Showing posts with label Linda Pastan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Linda Pastan. Show all posts

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Acorn Poems from Linda Pastan and Carol Frost

Linda Pastan has a short and punchy poem on Slate this week, "Acorns," a streaming rhythm of associations, a fast rush like the sudden gush of water of a faucet suddenly turned off in the middle of the night. One may complain that she doesn't sleep over on any of the points that she taps dances across on her way to the end, but I think that is this poem's strength. As much contemporary verse remains dedicated to the capturing of sensation and perception quickly, accurately, without rhetorical padding often enough applied in most mainstream poems to make a poem seem more critical--bigger, denser, more profound--Pastan succeeds, I think, in giving us a piece suggesting the alacrity of thought. It's an entire and active world, this yard, once one starts to closely observe the small things happening under the broad scope radar.

Many of us, me included, insist much of the time that poems be an argument of a rarefied sort about issues, emotional, spiritual, or outright political, where a bottom line is delivered in a grand language whose elegance and power of the phrase and evoking phrase defy refutation. We do this at the sacrifice of the more miniature poem, like Linda Pastan's "Acorns," where the content and concerns are smaller; the volume is turned down, the language contained to a parsable idiom, but with smoothly, if subtly drawn connections to more significant issues that I can only admire the economy of the effort. The element I enjoy in this poem and what makes it work so well is that it deals almost solely with sight and sound here, with the inferences about gunfire, bullet casings in artillery, and rookie ball players practicing their respective batting styles restricted, that is to say, fused. The commotion triggers what the senses receive from the environment and the figurative associations.

"Acorns" gives the feeling of sudden revelation, a moment of stunning perception that will make one pause in their task and cause one to ponder consequences, the meaning of opposites linked together. What is critical here is the implied dualism, succinctly illustrated, that there is a world of violence, clamor, noise that is not outside this idyllic locale, but which exists inside it, in the conflations the mind will pass under our radar as we rest, reflect, lay about, unfocused in tasks in duties. Indeed, the falling acorns and the sound they make on the tin roof brings up images of gunfire, bullet casings. The economy here works splendidly in Pastan's instinct for containing the more prominent themes in smaller subsets; it gives the reader the tension and the anxiety that no matter what our habits of remaining calm and gathering our wits in the city (or the country, for what the poem provides us), war, death, carnage are never far from our thoughts. This is a swift and effective use of binary opposition, things, and situations being defined by the things they are a contradiction of. Although this is a wholly coherent poem, one which we may read and discern the logic of how imagery from the material plain inspires recollections from the murky archive of memory, it has that quality of the daydream, the abrupt transition; this is a poem that can contradict itself, an invention that the narrator can interrogate and wonder is missing in the picture that has unfolded in front of her:

Where are the squirrels?
the gardeners
with rakes?
the farmgirls
their aprons brimming
with acorns to grind
into meal?
the dog cowers
beside the house
the cat hides
under the car
afraid of
the clattering hooves
of acorns
later big oaks
will grow, a forest
of oak trees their roots
will strangle
this house
listen, listen
all from a single

The last lines listen, listen/ all from a single /tree leaving us where we had started from, at the tree, as if we were the ones who'd been lost in thought and are startled back into a sobering present tense. Suitable that the poem ends without a period (assuming this is purposeful and not a typo). It begins in mid-thought, with sound effects, a rat-tat-tat, and ends in an image that's unadorned, undecorated. Suitably, the matters of the squirrels, farm girls, and hiding cats evaporate altogether. This suggests to me an imagination that had been adrift and is now obligated to accept what is actually in front of them and finish their tasks, to get back into the day before it's gone.

In a past issue of Ploughshares, Poet Carol Frost gives us another poem called "Acorns," finely writ and distinct from Pastan's work. I find it interesting that the fruit, as it were, is presented as an item born of nature that constitutes an interruption on human thinking; in both poems, the falling acorn the fallen nut acts as an intervention in the stream of thought that seeks to assimilate the given world and reintroduces the narrators to some kind of reality principle. And indeed, both disturbances offer up their chains of association, given us in different styles. Frost, a worthy lyric poet, addresses her experience in reflection after the small event;

Last night some across the fell
and woke me as they struck
the roof. Each acorn rolled,
a die-cast down the shakes,
to tell my chances in
the sun and in the snow
to come. What might have been
grief, I didn't go
to look for in the night.

A sweetly singing opening for the poem, and one that tells us that her stanzas are neatly framed, artfully arranged, careful as to tone and color. Something about this reminds me of an Impressionist painting. The ambiguity is sheathed in a soft, muted hue that makes what one is confronted with more mysterious and alluring than threatening. It seems like a description of the things in the yard, assuming their subtle natural relations. Pastan's poem is all about the rush of sensation, I think, the dramatic influx of detail, and the rapid unfolding of an association of a mind negotiating the changes. A more collected memory will perhaps form later. Still, the appeal for me of Pastan's piece was her success in capturing the sheer speed with which the imagination can create contexts and associations and the rate with which those fresh metaphors can be altered, changed, transformed.