Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Quietude is Deafening

Gail Mazur's poems have an easy elegance that can , in their best renderings, bring a number of heady matters into the same conversation without a sign of the stanzas tearing at the seams.Apparent one can read in a previous selection published on Slate,In Another Country, she has the ability to give form to a sense of sensations that you'd think would remain inarticulate and exist only as vaguely felt sensations: happy, sad, despairing, hopeful, what? She gives these sensations voice, a monologue. But as well as she brings her equivalent phrases for unnameable notions together in a smooth transition to a page , the transition is too pat, too eager for prime time. The conceits that drag her work down is the continued sense that the insoluble conditions she enjoys digging through for material find resolution in her over worked ironies.

"The Age" shows no shift in strategy and no modesty in the size of the unambables she's attempting place a sign on; no more odes for an empty house, bring on the Temper of the Times!!!This would be fine, of course, but what irritates me is the implied exclusivity , the book cliquishness of this bit of zeitgeist mongering. You feel like a friend you came to a party with abandoned you with a group of others , none of whom you know, who are enthralled by a lone speaker who seems to be synthesizing everyone else's input into a discussion you know nothing about, touching on each tidbit and making them fit some clever if predictable irony gridwork.

For what seemed an infinite time there were nights
that were too long. We knew a little science, not enough,

some cosmology. We'd heard of dark matter, we'd been assured
although it's everywhere, it doesn't collide, it will never slam

into our planet, it somehow obeys a gentler law of gravity,
its particles move through each other. We'd begun to understand

it shouldn't frighten us that we were the universe's debris,
or that when we look up at the stars, we're really looking back.

This is exactly where you and I have walked in , and there is the feeling that all these longings for historical knowledge, back in time when matters made sense as they occurred and had their effects, is wishful more than anything else; the phrases are so well chisled and polished in their response to sort of bleak declarations the narrator might have been confronted with that I'm inclined to think , assuming the poem is inspired by experience, that Mazur might have been stumped by the original inquest as to what became of our collective Sense of Hope. We'd begun to understand /it shouldn't frighten us that we were the universe's debris,
or that when we look up at the stars, we're really looking back doesn't sound spontaneous at all, it's desire for a firm place to set one's certitude studied, not weary.

Starting from small details to grander themes is a technique I enjoy when the parts are a good fit for one another, but Mazur reverses the equation here by going from grand to minute, as in the way she begins with an implied struggle against the despair of the age, settling finally on the school children chanting the name of the New President as some sign that the clouds will separate and the sun will shine again. This would be fine if it weren't such a smarmy production. This is a Hallmark Moment, an epiphany so perfectly placed in this ostensibly factual account of a personal struggle against spiritual malaise as to be incredible, implausible, phony . What Mazur is trying to get across is something that's very small yet very meaningful, yet she talks this idea to death with a busy-work string of contemplations that effectively crush the poetry .