Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mug Shot

Someone recently tossed out the coffee mug I kept at work, a cracked and infirm piece of pottery that had seen better days and superior cups of coffee than the foul brew that fills the break room with a the aroma of soggy scorched grounds. I didn't, though, mourn a bit, did not muse with tortuously extended metaphors over what the loss represented symbolically, was not , generally, willing to attempt the ironic connection between the manufacturing process and region of origin with geo-political concerns that are relevant, it seems, in another conversation.

What I thought was that crap, my cup is gone, dirty and cracked as it was, someone tossed my private property, it was mine, ugly and gross as it had become, it was my cup and it was my coffee that would have been in it on the fifteen minute break I am allowed by law but no, I am denied that, I am without coffee and now I have to go to the machine in the hallway and drink something less savory than the brackish blend our staff coffee pot contains. And that was it; my concern was local, not global, my solution was to move on to the next indicated thing, getting coffee from the machine and some minor-key grousing, not, shall we say, writing a paean to a cup that is, when all is said in done, only a material stand in for other matters, global and personal, that poet Michael Ryan can drum up in the composing of his poem "Mug".

There is a sense that Ryan wants to offer up a concentrated rant of a kind, an Albert Barth style tirade (or offer a tribute to John Ashbery with an investigation of how his mind associates the present world with the chambers of history the mind stores in so many sequestered boxes) in miniature, but even here this poem swells with literary bloat. Nothing sounds natural; there is no comic timing, no pauses for effect. There is the padded vocabulary of winking sarcasm that hides a contempt for the whole subject matter of ownership and the constructed ironies contained in the concept with grandiloquence , the hollow elegance of someone writing until a good line appears. All told, Michael Ryan would have done better by reducing this poem to something much sparser, nearly skeletal.

Better to leave the bloggy-asides out of the poem, I think, and leave the reader something truly tactile, visual and genuinely provocative as a result. The poem has lots of one liners, but lacks a single idea we can walk away with.

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