Saturday, April 5, 2008

Chris Forhan's Mastery of the Compact Reverie

Robert Pinsky has been on a winning streak lately with the poems he's selected for Slate's weekly poem, and I thank him for the consideration.

"Oh Blessed Season" by Chris Forhan comes upon us like the first days when winter becomes Spring and the days are glorious and sunny to a fault; after months of bundling up against a constant cold and having had rather enough of stuffy noses and over the counter remedies, we greet the suddenly gorgeous days with a new sort of fever, that of hope and insurgent optimism. Our expectations, in the collective assumption that the season's change is our time to renew our Contract of Life and to make the eternal chain of work blossom and become ripe with growth again, do tend to be overstated in the first flush of sunshine and raised temperature , and as the zest soon enough becomes the daily grunt work it had been during fall and winter. Save for vacations and an extra day off, we merely modify our layers of clothing and adjust our complaints about the weather. But what I like about Forhan's poem, though, is the way he creates a rhetoric of optimism, the days as they create a sensation of well being; the season brings about associations with many things, pleasant and fulfilling experiences. This poem is a chain of associations that suggests a euphoric condition:
Summer strode slowly in clownish festoonery, forgiving everything.

Blessed was the fruit of its womb: slumbering bees, blossoms' furious purple
clouds scattered like napkins late of lips moist with cream and champagne.

Chiffon was a word heard often then.

Oh, to live like that again, operatically bored with the reckless long business of

To loll on a ridge above the jostling gondolas,
to sprawl in a field amid the ruins of lunch, the crumbs and rinds,
to be slaked by a final swallow of wine and feel safely ravaged and awry,

These are not the declarations of someone expecting the worse to happen still, not someone waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, but rather the larking tones of a man who seems quite intoxicated with the light, the warmth, the breeze. The worry of the world seems comic quite suddenly, and the temporal division between one's selective memories and the harder truth of the current station are blurred for the time being, dissolved. There is a sense in Forhan's even-handed opulence of someone who is willfully trying to sustain the good feeling; there is , I think, an awareness that this too shall fade soon enough as the reverie gives way to an admission that the verve of youth ages, becomes seasoned, creased, that petals fall from every blooming flower.

To loll on a ridge above the jostling gondolas,
to sprawl in a field amid the ruins of lunch, the crumbs and rinds,
to be slaked by a final swallow of wine and feel safely ravaged and awry,

to joy in the horses' forelocks, beribboned with blooms of sweet everlasting—
a distraction from the black, inapt cast of their eyes,

that sequestered look, as of something they've seen and not forgotten yet.
The evocation of communing with nature and the creatures of the profusely rich terrain introduces the downbeat, the faint, off-note that returns the desire to the world unprogrammed by wishful thinking. The gaze falls upon the horses, who's sequestered look parts the clouds , so to speak, to show the accurate relationship between things. The last line brings this idyll into the present tense and establishes it as something being recollected, the admission that these sensations vanish or are taken for granted when youthful eyes are described as giving a "...sequestered look, as of something they've seen and not forgotten yet." Masterfully done, the narrator shakes his head, snaps to and witnesses his world again in real time, without sense-addling filters that good weather can become. Without the baggage of tenuous philosophizing, sans the need to "wrap up" the poem and deliver a point, Forhan's lets the narrative sequence unfold as the reverie itself might of, a sudden flush of sensation, and then an ebbing of the good feeling as the current situation reasserts itself. This is a beautifully written poem of a fleet moment that otherwise would resist the attempt to capture it so compactly.

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