Tuesday, September 20, 2011

David Ferry scratches his head

I remember reading David Ferry's poem The Intention of Things online and was somewhat bemused when other readers commented that the piece reminded them of Wallace Stevens'  wondering of what it must be l pass through the membrane separating our existence of mere representation and enter into the realm of Platonic Ideas, where the real things actually exist. Heady stuff for a poem to plough its way through, but there is at least an elegance in Stevens' ruminations on these fixed landscapes, things-in-themselves-unsullied or spoiled by human vanities.
I had concluded some years ago that Stevens had stopped his search for intrinsic and immutable meaning in the nature of things and concluded that his imagination and his gift for scrupulous composition would be put to better use re-framing the texture and position of things among those palm lined shores abutting the fabulous terraces and columned cabanas, thus investing his language with a further power to evoke the mystery of things that seem, to him, to collude amongst themselves to keep us guessing to what end our days serves. For most of us this results in periodic bouts of being dumbfounded , a chronic state of WTF; the pratfalls we have at the point when we assume we've discovered our path results in arguments with the results. Stevens fairly much admits that he'd be baffled if he thought he could define anything in this world of appearances, and realized he would be guessing. Fortunate for us the guesses were inspirations in themselves and that he had the genius to transform his speculative method into poems that would inspire the intrigued reader to ask better questions.
Ferry, though, hasn't the elegance or eloquence Stevens, and his poem The Intention of Things is a rudderless mess. One might have fun chasing pronouns and such things as they try to follow these elliptical couplets, but this reminds not so much as a poem of phenomenological speculation linked with the secret purpose of objects than it resembles a stoned rap a group of dopers would wander into once the smoke took hold and the world around them became an unreal cartoon they'd been dropped into.
 The worse part of it is that it reads further as if one of the zonked participants actually remembered the disparate topics of the ganja fueled rap and wrote it all down, trying attempting to make it a serious inquiry into the sequestered nature of things and events. It is humorless, it is over done, it is sophomore metaphysics, it is dull and very pretentious ; the narrator seems to think he's Hamlet , standing apart and on high, ruminating on human folly , the inevitability of death despite all in-genius plots. But that's a speech that's already been delivered, an unsurpassed achievement. David Ferry's dry verse here seems more a typing exercise committed while he paraphrased a seeming half dozen ideas already infinitely paraphrased .