Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sleeping is better than sex

Robert Pinsky at Slate does one of quizzical turns as poetry editor and offers this poem by Lucie Brock-Broido, which he posted in 2004 .This is a depressed, airless little stretch of depression and despair that is so self-consciously arty that the empathy of the reading world isn't needed required in the slightest.

It has the grunting shorthand of a mumbling sociopath who has constant dialogues with invisible adversaries in the streets; in one way or another, the narrator is going to get one set of aggravations straightened out and squared away, only to have another proverbial shoe fall, another range of ills and bad breaks upset whatever thought of serenity might have been forming.

The poem, obviously about hurt and perhaps about some variety of sexual obsession that prevents joy, release and peace from being experienced, is ruined with bizarre and convoluted language that try to mask an inability to confront the dysfunctional center this piece ostensibly tries to crystallize in its brief lines; suitable metaphors are not imagined, language isn't given the rigor required to have the lines vividly evoke and blur in the same instance.

Brock-Broido devises instead images and allusions that are nearly as awful as the Joyce Carol Oates I've read here:
How is it possible to still be startled

As I am by the oblong silhouette of the coiling
Index finger of a pending death

You don't care, really, about how it is that the poet, or the speaker is still startled when they happen upon words like "oblong", a singularly arrhythmic word that satisfies no operative psychology in the work. Like "zaftig" from our otherwise fine lyric from last week, the word is obvious window dressing that used to dignify the creaking obscurity of "silhouette of the coiling Index finger of a pending death..." Brock-Broido might have been thinking of the neo-gothic death-wishes of Poe, or the aestheticized indirection of Ashbery's interior walking tours, but there is no fresh expression to come upon.

Whatever the poet was thinking about committing to verse, none of it made it onto the page. The power lacks power, emotional punch, or mystery, any of those alluring qualities that give a decent poem its attraction and worth. I find this more than just a little pretentious and academic. This is not a compelling language to speak of a world that we all share, however differently we might feel about