in the thicket,
about to pinch the
berry, my fingerpads
I can hear it
scrabbling like a squirrel
on the oak’s far side.
Word, please send over this black stretch of ocean
your singular flare,
your topaz in the mind’s blank.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Art of Noticing | Robert Pinsky Poetry Forum:
Monday, May 26, 2014
In church, you lay in a casket open to your waist
as if you were in a ticket booth tipped over on its side,
selling tickets for an unearthly show. Your domed, bald
head, smooth cheeks, globed eyes, and modeled chin
were frozen into ideal shape as by Parmigianino.
You, in life all smiling quickness, now slept severely.
You had completed your lesson plans, handed back all corrected assignments.
Your hands rested one atop the other on your chest
guarding your final assessments. We shuffled by but you ignored us
as you ignored the massed bouquets and the preacher's manic grin
when he declared that Heaven was a retirement home
with plenty of vacancies. In the graveyard, they had closed you up.
The undertaker flicked at your gleaming mahogany coffin with his hanky.
The pallbearers placed their red and white carnations. The prayers
went on, and then they didn't. We left the box
on a gurney perched over a green rug atop the grave. We were not to see
you descend. A train chugged by
the full length of the country graveyard by the stone wall and the line of oaks,
freight car after freight car huffing with afflicted lungs
hauling behind them a long, ribboning wail.
When in doubt, find an unnamed person to talk to and address them as "you" through out your poem, taking care to make sure that this person is deceased . Emphasise the ritual and the props of a funereal send off, imply in tone that you think the prayers being said aloud sound pro forma, unfelt, lifeless as a voice mail entreaty.
Toward the end, as the funeral slowly winds down and the mourning procession passes the departed, introduce yourself with a third person pronoun and vent just a little about the deceased and how it came to be that your dead friend was someone you thought of a soul mate, a confidant, someone you could confess your worst thoughts to and not judged or held accountable to a moral philosophy both irrelevant and absurd to your way of being and doing. Then confess your worst sin, that of viewing them as an intimate who betrayed your trust you know not how; regardless , you are they did and your soul will not be satisfied until you have thought, uttered, wrote and disseminated the articulated poetry of dull-witted rage that has been stewing. Make videos explaining all this and post it to You Tube.
Twitter yourself stupid with 140 characters of rancor and bile. Text people you don't know and threaten to disrupt what remains of their must see tv if they don't get their goddamned shit together and stay the course, maintain, obey orders, leave you alone, stop ignoring you, or whatever else you can imagine . Demonstrate at last that language fails you and your ears and eyes are lying to you in capital letters. Realize you have no friends , finally, and this makes for the best of all worlds you put the effort into create. Wonder why you are still unhappy and who's to blame for that.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
More often than not I defend the "well made" poem if said poem has some things going for it , like a solid construction, an ability focus imagery in a fresh and sparing way that gets across experience and a sense of the irresolution of one conflicting responses to situations written about, either past or current, in an execution that takes one by surprise, leaves you breathless, if only for a second. Like it or not, those poems, scorned by large sections of the post-avant gard who write more "difficult" work ( a worthy endeavor provided the writer has a command of the diffuse material they are trying to deal with, uh, diffusely), are themselves not easy to write; one may speak of technique all they wish, but there is an innate sense, I believe, of knowing how start, what to build with and, most importantly , when too quit, lest one kill a good idea for a poem with the lack of confidence overwriting suggests. Billy Collins has come in for his share of jabs and jibes because of the middlebrow accessibility of his work, he is a poet who has a certain mastery of the everyman voice who writes poetry "for the rest of us" ; his is a poetry is a body of work that forces the reader to think about the world they're already familiar with in new ways.
His is the world of the banal, the small, the incidental, the vocabulary of twitches and tics , but this remains a realm that needs to be written about. Collins is the man to equal the challenge in inspiring a reader to interrogate routines and schedules that guide their journeys from desk to mailbox and back again. Billy Collins, in fact, is the perfect "gateway poet"; when I worked at an independent bookstore for some years in San Diego, several customers over several years expressed a desire to read something more daring, challenging, "edgier" than what the former U.S. Poet Laureate was offering. I navigated them to Thomas Lux, comparable to Collins for clarity and readability, but darker, more ironic, a poet who explores the unintended results of one's best efforts to assert their will on the world.
There are those "well made poems" , however, that strive to hit all the marks that only make you feel that someone is trying too hard for the lead role in play they're not suited for; they dance too fast, they sing too loud, they deliver the monologue without suggesting that they're talking to another person."For D" by Roseanna Warren reads like it were a dull long poem that had been work shopped down to a dull short one; the striking language is all that's left, and there is nothing between the odd phrasings to make this prissy string of worry beads intrigue you. The poem is a dieter who has lost weight too quickly who finds that absence of flab doesn't mean one will find a prince or princess emerging from the flab and stretch marks.
This is one of those poems where you read each line expecting something to happen at the end of each line, and nothing does. It's a fussy poem, full of odd and unnatural words placed in positions where attention becomes focused on the odd sounds the words make rather than the meaning they may suggest or the unresolved feelings being sussed through. Euphony is fine, everyone enjoys rich words and intriguing slang, but there is an expectation that the person writing the poem should have his or her feet on the ground and have a diction roughly like ours (slightly heightened, of course, since this is poetry after all).
The plane whumps down through rainclouds, streaks
of creamy light through cumulus, and, below,
a ruffled scattering, a mattress' innards ripped—
No one talks like this, and no one should be writing poems with this word choices this precious. Whumps is a word suggesting body surfing as a lone man or woman braves the water and rides the momentum of waves coming to crash on a burly shore line, and it also sounds like the sound a drunk uncle might make against a newborn baby's bare stomach; Warren wants to suggest a plane's bumpy passage through some "creamy" clouds , but she makes us think of desert instead of a slow unnerving as she nears her destination. "Innards" is the kind of word one actually speaks, but ironically, in an affected voice to soften the use of a dated colloquialism. The image of seeing a slashed mattress on the landing approach could have been a dramatic one, a choice foreshadowing, but "innards" undermines that.
For the rest, the poem is over arranged, and it occurs to you finally that this reads like someone preparing their responses and constructing a constipated poetics in advance of the facts; Tilda Swinton's ruthless character in Michael Clayton comes to mind, a nervous corporate crook rehearsing her prepared statements in the mirror with different tones of voice, eye movements, and differing tilts of the head. Her character, like this poem, ends badly.