Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rachel Hadas: bad poems happen to good poets

Rachel Hadas is usually an interesting poet who combines a supreme literacy with a sensual style that makes ruminations on memory , identity and the shifting ground of one’s world view a matter that compels interest. Her lines deal with the tactile, the graspable, the kind of recollection that is at once vivid as snap shots and yet vague and ultimately implacable in the narrator or the reader’s life. At her best, the poems she writes are the lyrics one finds in the post modern world, a tuneful , resonate set of songs that fall apart when their signifiers are unhinged from the things they signify. What little sense the poems make in the conventional sense, for the conventional reader is compensated for in terms of the working creating a sense of a mind un-moored by a dictating focus and the images are allowed to link with what association seems like a good fit at the moment. Hadas, one supposes, is a succinct John Ashbery. That, is when the poems work. One should check out her 2006 collection
River of Forgetfulness for her mastery of theme, tone, language.

“Body of Book”, though, does not work, and is, in fact, a flat tire, a structure that will not move. Her particular riffs on memory and the fluctuating consequences they have on our present life is a rich terrain to explore , but she succumbs to the worst habit a professional poet, an academic poet can assume, writing a poem about the curse of being literate, well read; it’s not enough that one has read a great many books and had their consciousness expanded, so to speak, but now one must now write a straining verse wherein one contrives the psychic pain of trying to categorize one’s library, but parse, as well , what of oneself is truly original and what has been formed by the tongues of authors and poets one has consumed. I trust that I’m not the only one who gagged when reading melodramatic and throat-clearing clunkers like I woke into the locus of my body or Cherished, it writes itself upon your skin. This sounds like a strained paraphrase of the anomalies Foucault was unearthing in his books Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality , where it’s suggested, that repressive rhetoric is internalized and become an operating part of the nervous system. Whatever one thinks of his ideas, they result in a pointlessly arcane poem.

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