Showing posts with label Ellen Wehle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ellen Wehle. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wehle's Tales

by Ellen Wehle takes us, it seems , to the backstage area of our awake personalities, the place where our prop-worthy similes and figures of speech are readied and positioned, the hope being that the word combinations match the shape and tone of what the eyes perceived. Better, it's a spat among the workman to cues and timing of lines; still, the play must go one.The concrete and the abstract meet here, in some figurative back alley, seeming to mime each other's meanings and movements in parallel movement and lexical simulation, like some tense discussion that is all but a yelling match underneath a sighing, impatient surface civility. Representation , simulacra, codes of various types call attention to the events of the real world, and one learns rather quickly that existence , as is, hasn't a storyline it lives up to or a script it follows, but rather goes it's own way. It is our need, among the systems of narrated coping, to give these symbolic virtues to things that happen all of a sudden, or inevitably, but both beyond our expectation and control.

Sack of rocks we drag.
Telescope dish turning.

Engine-hum in back
Alleys where all night

Trucks idle their load,
Whomever the Devil

Would destroy … how
Does that saying go?

Yes, how does that saying go, what was said once by a wise man, where was it that I read...? Narrative , often enough, comes after someone--a writer, poet, a writer of computer games--has had enough life out of their parent's home and has something of their own biography. We have our goals, we have a sense of what we've so far leading up to the current moment, and we expect a certain trajectory for the rest of our being--we expect our lives to have a coherence and a legacy our grandchildren would enjoy hearing. But things go wrong, the material of the planet and the accumulation of forces reach their tipping point and our paradigm is upset; we forget our homilies, who combine our cliches and abandon ourselves to an every-man's fatalism: "such is life". But even with the plot lines we've assigned and assumed for ourselves cracked, stalled or limping, we hold on to the different parts, we adjust, we try to mend and repair the straight road we were on, we carry those things we cannot use. Just when we most need to drop the rock we hang on to it most.

Ellen Wehle's poem confront us with the machinary that gets us through the day, and here rather nicely, sparely, jaggedly reveals something in people who will argue with themselves and those they are close to about why their assumptions hadn't turned out as they thought it would. This, even as they plough ahead, accepting, in some grudging act of survival, that one must press on and linger on dreams that didn't get fulfilled. One does not surrrender to the hard facts of bad weather and no money, one keeps on with whatever sources they have--optimism, hope, anger and spite, different motivations for different people to get to the other side of their despair.

Can we not silence
It even half an hour:

Slip off our headset,
Forget the last ship's

Tinny SOS, break out
Champagne and party.

Palace of a thousand
Lamps left burning

Far below the waves.
… he first makes wise.

Conciousness seems to the result of our need to see ourselves in life as automonous beings making their way through an existence that would otherwise be absent of purpose. Wehle gets to where this connection fragments, and underscores with an interesting filtering of soured sentiments emerging from solid facts one cannot expel from their storyline. Conciousness is more a matter of continually waking from what guiding principle and learning to live life on life 's terms, not on your opinions on how things should go. Conciousness itself isn't a single state of being; it changes constantly, not unlike the mountains and oceans and bad weather it's fluidity of perception tries to help you understand.

What doesn't kill you makes you smaller, and you discover that wisdom is the knowledge of what won't work out. Ellen Wehle is a fine poet of the simply addressed dilemma; her ability to catch the deep, exhausted breathing implied between these sharp, bitter missives demonstrates something that Hemingway understood: an experience worth relating needn't be talked to death.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ellen Wehle and Mark Strand

Not every poem an interesting writer publishes is itself interesting;I've had the embarrassment of seeing my least favorite self-penned poem printed in small magazines
that would expose my damning pretensions to an audience that mattered ato someone trying to practice the craft. I thought Ellen Wehle's poem in this week's Slate"Second Coming" was too elliptical and sparse to worry a meaning from it, which is a shame since I think poet Wehle is normally an interesting poet.This seems less writing than say, jotting , an attempt to get flashing chains of association rapidly on paper. Not every chain is worth rattling, or presenting as a finished work.There is what seems like a conspicuous attempt to create a dread here, something similar to Mark Strand's poem "The Dreadful Has Already Happened" []. Strand, though, isn't merely arranging choppy sentences that are glutted with iconic references; instead he creates a narrative, non sequitur as it may be, and lands us on a terrain that is palpable in spite of it's unreality.
The symbolism and private allusions remain concealed, of course, but their capacity to disturb and convey the sinking feeling that something awful has happened , for me, strikes a primordial core. It works because Strand's elements is localized, with a skewed family history, punishments. The familiar is defamiliarized. Wehle hits a slip stream with "Second Coming" and powers through the junkyard of history with the equivalent of an industrial grade magnet. The assignment , perhaps,was to sweep over the battered metal remains of political and religious bastards of the past and then to make art, a poem, from what sticks to the black, flat disk. It is ,though, a tad worn in presentation, part Dada construction, part political agitprop, part language poem, not synthesizing the energies of the three competing anti-aesthetics into something recognizably new. Or interesting.It suffers the worst fate a poem can suffer, it has no vigor. Tap, and you get a flat thud in place of resonance. This is more finger exercise, a practicing of the scales in different keys, this is something you leave in the notebook. Ellen Wehle is a good poet, and I've written well of here in a past Slate offering, and I will chalk this one up to Robert Pinsky's curious habit of pick weak submissions by good writers.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ellen Wehle and the Art of Not Getting It Right

Ellen Wehle's poem "Augury" , printed in Salon in July of 2003 and which I came across last night surfing through that magazine archive of previously published, is a wonder, a poem about memory that achieves the epic without the expected drag of self-dramatization.There is none of the photographic exactness of detail that makes me think that there is fiction being passed off as truthful episodes; poetry is in large part fiction, I think, but poets (like myself) are reticent to admit that not every line we write is directly autobiographical. If it were so, we would have reams of duller poems, dreary and inane; there would be no art. Art is artifice, after all, and there is no good reason to equate artifice with lack of honest effort or glorious intent. But I like about Wehle's poem is the realism here, the way she gets at the moment when memory fails and details and context dissolve into dust. This is the art of not getting it right.This is a small and minor poem as I read it, but I like it fine, and think there's something honorable in the way Wehle left her undefined problem (her ennui, soul sickness, and terminal boredom) unresolved.

The language is mythic in the rhetoric it assumes, obvious in the choice of "fortune teller" or in sections that literally drip and ooze poetic flourishes, as in
": gabled night, the secret trees
spilling darkness around streetlights, blown roses
singing hosannas over a fence."

What makes the poem interesting, though, is that the world itself, the one the poet is actually walking through, does not really yield anything, become more profound, nor offers the slightest clue to a deeper, life-sustaining argument for all the beautiful used to describe the activity as it unfolds; this poem has the jammed-up literary haste of a restless mind that is certainly too self aware as it goes through the simple activities of executing the banal obligations of daily life.

The mind describes details in literary language, and yet the banal remains banal, ordinary and unreconstructed in spite the epic attempts at metaphorical largeness.
"Don't get me wrong, nothing was solved." is what Wehle writes in the middle of the poem and from there we see it all come apart after that meticulously scripted first stanza. This is a poem that is contrary to Wallace Stevens's notion of poetry being the intuitive and elevated means to get to the Supreme Fiction that lies behind the mere descriptive alacrity of words.

Wallace had a notion that art and life become unified in such a way that the barriers, intellectual and basely instinctual, that separate the primal and the abstract vanishes, disappears, and is gone as perception is heightened and we see the world we are born into as an entirely new place.

Implicit in that is the notion that to see the world differently is to also make it possible to make the world new and revolutionary.
Wehle, in this verse, can't make use of this mythic ability to penetrate into the secret heart of things; her malaise, her situation remains the same, though festooned with the garlands of intense description. The moment of the narrator's admission in the single line middle stanza marks the poem's wonderful disintegration. The language becomes choppy, monosyllabic.

Attempts to re-ignite the dramatic language turn into exhausted mumbles. I actually get the feeling that this a poem Wehle started in good faith and then soured on by the middle, and allowed the poem to gag on its failure to remain grand and dynamic in a field crowded with exclamatory poets and their noisy, incantatory verse. "