Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on Joe Osterhaus

It was mentioned in an exchange about Joe Osterhaus's poem, discussed in a previous post, that he perhaps fails because there is an impure quality of the voices he puts forth, an imprecision in how exacting he conveys the details; these mixed dictions are the poem's strength, I think. They work in much the same way Robin Williams' comedy routines do, with his crazed careening of voices, accents, illusive references, the colloquial and the profane chumming it up with the serious, the stately. Some on the forum who objected to what Osterhaus had done protested that he wasn't doing something that a poet was supposed to do, ie, write with a fidelity to the world as it presents itself to the senses. This is where the difficulty comes in.

It’s a mistake to think that the default task of the poet is to get a scene exactly right, to offer up a snap shot of a situation under review. In most cases we discuss each Tuesday, the task we assign ourselves in how well , how effective a writer has offered up their view of a recognizable scene, in their voice, in their style. Ostehaus’s poem works for me because he knows how to create tension between the desire to dress up the ruthlessly ordinary in language that would elevate and transform , and to have it checked by a plainer , less varnished details signifying a world one is a part of and cannot transcend however sharp one’s descriptions happen to be. One of the things I thought attractive in the poem were the mixed dictions, the slightly arcane and obliquely filtered melded with the colloquial , the utterances less burden with literary weight. This anchors the scene making in time and place, and is , I think, a rather apt representation of the fluidity of one man’s thinking.

Recollection, in this case, as details considered are in the half-world characterized accurately by Bottomfish as similar to Edward Hopper’s paintings; a world of idealized objects in what seems like suspension, awaiting another set of events to lend them a narrative continuity , interspersed with the predictable ticks and spasmodic motions of the human form. I appreciated “the crawl forward” and that the cashier, contrasted against the somber tonality , “yanks her cash drawer”. We’ve all seen this in lines we’ve waited in on busy business days, and anyone who has worked a register knows the fast and brutal efficiency one applies to quickly remove their drawer from the till so they may count out, make their drop and go home at last.

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