Showing posts with label Wyn Cooper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wyn Cooper. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vowel Movement

Movement”, a poem by Wyn Cooper, is that frustrating species of a poem that starts off well enough, full of promise and intrigue, that chokes to a close. It begins as a smooth ride with effortless transitions between speeds suddenly becomes a lurching, jerking collapse. We are to make note of all the movement that occurs in this narrative, the countryside the narrator speaks of to his unknown companion. The tone is nostalgic, the recounting of annoyances fondly recalled. But time goes on, life advances from one neighborhood to another, one terrain for another completely unlike it. One moves and attempts to be quickly assimilated by something more urban, bustling, impatient, impolite, a city that the narrator doesn't want to discuss, not for long.

This is the pun contained in the title, an obvious ploy from the get-go; the irony, I suppose, would be that the weather, the relative stillness, the lack urgency in the bucolic ruins of fading America are not, in fact, cursed with inertia, as the speaker addresses the particulars with telling, nearly idealized detail. An implied sigh accompanies the pause between first and second stanza; this is the part of the conversation where the speaker is lost in thought and averts his eyes, falls into a melancholy that dares him to speak what he is not able to find words for. The poem goes from being fairly specific to vague and euphemistic. The effect is spoiled by Wyn Cooper's need, to sum up, the inchoate morass seething under the surface of these well-mannered images;
 "...before we
settled in a city of other movements,
found new rhythms that suit us better,
we tell ourselves over and over. "

The poem is a nice if other unremarkable presentation of the low-level anxiety that haunts the suburbia of John Cheever, who was a master short story writer and novelist who explored a generation of the white middle class that had to distract themselves with drugs, adultery, and workaholism. The aim of those who lived in Cheever's New York's outer communities was a continual effort to dull a collective suspicion that the lifestyle and manicured neighborhoods they chose for themselves are lifeless results of preferring Bad Faith over singular authenticity. Cheever, though, was much subtler and more lyrical as he wrote of his characters attempts to fill an emptiness that will not be healed. Cooper had some more writing to do to make this idea work; the poem just quits suddenly and the screen one imagines this monologue being played against goes blank. The last sentence reveals an unwillingness to see this thing through. The poet is unsure how he wants to talk about this string of related icons.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The urge to convert the unruly undulations of our collectivized speech into a hard, condensed verbal thing that makes the dull, if loud noise of lazy inference has crept it's way into a few poet's habit of phrase. We come to Wyn Cooper's poem in Slate, Daily Threads. I liken this to the way my younger brother treated radios, battery powered toys and alarm clocks when he were both the ages of 7 and 9 respectively. He would take the devices apart, typically toss out those pieces he seemingly didn't like the looks of, and then reassemble , to his own liking, what it was he'd dismantled. It didn't matter the radios or the toys didn't work as their advertising promised, my odd and brilliant brother preferred his own idea of this things in his world. Cooper looks on his narrative stream, in turn, and rids the sentences of any phoneme that doesn't make a grating sound. In surer hands this technique works, if only because the writers I'm thinking of--William Burroughs, WC Williams, Rae Armantrout-- intend their works for audiences who live in this world.

Thepoem, is Twitterdism incarnate, and it's most striking accomplishment is that it's taken brevity beyond the conservative deployment of articles, adjectives and other connecting tissues that made Hemingway the still-pilloried genius and made the style a crabby, grandstanding assemblage of barking alliteration and crash-dummy conceits. Some of this might have been effective had it suggested another medium, a painting in the style of Stuart Davis. In his canvases, a city scape on a typical walk does seem to pile on you, which makes his best work a nicely clustered terrain of icons to walk through. But Davis hasn't the curse of feeling required to be literary. Cooper boils the sentences down to the grunts, but what remains isn't believable as speech

Backstreet barricade, arcane
balustrade, hidden kingdom of wing and prayer,
details too fine to miss or mess with,
skinny escape from a netherhood
of parapets and puddle soaked oaks.

He might have veered closer to the old WC Williams' notion of writing to the rhythm and bluntness of speech as it's actually spoken, without a bookish filter to bring the impressions through. Sonnet like? Maybe, but the best sonnets get to an effect that makes you consider the technique and limitations after the emotional content registers and becomes felt by the reader. I can't get beyond this poem sounding like someone attempting a unique way of expressing itself. That is exactly the problem--it does sound unique, and it's the kind of singularity you hope remains a single instance.