, recently informed of and intrigued by that radio signals carry out into space. Searching for life beyond our understanding on the radio dial is a marvelous idea, and Guest does well with careful word choice, sharp , precise phrasing; how he manages to avoid klutzy , pretentious language and still have this poem resound on several levels of implication is evidence of a man who understands that free-verse needs to be crafted no less than metered verse. That he does this without straining for effect, as in the now-formula ironies of Billy Collins just makes me smile.

You know all about Coleridge's notion of the "suspension of disbelief", of course, and his idea that the poet seeks a "dramatic truth", a poetic insight, quite apart from material fact. The issue isn't whether Paul Guest ignores the limits of an undetermined plausibility factor but rather he exceeds a reader's expectations as he does so.

I think he does so splendidly, and a key element of his success has been his avoidance of High Literary Rhetoric. The particular issues he leaves to the the specialists to wonder about; the Saganites and the Bergsonians can worry among themselves as to the limits of space or the capacity of the imagination to make connections beyond what's materially verifiable. This poem is evidence of what poet's don't do well often enough, musing. There isn't a phony word or emotion anywhere that I can detect. Paul Guest has managed to disarm most of us of our objections with his skill and boarded us onto this imaginative stream of associations.

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