Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Bite from Jenning's Apple

Part of my problem with Edison Jenning's poem might just be the form, which is prose with it's long lines; one expects a linear discussion where associative leaps are amply contextualized for sense making. Jenning's lines, though, leap all the same sans the framework, and there is compression rather than the breezy moment I think was being hinted at here. Here is the poem with line breaks, just to see how it reads and realigns its signifiers. Does it sing or does it still drone? Does it result in the epiphany the author sought to isolate?

Though livid
and salacious,

supermarket Red Delicious
don't deserve the name.

But after bagging

two or three,
I think of old-stock Staymans

that grew behind our house
in weather-beaten,

bee-infested rows no one ever pruned,
and all we had to do was reach.

I must have eaten bushels' worth
while balanced in the highest limbs.

With one hand full of apples,
the other swatting bees,

I watched swallows tip
and skim the tree-rimmed

skies already hinting cold,
the windfall left ungathered,

the fallow years that followed,
and now this bag of garish fruit

my memory grafts to vintage
among the rows of grocery aisles

that green to fields of praise.

An epiphany that works is supposed to come out of the blue, preferably with no foreshadowing. In the literary sense, divorced from the Christian festivals from which the term is borrowed, the word connotates a sudden rush of insight, a breakthrough of some kind, springing from the mundane and the banal. It leads into the notion that "God is in the details", a safe haven for the agnostic writer who feels significance in things beyond appearances yet who doesn't want to credit a divinity for the unexpected wisdom.

Winding up with something not-quite Jenning's original poem might well be the point of all this; I wouldn't exactly call it a waste. There is something to be said in the cliche that how you say something is as important as what you say. Packaging does alter content. What we've managed to do here is to make something that reads drab and insulated into something that goofy and air-headed.

I think longer lines sink this poem's hope of being an effective epiphany. Since an epiphany is said to come in a flash, suddenly, without warning, something akin to William Carlos Williams' lean lines and business like images, are better apt to convey the sense that one has broken through the fourth wall and is actually getting what's beyond the limits of language to convey.

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