Saturday, December 12, 2009
Abstruse , for me, means clutter, vagueness, a grandly arranged set of unconventionally phrased ideas that have the sound of a hollow tin can once their noise is made. Abstract language, in contrast, leads back to a referents, and everything can be discerned in an intricate network of relationships; the associations, obvious and less obvious, emerge from a careful reading of how unexpected things become analogies for unstated irresolution , or as metaphors for a larger theme the specific topic is only a symbol of.
Even in the tight reins of a sonnet, I suspect Cole sometimes lets his imagination get the better of him and leaves a personal association, a private pun , linger quizzically in a line on the pretext that a scholarly critic might catch it, inspect it, run a gamut of philological tests on the wording, and uncover a deep vein of insight and erudition that would make some latter day jaws hit the floor. It's laziness, I think. The poem seems not an account of viewing a dead mother and experiencing a traumatic reaction than it is the work of someone trying to perfect their reaction; this seems about grief as gristle for the literary art , and that I think is this poem's downfall. It's over-thought, and not thought through.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
and tenderness (massaging the arms, sponging the lips) morphed into a dog howling under the bed, the bruised body that had carried us, splaying itself now, not abstract but symbolic, like the hot water bottle, the plastic rosaries
I like associative leaps , the abrupt insertion of an image that although seeming unlike the conversation that preceded it will, on review, suggest a larger emotion, or a larger set of conditions a narrator has yet to realize. This would be the shadow poem, the text of what the writer hasn't said or referred to, the unspoken thing, names, that demands an airing. Cole's dog image is doubly hindered,though, first the near comic placement of the dog under the bed--these are the bits of country songs and stale jokes--the next being that it's a cliche. Anthropomorphising an animal to convey complex emotion is a trick that's been used up in contemporary literature--although the poems of Ted Hughes and some of John Hawk's novels are notable exceptions-- that has become an animator's tool. Unreality isn't a sin in poetry--we insist on it, generally--but a poet's lack of conviction is. The rhetoric swells, the sentences turn into an unemphatic stream :
like the hot water bottle, the plastic rosaries, the shoes in the wheelchair ("I'm ready to stretch out"), as dents and punctures of the flesh—those gruesome flowers—a macabre tumor, and surreal pain, changed into hallowed marble, a lens was cleared, a coffer penetrated.