"Block and Bag", a poem by Tom Sleigh, highlighted this month on Robert Pinsky occasional poetry discussion forum, is an elegant and rowdy verse where animation is everything. The set up is a hotel guest freshly checked into his room, tired and perhaps bored with the traveling from city to city, seeing nothing but one bland motel after another in quick succession. His mind is racing with an urge to create something that is not pre-mixed, popped from a mold, or other wise leeched of all spontaneity . He stares out the window and sees the courtyard of a typical motel, a "blah arena." True to his function as a writer, he creates his own fun.
The writer's mind is a restless thing indeed, with its antennae always positioned to scan and notice and interpret the other wise un-narrated events of the world, the small happenstances that follow other related incidents of otherwise no particular consequence to the quality of the scribe’s day. I well imagine Sleigh and others like him staring out a tourist grade window in a generic hotel staring at the fabricated Americana in front of him, the comfortable swimming pool, the parking spaces numbered and marked with oil stains, the sequentially planted flora and shrubbery and the landscaping which is either obsessively maintained like a forty dollar manicure, or showing lack of care around the edges as brown spots on the lawn and dead leaves on the bushes reveal the brutalities of weather and bad staffing.
The poet peers into this bland arena and desires to make something happen, to find details and commotions that stray from the scripted norm and which appear to bringers of chaos, the usurpers of authority,the life force that cannot be contained by check out times or planter boxes from Pottery Barn, So there is a block and bag in a chase and a duel and a gavot and high step that brush against the otherwise stationary world of a hotel public area, a bit of unruly behavior that could not be predicted; the narration begins, the struggles of being a alive come to mind and find themselves diagnosed and outlined in Sleigh’s telling what he sees and thinks.
It is a fresh examination of things that rarely get scrutiny save for safety inspections and minor repairs; what I enjoy about this poem is the conceit that there is a secret life to things that have no nervous system, no brain, that do not breath nor procreate. It is a cartoon rendering, coyote vs road runner to an extent.