Showing posts with label Rachel Hadas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rachel Hadas. Show all posts

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rachel Hadas and the turntable of history

Getting older has many things that bring us down, the most pervasive being, of course, that one has seen it all and said it all ; the consequence of lingering too long in this funk is having oneself consigned to a crowded gallery of elder cynics passing judgement on a younger generation's aspirations and inventions. This is avoidable, to be assured. The earnest cultivation of new adventures, new interests, new people of which and whom one might not have investigated at a younger age--the difference between generations , let us say, being that a younger crowd believes that history has a determined end which they can influence, and the older, which would come to equate human experience as analogous to basic cable channels subsisting on reruns of old TV shows who's plot lines and outcomes are variations on a small selection of templates-- offer a cure for the cheap sense of superiority of the been-there/done that variety.Rachel Hadas' dilemma isn't nearly as global, though, being described, rather , as a sort of free-floating depression , in her poem "Generic". The joys of reading a book to a six year old elude her; perhaps the book was read to her when she was young, fifty five years earlier.

The little boy who snuggles next to me
while I read him Millions of Cats,
and we meow together
"No, I am the prettiest!" "I am!" "I am!"
is five. I'm sixty. The book is eighty-one.
I have read it before.

Hadas elects not to offer miniature essays on the subject of the dissociation from her own experience and instead attempts and, I think, achieves an echo effect with this poem. While she reads the book in the animated voices , it's suggested, elliptically yet strongly felt in the absence of fuller explication, that as she reads the book she remembers and so hears the book being read to her from a previous decade. This crisply outlined introduction sets us up rather well to the narrator's psychology, the encroaching feeling of being estranged from the history and the ongoing events of her life. She is even aware of the terms she hs used to mark the episodes, the verbs and adjectives intended to make her experience unique and significant:

Durable, evocative, stale, weary;
renewable, exhaustible, and placid;
benign or neutral, shifty as the moon;
obedient to undeciphered laws:
What we take for granted
vanishes, reconfigures, disappears.

Her psychology turn the words against themselves, the irony being that their use is supposed to define what is worth holding onto from our life and so give the longer view of few of our journey a narrative quality that will resolve itself in an appropriately poetic fashion; the words themselves are reruns themselves, becoming terms of revision rather than words that mark the singular essence of specific deeds in particular circumstances. The Hadas narrator has not only done any and all the these things before, she has already used these words to contain the problematic dynamics. Language seems, in this revelation, not the means with which we understand the world and our experience in it but rather a convenient device we are clever with to catalogue and index our lives . There is no term pondering, no introspection;one will pull from experience when it's convenient, expedient toward achieving an end."Generic" is a poem about a nagging doubt finding a clear, articulate voice. The achievement of Rachel Hadas is her side stepping the attraction of rudderless introspection and isolating instead the odd remove one feels when what one is doing in real time is no more engaging than a broadcast drama one has seen before. There is , for me, a tangible feeling of dislocation. One can almost feel the curtain drop between the narrator and the events .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brief and banal

Obviousness is not an attractive feature in a poem; you come to the poet wanting something more from words than headlines, cliches, the hackneyed like, and get instead a groady fish tossed in your face. Rachel Hadas, someone whom I've liked reading before, gives me a cold dish. It tastes awful.

Conveniently, a troubled sleep produces a fevered dream of an ominous wedding where , after the anonymous couple finishes their vows and concludes the rite with the ceremonial kiss, the world melodramatically becomes unhinged and unruly. Powerful forces encroach on the transparently joyous occasions and will commence, we assume, to undermine every expectation for the couple's future happiness . But it's not just the wedding pair who are to tormented and subjected to the uncertain whims of a usually cruel fate--the whole neighborhood is infected with the seeping bad faith. The situation goes global.

The air trembled
as if, hooves thundering, a nightmare galloped
past the house along the empty road.
Summer was waning. I was getting old.
The vision of the wedding fell away
and launched me, weary, into a red morning.

Even for a dream sequence this seems rather to rapid a transition between a celebration and gloomy consequences, giving the poem more storyboard, as in film making, than storytelling, odd and menacing as that diffuse narrative was required t me. Rather than an having entree to someone's symbolic equivilents of dread, we have some one pushing figures around a doll house, narrating from afar. It's a forced, ginned up performance.The world was warring, drowning, catching fire.
What we have , in essence , is one of many warnings we've received in our reading lifetimes against putting our faith in traditions, habits , rituals, prayers or anything else one might have hopes for protection against catastrophe or worse. Our expectations of sanctuary, whether in actual , material fact or in spiritual assurance, will slam hard against the brute force of the inevitable forces that gather and express themselves in innumerable ways, from our species territorialism to what forms of seeming revenge Nature herself will heap on us. The couple that's been joined have left childhood and entered into the sphere of adulthood where only truth , hard, unforgiving, unstoppable, holds the reins. People , places and things will vanish, disappear, war clouds will gather, mountains will fall, the god of one's parents will be silent.

Spare as this poem is, it tries too much, a grand slam indictment against false gods and the lot of it; it's dime store Schopenhauer and a c minus paper from a junior college philosophy course. The pessimism that lurks in these stanzas strike my ear as rather too easily achieved, like a tired idea left lying around like some odd object one would grab and use to hammer home a point; it reads like a makeshift construction.It's a bit much, even if this is framed as dream narrative; the anonymity of the wedding couple, the facelessness of anyone who might have lurking in the corners of this congested smacks of a Twilight Zone episode , fine for a show that's been off the air for decades, but a lazy scenario for a poet who wants to do something more than mimic the stylistics of an old TV show.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rachel Hadas: bad poems happen to good poets

Rachel Hadas is usually an interesting poet who combines a supreme literacy with a sensual style that makes ruminations on memory , identity and the shifting ground of one’s world view a matter that compels interest. Her lines deal with the tactile, the graspable, the kind of recollection that is at once vivid as snap shots and yet vague and ultimately implacable in the narrator or the reader’s life. At her best, the poems she writes are the lyrics one finds in the post modern world, a tuneful , resonate set of songs that fall apart when their signifiers are unhinged from the things they signify. What little sense the poems make in the conventional sense, for the conventional reader is compensated for in terms of the working creating a sense of a mind un-moored by a dictating focus and the images are allowed to link with what association seems like a good fit at the moment. Hadas, one supposes, is a succinct John Ashbery. That, is when the poems work. One should check out her 2006 collection
River of Forgetfulness for her mastery of theme, tone, language.

“Body of Book”, though, does not work, and is, in fact, a flat tire, a structure that will not move. Her particular riffs on memory and the fluctuating consequences they have on our present life is a rich terrain to explore , but she succumbs to the worst habit a professional poet, an academic poet can assume, writing a poem about the curse of being literate, well read; it’s not enough that one has read a great many books and had their consciousness expanded, so to speak, but now one must now write a straining verse wherein one contrives the psychic pain of trying to categorize one’s library, but parse, as well , what of oneself is truly original and what has been formed by the tongues of authors and poets one has consumed. I trust that I’m not the only one who gagged when reading melodramatic and throat-clearing clunkers like I woke into the locus of my body or Cherished, it writes itself upon your skin. This sounds like a strained paraphrase of the anomalies Foucault was unearthing in his books Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality , where it’s suggested, that repressive rhetoric is internalized and become an operating part of the nervous system. Whatever one thinks of his ideas, they result in a pointlessly arcane poem.