Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brief and banal

Obviousness is not an attractive feature in a poem; you come to the poet wanting something more from words than headlines, cliches, the hackneyed like, and get instead a groady fish tossed in your face. Rachel Hadas, someone whom I've liked reading before, gives me a cold dish. It tastes awful.

Conveniently, a troubled sleep produces a fevered dream of an ominous wedding where , after the anonymous couple finishes their vows and concludes the rite with the ceremonial kiss, the world melodramatically becomes unhinged and unruly. Powerful forces encroach on the transparently joyous occasions and will commence, we assume, to undermine every expectation for the couple's future happiness . But it's not just the wedding pair who are to tormented and subjected to the uncertain whims of a usually cruel fate--the whole neighborhood is infected with the seeping bad faith. The situation goes global.


The air trembled
as if, hooves thundering, a nightmare galloped
past the house along the empty road.
Summer was waning. I was getting old.
The vision of the wedding fell away
and launched me, weary, into a red morning.


Even for a dream sequence this seems rather to rapid a transition between a celebration and gloomy consequences, giving the poem more storyboard, as in film making, than storytelling, odd and menacing as that diffuse narrative was required t me. Rather than an having entree to someone's symbolic equivilents of dread, we have some one pushing figures around a doll house, narrating from afar. It's a forced, ginned up performance.The world was warring, drowning, catching fire.
What we have , in essence , is one of many warnings we've received in our reading lifetimes against putting our faith in traditions, habits , rituals, prayers or anything else one might have hopes for protection against catastrophe or worse. Our expectations of sanctuary, whether in actual , material fact or in spiritual assurance, will slam hard against the brute force of the inevitable forces that gather and express themselves in innumerable ways, from our species territorialism to what forms of seeming revenge Nature herself will heap on us. The couple that's been joined have left childhood and entered into the sphere of adulthood where only truth , hard, unforgiving, unstoppable, holds the reins. People , places and things will vanish, disappear, war clouds will gather, mountains will fall, the god of one's parents will be silent.

Spare as this poem is, it tries too much, a grand slam indictment against false gods and the lot of it; it's dime store Schopenhauer and a c minus paper from a junior college philosophy course. The pessimism that lurks in these stanzas strike my ear as rather too easily achieved, like a tired idea left lying around like some odd object one would grab and use to hammer home a point; it reads like a makeshift construction.It's a bit much, even if this is framed as dream narrative; the anonymity of the wedding couple, the facelessness of anyone who might have lurking in the corners of this congested smacks of a Twilight Zone episode , fine for a show that's been off the air for decades, but a lazy scenario for a poet who wants to do something more than mimic the stylistics of an old TV show.