Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on "Just a Tranquil Darker"

John Hogden's poem "Just a Trifle Darker" has inspired a livelier debate on Slate's Poems Fray board than has been seen for awhile, and that's a good thing for anyone who bothers to click on the link hoping for reasonable modulated discussion. The forum has had it's squabbles among regulars and been visited by serial spammers, although those bits of irritation have passed and discussion has narrowed on the topics at hand. A new poster named GHarryS defends the poem against a majority who disliked it and insists that the poem is rather grand in the second stanza

What I claim is 'grand' is what arrives in the second stanza, with all that stuff still hanging in the air from before, when the movement changes, and the focus changes, and it suddenly feels like the 6 in some kind of slow-march sonnet, or as I said above, Adagio Sonnet ... I was thinking of 19th c symphonic Adagio.

An interesting distinction, and one I hope he elaborates on. He cut out after he wrote those intriguing sentences.I'd agree the confusion between "trifle" and "tranquil" is the point from which Hogden constructs his poem, but it seems more fanciful than something he actually heard. The words don't sound remotely alike, and both are common enough that makes them unlikely to the kind of comic misuse that are the staple patter of Norm Crosby, Archie Bunker or, lately, Tony Soprano. It's one thing, for example, to mistake the word enervate for meaning "to fill with energy", since it sounds so closely to invigorate.

The comic possibility exist in how closely the words are to one another in sound and and yet their meanings are in perfect opposition, as in the subversive activity in demonstrating that resolute beliefs, political, moral, religious can be unhinged by mistaken usage. Hogden's elaborations are based on something overheard that sounds too conveniently "poetic" in its error, an ill-considered phrase too ripe with speculative potential to have been entirely without preparation. The phrase is fictional, I think, and is an obvious set up for a ramble yet to come.

Mechanically, the poem works fine, it glides well, Hogden is in other situations a solid craftsman with a tuned ear to phrase, but everyone who writes poems, even those who are considered by readers and reviewers to be poets at their peak, write pieces that don't work as that seamless joining of technique and intention that would make a poem art. Splendid they may be, but you can hear the gears grind to keep "Just a Tranquil Darker" moving along.

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