Monday, November 29, 2010

Smoke

A man walks his dog but the dog holds the leash between bottom and upper rows of teeth that know chew toys and biscuits as distinct from the rest of the world contained on these few blocks to the park.
The man lights a cigarette  and drops the match in front of the swings at the playground where he sits on a bench, waiting for his dog to find a favored spot to remember in later days when it might be a kingdom for a friendly scent when there is only barking from behind the fences the two of them pass gong to and from the store or some such place near home.


It is winter the sun is caught in the bare branches of trees that have surrendered their leaves to the season, the light of the sun is cold on the breath, man walks dog in jerky steps, the dog raises his head and growls, drops the leash from his teeth, a car passes by and a dog in the back seat has head sticking out of the window, yelping against the wind the envelopes his face in a perfect wrap of jet streams pinning his ears to the back of his head,

The man's dog runs after the car, barking and baying along the street lined with snowdrifts and grey, runneld slush, gone into the cold, leash less in the cold gasping for the man's hand and the leash he swings like lariat catching cattle the size of boxcars.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Duncan Shepherd found distinctions



The debate continues, somewhat, among the partisans as to the worth of  retired  film critic Duncan Shepherd's 38 year stint as the San Diego Reader's film critic. The anti-Shepherd league maintains, predictably, that he didn't like any movie release, promiscuous he was with those black dot ratings, and , more extremely, the good man hated movies altogether.  The  fact that he was hard to amuse with a movie was one of the things that attracted me to his writings--finally, someone was casting scorn where it needed to be directed--and the charge that he disliked movies altogether seems more evidence of a reader who hadn't read much of Shepherd at all. Or that they missed the points of his arguments. One of the pleasures of reading Shepherd was when he made an unexpected choice; movies that would otherwise be forgotten despite a bit of  unpretentious style and form-fitting finesse found some favor with the critic who could respect those film makers who could respect the genre they're playing in and make it fresh without resorting to a grandiose strangeness. This is what good critics do, make distinctions, find exceptions.

It's hardly surprising that film critics have had a field day slicing the Bewitched  movie apart into the thinnest ribbons they finesse, given the historically grim results of TV shows converted into film features.The presence of Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley McLaine and Michael Caine hasn't assuaged the misgivings.  It surprises only slightly more that  Shepherd  found nice things to say about it.  It's not the expected practice of someone making fatuous statements in order to raise the temperature. Shepherd is more discriminating than that, and sticks with particulars and examples, and compares the current film against a host of other recent work by the current Bewitched participants. It amounts to arguing that the film is good because it sucks less than recent offerings; it's an awkward way of making a case for a film, and a nightmare for studio publicist searching for a useful blurb. But it does give the interested reader a compelling sense of how at least one critic thinks a popular entertainment should be constructed and executed.
Shepherd is , to my eye and ear at least, a consummate if quirky prose stylist, a peerless historian of film art, and a refreshing breeze of honest opinion when he renders judgement on a feature. He has an aesthetic he will not abandon, and the endless tide of grueling gimmickry haven't worn him down.  I am less exacting in what it takes to entertain me at the movies, and I usually am more charitable than Shepherd tends to be.That may only mean that my standards are more relaxed and that Shepherd's love of the movie art is such that he abhors seeing the medium wasted on plots that wouldn't satisfy the requirements for an airport novel. Yet I read him all the same, given that he's the sort of critical contrarian who prosecutes a case instead of pontificating about what aesthetic absolutes are being betrayed. He is not a critic who bemoans the death of the movies; it's one movie at time, bemusedly observed, and judgements rendered in sane and witty fashion. He's the sort of man you dread to see on the opposite side of a debate, since it would mean that you'd need to shore up your argument to a sounder foundation.
Three decades, I think, into his job and his reviews are as brutal, if elegantly phrased, as ever. He does catch you by surprise, though, and finds sensibly nice things to say about films other critics have attacked like packs of hungry dogs. He gave Prince's star-writer-director vehicle Under The Cherry Moon three stars out of his five star rating system, appreciating the film's look and measured style and the director's ability to create a fantastic sense of place without making a mess of the art he's trying create. Likewise, he awarded a grand five stars to Walter Hill's seriously underestimated Streets of Fire, citing, among other things that virtually every other critic missed or chose not to discuss, that the ostensible rock and roll fable was actually a Western with its narrative conventions set in the mid 20th century America. Shepherd's discussion of the Hill film is more nuanced than I've given here, but let it suffice that he was right about both films. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Fate of the Novel: Franzen Frets So We Don't Have To



 Jonathan Franzen is a major novelist who seems fated to be remembered for being a weenie as much as being an important writer. In his June appreciation of Christina Stead's 1940 novel, The Man Who Loved Women", the stress-tested author feels at ease to share with us his suspicion that ths thing we love, The Novel, is an affection of vanity, not practical need.

" ...haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster? As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them; and wouldn’t we all be better off with one less thing in the world to feel guilty about."


I found myself rather stunned by Franzen's smugness in having it both ways; at times he wants to defend the literary novel from the barbarians who would turn the form into a fast food for the shrinking reading taste for reading, and now he hints that he thinks the Novel in general is a dated, creaking contraption. The eclipse of the novel, the death of the novel, the erasure of the novel are things that have been argued before, and lo, here we are, still reading novels and talking about them, arguing about them, still trying to minimize their importance. Tom Wolfe argued with typical bombast in his anthology of New Journalism that fiction had become irrelevant because reality had outstripped the novelist's imagination, and that the narrative techniques of he novel were better used for non-fiction.

The fiction writer's concept of the world had become a sorry trove of self-reflective theory and it was up to the journalists and the historians to properly tell the tale of our time. Wolfe, of course, desires to be the Dickens or the Balzac of our time, and considers the nineteenth century ideal of precisely capturing the surface the surface of things to be enough for those tasking themselves with working the long quills; to know a man, merely observe what things surround him.


To dare to think that a novelist could render a character's interior life negotiating the flow and flux of the external world (to say nothing of the task of making an entire cast of main characters just as complex) amounts to a terrible heresy against the storyteller's art. Or at least Tom Wolfe's version of what a story teller is; but we remember, Wolfe is a journalist, finally, not a story teller, he is beholden to the 4 W's, who, what , where, when. Pesky novelists, though, strayed beyond the bemoaning and constraining tide of naysayers and they continue with their stories, dealing with people and their complexities, and readers continue to read them. The only task of the novelist, I would say, is to put the reader in the respective shoes of a set of characters in a world they , the reader, might not otherwise experience; the notion is to live a little fuller without having to buy a plane ticket, to experience the world for a period in a way that has nothing to do with what one's instinctive resistance to change instructs us to do. Novels matter. Fiction matters. Arguing that they don't is a species of tedious grand standing. It's a rumpled horn section bleating the same old chord changes on a song that's old and sticks to the table top like a grime-primed coaster.Jonathan, Tom, take the lampshades off your heads.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

You had me

You had me at "no so fast"
when my mouth ran like a faucet
that filled up the sink, 
you had me between centuries
I asked when the moon would be full, 
you  had me in stitches
and unconscious for days  ,
 you had me in hospital clothes
with a blood and iron on my breath, 
you had me with my marker,
the document I signed
with needle and thread,
 you had me going for a minute,
you had me guessing along,
you had me the way a fat man has an appetite,
you had me for lunch,
you had me rewrite the love letters I wrote you,
you had me going for a moment,
you had my heart 
and I never got it back.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

THE RUMBLE OF THE GRUMBLE

Robert Pinsky offers up Sir Walter Raleigh's poem "The Lie" in this week's Slate poem selection and offers up a cogent argument for the ability of the poet , when provoked and inclined, to puncture pretension, artifice and reinforced falsehood with more precision and pointedness than a mere counter assertion could.  In another era, perhaps, in a bygone day, when writers opposed to one another's notions of what constitutes justice and moral righteousness had to wait for however long it took for letters, pamphlets, books, the like, to be written, processed, and delivered.

The period gave the conflicting bards time to hone their craft and compose the rhymes , with all their indicting hooks and barbs, so that they had a sharpness that would cause the deepest wound. The gift of this was a spirited exchange, a correspondence of heated verbal dexterity that could be enjoyed and examined years beyond the relevance of the original topic; this is the literature we parse in college, these are the examples we are supposed to appreciate to learn our rhetorical craft.

he art of the inspired exchange of views, seems lost on the Internet , as one is hard pressed to read an otherwise interesting article and not find a comment stream that is less discussion or debate than it is a boiling stew of vulgarity. It goes beyond the pointed use of F Bombs for added emphasis or  colloquial texture, as that word and it's barnyard cousins often times are the conversation, verbatim.  One might consider their own adventures into the comment streams of many a web forum and consider  what happened to all those fine cadences it seems everyone said they loved so much in graduate school; these were the syntaxes that were supposed to give our oppositions to bad faith the clear, cutting sweep of Truth.

 There are a few exceptions, truth be told, not every web zine readership is composed of aggravated boobs typing their congealed rage with clubbed fingertips; Slate and Salon , among others, seem to inspire  generally thoughtful responses. Still, the loud , baggy monsters are out there, cursing their own eyes for seeing the light. Small wonder, it seems, that a good number of better online forum contributors have , seemingly, gone elsewhere. There are better things to do than continually lean into that sucker punch you know is waiting for you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I WAS A TEENAGE POETRY POSER

I was in high school during the late sixties and early seventies, suffering from all the belated-arrival blues that was the usual blend for teens who wished they were older than they were, thus more experienced and hip. The daily aggravation started with a look in the mirror and sighing loudly, too loudly, that my facial hair wasn't coming in thick enough. I was particularly pissed that I'd missed out on the Beat era, and that I was too young to truly be involved in the college folk revival.

Still, I took my Dylan very seriously, although I considered him at the time to be an also-ran--the last great age of hipness was the fifties--and I went about my way, my rather self centered and self righteous way, to become a campus poet, seer, gadfly, intellectual, man of mystery. I had long hair, wire frame glasses, I wore as much black as I could, which was absurd since I was living in Southern California, a terrain where I still hang a shingle and get my mail.

Black clothing makes sense, I guess, if you're in colder, damper, more overcast climates, ala NYC, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, but in So Cal there was and remains a surfeit of sun, which made attempt to be a gloomy, dark, frost-bitten avatar of hip a ridiculous enterprise. It's only beginning to occur to me how absurd my middle class yearnings for street credibility really were. I'd lived up to that point as a self-conscious, shy, hard-of hearing and overweight nerd who was often the brunt of abuse from others because I was thought of as dull and dumb do to my hearing loss--I didn't always catch on to what others were talking about and tried, often times, to bluff my way through a conversation. My responses to what others had said or had asked me , or what I put forward in attempts to become part of a conversation already in progress, were as often as not guesses at the topic, based on what the words I thought the phonemes resembled . It was a poetry of its own sort, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when what I had offered at risk wound up being dead on, and it was even more electric when my mad stab at relevance somehow managed to jump the rails of the subject and introduce a related tangent that others hadn’t considered and thought was a brilliant leap on my part. Too often, though, my remarks caused a quiet in the room that had the dead solemnity of a tombstone; I was the Coltrane of Confusion, the Mozart of Misspeak, and the Picasso of Puzzlement. It went something like this:

"I just got a new bike..."
That's great. What kind is it?"
"One o'clock..."
Norm Crosby, a comedian who was a regular player on the Ed Sullivan Show, came up with that joke, but it got the experience of a hard of hearing fellow trying to make his way through the world without letting on that he had a loss. Crosby got the absurdity of it precisely right and I still use the quip as a reference point some forty years later Even so, I wrote poems, did special readings in 7-11 parking lots, and performed some original verse at an ersatz antiwar rally where in an especially precious ad lib I announced that Bob Dylan was "...the father of us all". One might have wondered how I discovered half the paternity of the counter culture. My nonsense utterances gathered many rueful looks; I was among those weenies that went to dances to listen to the band. During my senior year I'd made something of a name for myself as a faux bohemian, dark and mysterious as previously described, taken to mispronouncing names of famous men and writing reams of awful poetry of which there is not a single line in existence; I tossed the poems into the trash one night, all three folders and four notebooks. It was liberating, if that word ever had any meaning. It was as if someone had taken a big boot from my throat. I was now free to be a pompous git on my terms alone. Not perfect, but progress, no?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Reviewers Attack.

Josh Board, film reviewer for Sandiego.com, does an amazing job of regurgitating 38 years of proletarian complaints against the retiring Reader film critic Duncan Shepherd. The thrust of Josh's argument seems to be that DS is a bad critic because he didn't like the movies he thought were the cat's pajamas.


He concludes that DS hates movies. We must note that Josh does not deal with the substance of Duncan Shepherd's critiques; he reminds me of the sort of guy who would listen to a reasonable criticism of a movie he thought brilliant and would respond with the old fallback "Oh, yeah, that's just YOUR opinion." 


True as that cliche maybe, it does not diminish the four decades of Duncan Shepherd's film appraisals, since the unspoken addendum to that tired saw is that NOT ALL OPINIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Josh as well cannot seem to get his head around the fact that you can regularly read someone you usually disagree with on a particular subject. I don't know why this is hard him to fathom, but it does get back to the "Not all opinions are created equal" remark from two sentences ago--Duncan's wit, knowledge, and elegance as a writer made his opinions worth keeping up with.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Edvard Munch swallows himself

One looks at a reprint of Munch's most famous painting The Scream and then regards the subtler, more somber depressions of this painter's angst soaked paintings, such Girls On the Jetty, and wonder why he was such a glum Gus. The reason is more practical and less mysterious than some of our more mystical critics would insist.He was good at it. With all the impressionist swellings, swirling clouds, jaggedly mad crows, blurred lines and obscured faces moving about his canvases under the darkest, deepest shades and tones he could manage, what Munch saw in the world wasn't nice formations in pleasing shapes and arrangements, but rather as a thin film of appearance under which each and everyone of his dark moods and skewed perception pulsed, ached and persistently throbbed. Munch and his allies did a rather nice job of freeing the artist from having to make pretty pictures for dentist offices. Not that it was a bad mood alone that motivated his brush strokes.

The desire to depict reality in a different way, to find a truth that hadn't yet been brought forward, is a permanent impulse among artists who are the least bit figurative, and Munch's penchant for gloom and depressed spaces were a perfect inspiration, it that's the word, to take the image of the world apart, tweak the essential elements, and reassemble it, askew, fuzzy, angular. Munch's genius was also his pathology, and the crazed energy in his head which drove him to relentless distraction was additionally his ugly gift to the world. It still commands our attention generations later.


Writers tend to over state the depressive elements in Munch's paintings and speak of them as if every stroke he applied to a canvas produced works like the scream. Hardly the case, of course, and the slide show shows that he could manage pastorals, country scenes, bits and pieces of everyday life. What is obvious, though, is that his preoccupation with death, with mortality, finds it way into the scenes with his choice of deep hues, grave undertones, with no distinct lines but rather rushing, brush-textured dimensions that made his surfaces seem to tremble underneath the placid tableau. The particular painting, Girls on the Jetty, has them looking over the bridge, faces averted, staring over and into a flat lake or pond whose reflection is dark even on what seems to be a sunny day and finally gives itself over to blackness. However vital our daily lives are, however serene our present circumstances, death is always with us, informing our choices even the denial of death. Munch was a depressed man, no doubt, but aside from the constricted fury of The Scream, he had subtler ways of transmitting his unease with existence.
The depressive elements in Munch's paintings and speak of them as if every stroke he applied to a canvas produced works like The Scream. Hardly the case, of course, and the slide show shows that he could manage pastorals, country scenes, bits and pieces of everyday life. What is obvious, though, is that his preoccupation with death, with mortality, finds it way into the scenes with his choice of deep hues, grave undertones, with no distinct lines but rather rushing, brush-textured dimensions that made his surfaces seem to tremble underneath the placid tableau. The particular painting, Girls on the Jetty, has them looking over the bridge, faces averted, staring over and into a flat lake or pond whose reflection is dark even on what seems to be a sunny day and finally gives itself over to blackness. However vital our daily lives are, however serene our present circumstances, death is always with us, informing our choices even the denial of death. Munch was a depressed man, no doubt, but aside from the constricted fury of The Scream, he had subtler ways of transmitting his unease with existence.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Mother and Child" - By Rosanna Warren - Slate Magazine

"Mother and Child" - By Rosanna Warren - Slate Magazine

None among us relishes the idea of spending inordinate amounts of time with someone who seems to have no vocation other than to wait for their own personal End of Days, but there is shared in our endless ranks the issue of family, loyalty, a grudging paying back of the attention that was given to us unconditionally, if grudgingly, by our parents. In adulthood , our tasks multiply , among them the giving of care and attention to aging patriarchs and matriarchs, together separately. We grit our teeth, we mix our thoughts with high, chiming music, we go to lunch, we make the bed, we distract ourselves with airport novels and movies about imperiled women that rotate like plates on one of the plethora of cable channels; coping with the deadened time, the terse conversation becomes itself an art, an artifice radiating in the mind alone, unseen, a psychic mask that allows us at least a composed visage , if not assuaged nerves.

A basket of scones swaddled in blue-checked cloth, 

slanting floorboards, brass bedsteads, lace curtains to soften 
the narrow, 19th-century view of neighboring shingles— 
we had paid for quaint. The sea, three streets away, 
like a giant quilt an invalid had shoved down: 
low tide. We turned from the heave-ho dunes 
back to the boutiques, their improbable lingerie, 
leather halters, handcuffs, whips, and paper roses. 
Cafes proffered espresso and Portuguese soup. 




Affected, yes, but this prop-glutted language is likewise effective, the speaking voice creating the sense of stress that is obscured by perfect manners and well rounded phrases. The particulars are separated , ordered, relegated to a well honed description that makes the roiling issues under the activity's perfect skin appear only temporarily lulled into a fitful sleep. Not put to rest , not in the least.

 








Rosanna Warren , it appears , prefers a fussy, antiquated prose as she narrates her afternoon with a mother who seems too tightly wrapped in a generation of frustrated designs: the peculiar emphasis of the fussily described detail, the pristine diction of the adjectives and crafted application of verbs in the service of capturing a recent event seems to me an affectation--the style seems like an elliptical gathering of phrases from a Henry James novel , The American or Wings of Dove when a character's movements are no longer "closely observed" by the untrustworthy narrator but become obsessively detailed, a clue to an author's stalling action until a plot turn presents itself.-- but it is the artifice, perhaps, Warren wants to draw us to. It's a voice coming through the either as if from a hundred years earlier, underscoring the distance the daughter has created as a means of disowning whatever emotional damage might be radiating between her and her mother; this is an attempt to treat the circumstances like they were scenes from a novel, quaint, picaresque to a degree, a situation that one can get to with tenacity, like the last page of a book. And yet, and yet...for all the defenses and denials festooned in a mellifluous 'though dubious music, there are cracks in the defenses.

They are dying, side by side, at different rates, at different speeds, and this is the subtext of their day of tea, meals and mornings of small talk and walks among the towns people, they are where they are , locked in gestures and cadences that mirror one another across the decades, busy with small tasks and habitual tics, waiting, under it all, to leave this plane, one,and then the other.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So Long, Duncan Shepherd

San Diego Reader So Long


Duncan Shepherd is leaving his spot as The San Diego Reader's film critic after thirty years of imposing the hardest standard on new movies; I've read him continuously since the mid 70's , when I wrote occasional concert and record reviews for the reader, his prose , more than his knowledge, being the attraction. I was on a rather long journey to get something of the critic's tone and elegance--Shepherd and the late Steve Esmedina, another Reader critic, were my local stylistic models.Duncan's departure is a loss for film criticism ; there was something sublime about The Reader, one of the largest alternative weeklies in the country, having the single most "un-blurbable" film critic . His style and his nuanced, formalist agruments of movies, favorable or otherwise, were so that it was literally impossible to extract a single quote from them for a newspaper ad. That suited him fine, and it suited his readers.I left these words in the comment stream following his last column:

I am sorry to see you leave the pages of the Reader, web or otherwise. You've been one of very few to not be swayed to the chorus of fluctuating fashion. Although I have to say that I disagreed with your judgements more than half the time, I respected and looked forward to your knowledge, your wit and the elegance of your prose. It was a good bet that if I wanted to defend a film you found wanting, I would have to "up my game". You have my gratitude that you kept up the good fight as long as you had; I hope someday soon I might again be able to read you again, on  terms that suit you, about what you find engaging.


 Good luck , Duncan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More on Jane Hirshfield

"Two Poems" - By Jane Hirshfield - Slate Magazine

Hirshfield's "Alzheimer's " poem was actually the first of two poems published in slate, the second one being the bittersweet coda to the the former work's spare unraveling of expectations to aging and infirmity.
The poem, called "The Kind Man", picks up where the other poem ends, where the beautiful thing that was supposed to be forever--the memory of a great man, the beauty of the poem--slips into anonymity and becomes mere material for a younger generation to make use of. The survivor realizes that they don't want their lives becoming museums of those they can longer talk to , kiss, argue and have meals with. Small things become less mementos of glad times than they are stubbor pebbles in the shoe as one tries to move on.

The Kind Man
I
sold my grandfather's watch,
its rosy gold and stippled pattern to be melted.
Movement unreparable.Lid missing.
Chain—there must have been one—missing.
Its numbers painted with
a single, expert bristle.
I touched the winding stem
before I passed it
over the counter.
The kind man took it,
what I'd brought him as if to the Stasi.
He weighed the honey of time.


This is what we settle for, taking a deep breath and walking over the briarpatched fear of letting go of things imbued with inordinate associations of love and loss, frustration and small wonders, and passing on the things that have family value, accepting the encroaching sense of betrayal, seeing, finally, the watch as only a thing with a minor market value as far as anyone else is concerned. Painful, yes, but this something must be done to make one's life, one's home their own. Any of us who've had to close a parent's house, or say a few words at a good friend's memorial knows the ritual. This is where the life we've given us achieves full autonomy: we are more fully ourselves, more alone than we've been before.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A poem by Jane Hirshfield

An interesting couple of poems appears in Slate by Jane Hirshfield, dealing with the inevitable experience of death, the long shadow that falls over all of us. The first, "Alzheimer's", is a harsh lyric, a superbly connected bit of detail that makes a connection with a troubling fact of life; it is a terrific example of how to concisely travel the distance from the abstract to the specific without sacrificing emotional power. That poem can here.

The question goes "what's eating you?", and , as we get older, shakier, less full of ourselves because there are fewer people who care what we think, or what we've done, a proper answer would seem to be that it is other people who've picked up on your accomplishments and done something more with them. Their inventions and bits of genius are not possible without the base you laid out. So one is a rug, bright, colorful, an intricate weave of detail, experience, improvisations and inspiration, that is chewed on from the margins; the center remains ,the design is visible, but it is tattered and gnawed upon, unable to collect itself to a former glory. The glory never returns.

A thing of beauty is a thing forever, as it goes in the Keatsian sense, but in this instance, the rug standing in as metaphor for a man's presumably long life, the idea of "forever" hinges on the title of Hirshfield's poem,"Alzheimer's". The beautiful man will be so long as there are people to remember him and exchange stories about him, marvel at old photographs, trade details on conversatins they've had with him.

"Forever", Hirshfield implies, is merely another way to refer to describe what the historical record is for the likes of us who do not move mountains , win wars, or save nations from destroying themselves; it merely describes a reprieve against the amnesia that over takes all of us after a loved one dies. The survivors themselves die, and their children have nothing of the friendships to their memory, only the archive of deeds and repeated wisdoms, now uttered as common place phrases in the commonly held idiom. There is a bitterness here, a realization that one has had their turn in the sun and that soon enough the misery of fading away will be done; what remains after the funeral, the books, the furniture, the inventions, the best of what one has done and said, will be distributed among a variety of networks, and what is deemed useful will be judged by an anonymous population that perhaps has no knowledge of who we might have been . Not the example of Keatsian joy. Hirshfield's succinctly debunks the idea that we live on in the memory of others. The lights dim and go out on everything, to the extent that all that actually remains is the detritus of our individual lives, recognized as incidental paraphenalia, to be judged and used by the young in ways of decoration, not honor.

It was suggested by someone that this poem contains an embedded irony in Hirshfield's remembering this dying man in this poem, immortalizing him, in effect. Or so it seems.Preserved in a poem, perhaps, but not really, as most poems that are written and published get a minuscule readership, and that most are not remembered after a short duration. Trust me, as bookseller I have had to clean out houses of a lifetime's reading, piling stacks of old poetry books written by poets with names known only to retired librarians and specialists in arcana. A beautiful poem is not a thing forever, in most respects--someone like Yeats is rare, rare, rare. Poems, their subjects, and their authors fade with time; they become forgotten. What remains is an anonyous residue.

What the old man says about not being the picture of "Keatsian joy" offers a clue to Hirshfield's probable realization that even a metaphorical immortalization in a poem is subject to the recollection of the collection memory. Somethings last longer through the decades better than others, but it is a fact that most poems and their poets are not remembered past their century. Those of us that write poems long to be Shakespeare , Pope or Donne for the sake of longevity, but most of realize, at a gut level, that notoriety in poetry, in content and authorship, is the least reliable way to get famous, or stay famous. I don't think Hirshfied is telling us something so sentimental as to declare that somehow one is remembered in a work of art; this poem has a harder core, but not a cold one. She merely acknowledges, I believe, the limits of memory, of reputation for most of us now walking the earth. Most of us will land in the history books, most of us will not have poems written about us, all of us need to appreciate the joy that does come our way and to not become angry when sorrow occurs , as it must.