Showing posts with label Stanley Moss. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stanley Moss. Show all posts

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cannot see the poem for the trees

"The Man Tree", a poem by Stanley Moss recently published at Slate, tackles the problem of human beings imagining themselves in Nature. That is , not as a part of Nature, but as Nature Itself. This an interesting premise, a philosophical trench war in the making, but Moss can't seem to step back far enough to see the essentials ; he cannot see the poem for the trees.Stanley Moss is a man late for a train, grabbing a suitcase at random from a closet in disarray and then grabbing clothes and travel accessories at random, cramming them into each surviving crevice and cranny of the luggage piece's cramped capacity. 

The point he seems to be driving away with this serial pictogram, that Humans have the conceit that they are Nature, that Nature's assets exist to make them healthier, stronger, happier, that Nature itself, divorced of Human vanity, is only an eternal process of birth and death that belongs to no single one of it's creatures--is obscured and , buried , smothered by an overdone analogy.

Moss loses clarity in this general scheme of associations; the shift from third person to first person voice is jarring rather than expansive. This might have been an attempt to introduce another voice or subtly introduce another voice into this mixture, but without a cue , like italics or at least quotation marks to indicate that there another layer of significance is being introduce and that we're to read longer, deeper into the talk of trees, branches, mountains and conditions of ownership, this poem lapses not into obscurity (a curse as well as a compliment for a poet) but rather into incoherence.

The first person voice also works against the poem's initial quality, which is oracular, sage , an old teacher telling lessons in parable form.Might the Sage suddenly be pointing a staff at a rapt listener while he raised his point, personalizing the lesson? Could he suddenly be addressing himself in a third person fashion after Caesar, Henry Adams and Norman Mailer in order to address his own failings against the lessons he's trying to get across? Perhaps, but given the busily poeticized incidentals we have--more special effects than writing that's especially effective --the interpretation becomes more interesting, more poetic than the poem itself. Returning to this poem after a moment to ponder what isn't provided makes this work's vacuity more obvious. It's an empty box, really, and it's not zen thing at all. 

What Moss attempted was to isolate a fleeting perception, I think, but rather than convey in briefer, sharper images, he instead talks it too death by mounting an argument. So this poem suffers for the comprimise--to exclamatory to be a thing convincingly seen or felt, too brief to be compelling or even interesting as an philosophical insight.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A good jazz poem by Stanley Moss

Sometimes you come across a knock out by rummaging around those web pages you thought you'd scoured years ago and the result in his case today gives me the sound of surprise:Whoa. The poem, A Riff for Sidney Bechet by Stanley Moss, was published in Slate in 2004, and a late reading knocks me to the floor.A seeming homage to Bechet and to the ease and perfection of his playing becomes a tale of envy, a dwelling on the ideal of form of women that reveals itself to true artistic masters, becoming, in the end, a dual edge cry of resentment against better , more masculine artists able to coax the "burnt sugar" from their metaphorically female muse, and against women in general by way of a not so subtly implied extension of his thinking.

Moss has some issues here, I guess, but there's nothing I can read that suggests he's working them out in an interesting way. It's one thing to be enthralled by Bechet's reed work as he improvises and whirls like Nijinsky over the band's rapid changes, and it's admirable that it inspires to write a poem in inspiration. It's admirable, that is, if the inspired work equals and even surpasses the wonder and awe Bechet might have stirred in Moss's observer Michelangelo.Even a nasty, power loving grouch like Pound believed that art was supposed to galvanize every creative and aspiring force in a human being and deliver him or here to a state of transcendent creativity, a higher plain of perception from which to alter the world.

One may disagree whether that goal, in itself, is a plus or a minus so far as poetic intent goes, but the point is that Moss's narrator is evidently disillusioned with the whole process of art, of creating and finding new ways of seeing the world.
It's implied that he feels his own work is inferior to those he isolates as untouchable geniuses, and then complicates his ambivalence further by casting a specious erotic edge to his musing; inspiration, lyricism, heightened perception were a sexualized essence from the feminine muse that it was their duty to attain through coaxing, seduction, or force. The implied picture with Moss's last few lines is as unattractive as the mood that seems to have motivated this poem:

The sunrise bitch was never mine.
He brought her down. In twelve bars of burnt sugar,
she was his if he wanted her.

This is not a poet sitting under a tree on a spring afternoon contemplating clouds and heavenly wonders; rather it's a guy at the end of the bar slugging away at beer as he broods and gets angrier about a universe of smarter men and unattainable women conspiring to make he feel like scum. It's an ugly creation here, and I'm convinced that Moss is being ironic or creating a character not himself. This is less a poem than an outburst you wish an associate hadn't blurted. But there it is, out in the open, a snake pit exposed.