Friday, August 22, 2008

The Poet as Interior Decorator

By Ted Burke
"In Another Country" is a big , comfortable chair of a poem to write, a familiar and over upholstered seat in the middle of a crowded room where the poet can plop and sink into the cushions, gaze at the books and ephemera surrounding here, musing, or rather half musing, on a snail-paced account of the week that is more wistful than touching, brittle rather than robust. Mazur has written of being dislocated before, and has done some interesting things with the idea of culture shock within the larger stretches of one's own culture meeting up with minor key alienation to produce a sense of fleeting anxiety .This, though, is a return too many to the same well.

The writing is shiftless, too cute--are we really supposed to think that her Houston students are such hicks that they shyly steal gazes at her mismatched shoes in the assumption that this is a fashion trend from the East Coast?-and smug. Not that Mazur is smug herself, but there is a tone and an flapping disregard for thematic tightness where her comfort level for the details she is sifting through, highlighting and making half-formed asides about excludes the others in attendance, the readers. There's not a poet alive who hasn't written reams of poems one might consider "practice runs" or "finger exercises" that prepare one for a substantial bit of writing, and here Mazur suffers the embarrassing, albeit non fatal indignity of mistaking her notes for a poem for the poem itself.

She is more interior designer here than poet, moving the furniture from one corner to the next, bringing in new pieces, refusing to toss anything out; someone might tell her that it's a bad habit to exhibit one's erudition in the form of formula name dropping

I sat at his oak desk trying to write,
ate at his table, holding his fork in my right hand,
turned the pages of one of the books,
then another, from his alphabetized shelves:

Mandelstam. Merwin. Milosz.
O'Hara. Petrarch. Pound.


It's fitting she ends the poem that she end the poem with a paraphrase of an old joke relating to the mismatched shoes she stunned her Houston students with

—But those shoes, the maroon and the blue:
as the joke goes, I had another pair, just like it, at home.
Likewise, it's likely she has a dozen poems in her files just like this one, earnest gatherings of incidental autobiography and tidbits of wit and self-effacement, some of which make it out of the drawer and fulfill a reader's expectation. This isn't one of those lucky poems. This is dizzy, torn, and mumbled, and the associative leaps Mazur tries don't make it over that yawning abyss of self-reference and land in a terrain where her subject is less private and insulated, more animated, more full of life we can empathize with.
without a mention of an idea, a notion, a metaphor any of these writers have written or said offhand, let alone conducting the work to expand on the paraphrase and produce a discourse . The addition of these names to the poem's length reaffirms the amateur interior decorator analogy, as they're treated like pillows and throw rugs one leaves about a space to brighten the place up.