Wednesday, July 6, 2011

an obtuse 4th of July

Photo by Ted Burke (C) 2011
An
Barry Goldensohn istests our patience with his new poem on slate, Old Home Week, an attempt to undermine the kind of Norman Rockwell America of quaint small towns united on simple and compelling virtues that withstand the faddishness that is promiscuously described as the tide of history. We have imagery taken from greeting cards, brochures and old Colliers magazine covers and photo essays, small business people, farmers, you people old gathered together pay tribute to the native sons who have fallen in war and those who have returned to the homes they protected. It's a wobbly construction with too many loose parts piled atop each other--there is a surfeit of detail and characterization that places this poem squarely in that phantom zone between poetry and prose, which is to say that it is an amorphous blob that neither satisfies nor convinces as poetry or prose. A mixture of the two, poetry and prose, can potentially be an exhilerating and daunting experience, of course, but it success depends on the completing the third part of the dialectic, the synthesis that is wholly and entirely new where elements of both the thesis (poetry) and antithesis (prose) are vlolently combined and the results are a means of expression that extend the senses and add to our perceptions. Goldensohn, though, plays it straight and attempts to enliven this antiquated diorama with an oh wow turn, a visit from the world unseen

Two brothers dead in one campaign
mosey over, AWOL as usual, for beer
and to read their names on the brass plaque again
fixed to an obelisk in the square..


Despite references to recent and current wars and some details that place contemporary things in the company of older generation's legacy, Goldensohn is remarkably obtuse here, first with the Norman Rockwell set up he attempts to expand upon: with decades of well publicized bad news coming from small towns , revealing small towns as places of moral certainty and stable relationships is itself unconvincing. This is a tableau that might have been convincing fifty or sixty years ago, before the dismantling of the middle class was a common discussion topic. Now it is just quaint and false to the aware reader. Goldensohn means well, of course, and there is a logic here that is appealing as a consideration, if not as poetry.?I would say that Goldensohn, though an inconsistent poet, is still a patriot for daring to challenge the conventional wisdom about great wars America has been fortunate enough to win. It is not the poet's task to co-sign bullshit, patriotic or otherwise; while one can be grateful for the sacrifice of those who fought to preserve our freedoms, one must be clear that such celebrations produce an unquestioning group think that will use the rhetoric of the 4th of July and of World War 2 as a moral obligation that justifies bad wars, like Vietnam, and Iraq. The praise we shower on the brave men who died in the first two mentioned wars becomes propaganda when applied to more current, questionable adventures. Goldensohn's point, blunted by poor execution, is that we have to remember the history of the wars we commerate; the causes, the stakes, the righteous reason why we fought. And that any war, good or bad, is involves untold amounts of tragedy,grief, bitterness.

The dead brothers, soldiers both, appearing at the get together and reading their names on the honoring plaque is cornball on the face of any already reliably predictable motif. This would have been fine, I suppose, as an idea for a Twilight Zone episode, but I think even Rod Serling would have rejected it because it's such a thick slice of audience-baiting hokum. It's the same thing as the Surprise Twist Ending  You Know is Coming in Every M. Knight Shyamalan Movie. This poem, in fact, reads like a hurried precis, a pitch for what turns out to be an under imagined fantasy. It's untidy, hackneyed and string pulling. It is not a good poem.