Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Noisy Eden

Below the Falls" is one of the noisier poems we've seen here for awhile, and it is Kevin Barents' peculiar attempt to convey the idea that turmoil and drama exist in those areas one might normally assume to be areas of balance and natural tranquility. Barents' goes against the archetype too readily here, and after all this is done, all this wandering around a natural scene that continually yields miniscule melodramas and suggested cycles of birth and dying oscillating in condensed terms, whether the Nature-As-Eden myths were something worth debunking, even in metaphorical terms.

The immediate association one reaches for is Wallace Stevens and his Palm Trees at the End of the Mind,, part of his sequence of poems that tours the Supreme Fiction's variously rich terrains and interrogates the tone of these mental constructions with queries about their fidelity to slippery emotional nuance.Too which he marvels at his imagined terrain's ability to smooth out contradictions, anomalies, disruptions to the nature of Idealized Form. Stevens never mistook his lyrics as being anything other than the gilded musings on what his felt, not measured.

A poem should not mean
But be.


Poet Archibald MacLeish wrote that, in his piece "Ars Poetica",his reasonable and witty manifesto liberating his poetry from having to be "about" anything other than itself. That thrust, in essence, was that poetry was no longer the central domain in which speculations about the nature of reality , beauty, and the pursuit of the Good Life were discussed and debated, and that it was , in modern times, not the friendliest grounds for discussions about God and his purpose for us on earth. Other, prose dominated disciplines had quite handily usurped those topics as science handily dislodged, diminished and debunked the mystery and mythology the general consensus used to apply to the material world. A poem should not "mean" anything, as in questing for the precise definition of things and thereby making fixed, general statements about them. A poem should "be" as a thing itself, a material item true to its own nature, a construction of words, considered by MacLeish, WC Williams and Stevens (among the poets of that generation) to be malleable no less than clay, glass or steel. The aim of the poem was not to reinforce the materiality of the world and the given political and economic realities that relied on perception that markets could define, exploit and profit from, but rather that poetry should tend to perception, free of the filters we've been indoctrinated into. These poets were not especially overjoyed with capitalism (although one would be hard pressed to call them leftists in any sense) and it's propensity to smash and upset the unannounced world. Williams wrote (and I paraphrase) that the thing itself was it's own adequate symbol,which , considered closely, stated that there is no God and that human personality could and needed to see the things in the world on their own terms, in and of themselves.

Barents writes in an arcana-cluttered tongue that he's disturbed, angry in fact, that he and his walking associate found not refuge from the city's grind and violence. What they discovered instead was only more of the same , in other forms.

Greedy hemlocks crowded in the draw
eclipse a hophornbeam. We've picked along
a path held from the hollow's laurel hells

to where a trickle pushes off the cliff
and grabbles down into a greenstone bowl
the drop has pestled through the same old years.


Barents over writes through the entire piece and consults the notebooks where he'd written those exotic words and phrases he took a fancy too, seduced by their peculiar phonics and untidy plumage. There pair making their way through the nearby wilds may as well be in the center of the city they wanted to get away from. The central idea here isn't peace but unrest, not peace but constant turmoil, of nature being a state where it quite naturally consumes and regenerates itself in new forms . Barents attempts to disabuse of one set of ideal types and tries to substitute another paradigm, that of nature as great destroyer and vicious feeder.What do we do?

Protect an heirless joy
or fold our suffering into this place?
The limpid races aren't potable.

Rusty thrushes drop a stranger's line.
Huddle with me in our leave a while
before we hurry back to our fatigues.


I would agree that this poem is glutted with obscure words that have been used for the sake of dressing up the banal, unexceptional ruling idea that is the poem's central theme, that nature contains its own kinds of dissonances and violence , and his result is nothing less than an ugly tract housing with a front yard full of garden gnomes and enamel deers, large Mexican planter pots and Christmas lights remaining on the front door months after the Holidays. Nothing distracts from the quarrelsome inanity of this poem, and adding to it's lexicon only makes the condition worse.It might have have helped if these words were used musically, but that didn't happen--it's as if Barents had three contrasting "formalist" approaches in mind when he composed this, and hadn't the heart to make this expression a purer example of a given style and habit of thinking.