Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Faulkner goes down the rabbit hole

By Ted Burke

Catherine Pierce wants to get to the initial ache of teen sexual arousal with her poem "Reading Faulkner at Age Seventeen ,You Forsee Your Reckoning". One can, if they wish, outline what they recognize from the novel under the narrator's young scrutiny , but that is the least interesting thing one can parse. I rather enjoy the idea that the book is the seduction, that thing one gives them self over to when one's present tense is, for the moment, too inane and ill-winded to remain in.This seems like advertising in one sense, that a few words describing a place with the right words might make you want to max out your credit cards and take a trip to someplace you’ve never been—suggestive selling indeed. But here we deal with a life that is just coming into it’s own and is hungry for the kinds of experience that they may someday use as that raw material from which to write stories like Faulkner—teenagers reading anything that makes sense in the moment or seems to give voice to emotions they didn’t know they were experiencing; this poem is about the spark of awakening, the sudden jab of metaphorical daylight in a personality that had been, shall we suggest, slumbering and ambling and otherwise getting along with the comforts of their parents’ home and their friends’ conformity. Bang, you read the passage, and then there’s a word, an adjective that takes you at once into the world you’re encountering only on paper;


The harvest moon hangs heavy,
a gourd. Your desires heave inside you
like a blood wave. Ignore the cat

pulling on your trousers. Ignore
the cicadas bossing you from the elms.

See yourself in this hot gold light.

You are the brother in love with Caddy.
You are the idiot son. Your mouth dumb.

Your mind lucent. Everything you want
sharp as the cat's bite at your ankle. You pull
your foot back. A yowl, pointed as teeth.

The moon is what will fall on you.

This works because what was being sought was a fast, hard and fleeting sensation that somehow one has received special knowledge from an a voice speaking from across history, not just the page to the reader’s eye. There is that rush, that feeling of what’s described somehow being your own experience; defying logic, you assume there’s a link , a fatedness to the sensation that’s quite a bit more than momentary euphoria. But it is such that it comes in flashes, slices, bits and pieces of tactile things recalled from both real experience and the writer’s power to suggest imaginary people and their homes as though they lived across the way: what one assumes they are feeling as they lay the book down and become lost in the world that unfolds for them and which vanishes so rapidly is the recollection an old person who has their narrative in vivid fragments drawn over along decades. All this becomes the young reader’s domain, an intimate knowledge of a world that is yet become real for them; only living long enough can provide them with the actual feeling they think they’re feeling now.


The taut images, the half-heard snatches of conversation, the close-up iconography of night images amount to an intriguing assemblage by the poet; I would complain a bit that there is too much dependence on the title to explain this otherwise curious string of associations and wish that we could see a reworking where the conceit is less mechanical , deus ex machina . But I do like the tone, the flow, and greatly appreciate the absence of pretention.