Friday, November 6, 2009

The joys of reading Ron Padgett



Ron Padgett is every bit the off hand and fresh-phrasing poet Billy Collins wants to be, and it's his particular genius to write in such a way that he hears what is truly and spontaneously poetic in actual speech and yet has the sense to contain the vernacular with real cadence and rhythm. Only a poet tuned into the weights and varying degrees of gravity a line of phrases and images can sound like if they're managed well can write these types of visual astute poems. His is a poetry of framing a perception at the moment it occurs, a sense of the banal giving rise to new formations of thought; the world is askew despite what appears to be sameness and order, and Padgett's method of ordering it all is askew as well. There is in him a capacity to be surprised without sounding like he's a taffy-headed cretin. There is wonder here, not wondering, which is to say he provides the reader with a clarity that incredibly manages to add to the mystery of the thing or emotion he's trying to contain.

Rialto

When my mother said Let’s go down to the Rialto
it never occurred to me that the name Rialto

was odd or from anywhere else or meant anything
other than Rialto the theatre in my hometown

like the Orpheum, whose name was only a phoneme
with no trace of the god of Poetry, though

later I would learn about him and about the bridge
and realize that gods and bridges can fly invisibly

across the ocean and change their shapes and land
in one’s hometown and go on living there

until it’s time to fly again and start all over
as a perfectly clean phoneme in the heads

of the innocent and the open
on their way to the Ritz.


Padgett has a contagious high spirit , and a large part of what attracts the reader to him is constant sense of surprise; right at the point when matters of thought, situation and action tend towards a fatal gravity, we come across one of his zany associations. The effect is of driving for a long period while listening to an ernest, or at least a belligerent discussion on talk radio when your passenger suddenly changes the changes; sometimes it’s sudden and hard, like the hard jab of fingertip to radio button, or screeching, chaotic and questing, like someone turning the knob up and down the AM dial. A mixture of different measures and accents of modulated speech covering news, weather and traffic conditions and a class struggle of music zips by you while the world the car barrels through promises only more commotion, kinetics, and, for Padgett, surprise and joy .

FixationIt's not that hard to climb up
on a cross and have nails driven
into your hands and feet.
Of course it would hurt, but
if your mind were strong enough
you wouldn't notice. You
would notice how much farther
you can see up here, how
there's even a breeze
that cools your leaking blood.
The hills with olive groves fold in
to other hills with roads and huts,
flocks of sheep on a distant rise


Padgett’s poems at their heart expose the commotion we set ourselves off on as we struggle with what we think existence is doing to us, leaving the effect of a supremely comic sense that’s been honed, whittled and made coolly efficient by pratfalls and even further extremes of snit-fueling agitation.


NOTHING IN THAT DRAWER


Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.



There is in him a capacity to be surprised without sounding like he's a taffy-headed cretin. There is wonder here, not wondering, which is to say he provides the reader with a clarity that incredibly manages to add to the mystery of the thing or emotion he's trying to contain. Padgett is inside his engagement, not separated from it; what works in his poems is his capacity, like Frank O'Hara in his best, unguarded moments, to remained stunned at a flashing perception; a dozen or so combinations of thinking about what's unfolded in front of you rush by like so many film frames even as the phenomenon is still in the process of revealing itself. This is meant as a compliment, as sincere praise; Ron Padgett reminds of someone who is constantly gathering his wits.