Friday, April 16, 2010

Rachel Hadas and the turntable of history


Getting older has many things that bring us down, the most pervasive being, of course, that one has seen it all and said it all ; the consequence of lingering too long in this funk is having oneself consigned to a crowded gallery of elder cynics passing judgement on a younger generation's aspirations and inventions. This is avoidable, to be assured. The earnest cultivation of new adventures, new interests, new people of which and whom one might not have investigated at a younger age--the difference between generations , let us say, being that a younger crowd believes that history has a determined end which they can influence, and the older, which would come to equate human experience as analogous to basic cable channels subsisting on reruns of old TV shows who's plot lines and outcomes are variations on a small selection of templates-- offer a cure for the cheap sense of superiority of the been-there/done that variety.Rachel Hadas' dilemma isn't nearly as global, though, being described, rather , as a sort of free-floating depression , in her poem "Generic". The joys of reading a book to a six year old elude her; perhaps the book was read to her when she was young, fifty five years earlier.


The little boy who snuggles next to me
while I read him Millions of Cats,
and we meow together
"No, I am the prettiest!" "I am!" "I am!"
is five. I'm sixty. The book is eighty-one.
I have read it before.

Hadas elects not to offer miniature essays on the subject of the dissociation from her own experience and instead attempts and, I think, achieves an echo effect with this poem. While she reads the book in the animated voices , it's suggested, elliptically yet strongly felt in the absence of fuller explication, that as she reads the book she remembers and so hears the book being read to her from a previous decade. This crisply outlined introduction sets us up rather well to the narrator's psychology, the encroaching feeling of being estranged from the history and the ongoing events of her life. She is even aware of the terms she hs used to mark the episodes, the verbs and adjectives intended to make her experience unique and significant:

Durable, evocative, stale, weary;
renewable, exhaustible, and placid;
benign or neutral, shifty as the moon;
obedient to undeciphered laws:
What we take for granted
vanishes, reconfigures, disappears.

Her psychology turn the words against themselves, the irony being that their use is supposed to define what is worth holding onto from our life and so give the longer view of few of our journey a narrative quality that will resolve itself in an appropriately poetic fashion; the words themselves are reruns themselves, becoming terms of revision rather than words that mark the singular essence of specific deeds in particular circumstances. The Hadas narrator has not only done any and all the these things before, she has already used these words to contain the problematic dynamics. Language seems, in this revelation, not the means with which we understand the world and our experience in it but rather a convenient device we are clever with to catalogue and index our lives . There is no term pondering, no introspection;one will pull from experience when it's convenient, expedient toward achieving an end."Generic" is a poem about a nagging doubt finding a clear, articulate voice. The achievement of Rachel Hadas is her side stepping the attraction of rudderless introspection and isolating instead the odd remove one feels when what one is doing in real time is no more engaging than a broadcast drama one has seen before. There is , for me, a tangible feeling of dislocation. One can almost feel the curtain drop between the narrator and the events .