Thursday, April 14, 2011

THE POEMS OF ALAN SHAPIRO


Alan Shapiro tries to drop us in some one's thoughts midstream in his poem Wherever My Dead Go When I'm Not Remembering Them , an attempt, I gather, to show us what a mind doing casual housekeeping when the ruling personality isn't focused observing himself being poetic. There is impatience here, the anxiety of the wait: the narrator cannot engage the world as he would wish, to exert a measure of will on to his stage. The imperatives of free will, imagination, self-definition, following of one's bliss are for a time suspended, or at least irrelevant because our figure is here waiting for a train that will take him some other place he needs to be; this is a schedule not his own and this leaves him virtually nothing to engage but his own thoughts, inspired by the scene of the wait, the grind and mechanized stutter of the city the whirrs  determinedly past him. The idea is an attractive one, I guess, the conceit of what a personality, normally fitted for turning their life's experience into miniaturized melodramas, would do in the off hours when the mind is "off duty". 


Impatience , though, implies something  like  filmmaker jump cuts, the jagged, abrupt , yammering intrusion of one thought upon another, the overlay of images and opinions, the irrational mixing of personal history and visual detail from the present moment: the effect should be one similar to walking into a room where radio, CD players, televisions, Internet and cell phones are all blaring at once, at full volume, with the same shrill, monotonous insistence. Shapiro's poem sags under the weight of conventional narrative construction weighed down with a string of specifics that kill the sensation:
He is by turns clever, subtle, able to bridge vague quandaries with concrete emotion. At other times he will become parochial, stale, a self- aware mess who too often mistakes an examination of his own powerlessness as a fit subject, of itself, for a poem. This is the case with prolific poets; there’s so much dedication to producing the work that one hasn’t the time, nor the inclination, to give the newer material the disinterested editor’s scan and detect where one’s worst tendencies surface.“Triumph” is one of the lesser poems Shapiro has had published here, an attempt to write a poem about a homeless person the narrator, the poet most likely, he sees daily. There are telling details Shapiro picks out and presents with journalistic precision, especially in the clean way in which he describes the homeless man’s bedding ritual:


I

saw him as I drove by—

I don't have to tell you what he looked like—
Spreading a plastic sheet out
As for a picnic
Except he wasn't picnicking;
He was lying down to sleep
In the middle of the sidewalk
In the middle of the day
On a busy street,
The spoils of him lying there
For everyone to gawk at
Or step around.


There’s nothing here that would open the



I would suppose that Shapiro intended this little tour of his psyche’s interior decoration to operate as a criticism of how literary types allow their infatuation with metaphors, tropes, generic conventions and relativizing their reactions to real events, but what his results are less effective as commentary on alienation than it is a specimen of narcissistic self-regard.

Yes, even measures of negative self-estimation are narcissistic and are evidence of larger vanity since they remain instances in which the author becomes the subject of what’s been written. The homeless man is made less real and is no more than the misery index's equivalent of a nice sunset inspiring a poet to rhapsodize about their frolic under clear skies on a warm day. The poet here ignores an obligation to frame the world he witnesses and to offer an image that would help us think differently about circumstances separate from our set attitudes. This is a formula confession from Shapiro, a poet who should know better; the easy slide into self-dramatization is galling. It’s offensive.
But whatever I did or didn't do
 I did it to forget that
 Either way
 He was the one asleep on the sidewalk,
 I was the one borne along in the car
 That may as well have been a chariot
 Of empathy, a chariot
 The crowd cheers
 Even as it weeps
 For the captured elephant too wide
 To squeeze through
 The triumphal arch
 And draw home
earth and the skies of our awareness of the hard facts of this man’s life, but there is a hint given to a witness’s arsenal of associations that try to comfort the leery from too much bad news. Shapiro’s narrator thinks of picnics at first instead of realizing that the destitute man was carving a space out for himself for a night against the elements, both weather, and human. The problem with the poem comes when Shapiro, the poet, tries to figure out what to do with the scene he has just established; it wouldn’t be enough to allow these circumstances speak plainly and loudly for themselves, sans a lecture or the slippery rationalization of why one does nothing. Shapiro reveals his real intention of the poem, which wasn’t to establish empathy with a fellow human’s struggle but rather to examine his own apathy and his desire to remain in his head, piling metaphor upon metaphor as he processes the unruly sights he repeatedly sees and repeatedly drives away from;


Not gone, not here, a fern trace in the stone
of living tissue it can quicken from;
or the dried–up channel and the absent current;
or maybe it's like a subway passenger
on a platform in a dim lit station late
at night between trains, after the trains have stopped—
ahead only the faintest rumbling of
the last one disappearing, and behind
the dark you're looking down for any hint
of light—where is it? why won't it come? You
wandering now along the yellow line,
restless, not knowing who you are, or where,
until you see it; there it is, at last
approaching, and you hurry to the spot
you don't know how you know is marked
for you, and you alone, as the door slides open
into your being once again my father,
my sister or brother, as if nothing's changed,
as if to be known were the destination.
Where are we going? What are we doing here?
You don't ask, you don't notice the blur of stations
we're racing past, the others out there watching
in the dim light, baffled,
who for a moment thought the train was theirs.





This is more an impatient explanation by the poet of what he was trying to do with the poem than it is a particular set of impressions of standing alone on a train station platform as thoughts invade awareness and then recede. The not so faint shadow of Hamlet attempting to speak to the ghost of his slain father isn't far off, and the poem suggests that a good many of us have incomplete conversations with our dead parents or spouses that we find ourselves conducting when the real world obligations are, for the moment, done with. But for all the emphasis on what rattles in the brain when it's tired and feeling rushed, the poem doesn't convince me. The writing sounds rushed, though, and in fact, feels more like a convenient and easy to contrive self-dramatization than anything composed with assurance. 


Where is the feeling of the world falling in? The nausea of the ground giving way under your feet? The lightheadedness when, in public, a host of repressed emotion and unresolved issues press upon you suddenly, severely, mercilessly? What's missing is the alienation effect, the familiar "made strange", in Bakhtin's phrase; the trains, the buildings, the cars passing by should be bereft of their normal assurances, including the easily conveyed sense of melancholy; this is a world that should seem, at least for the moment, possessed and defined by the dead. Shapiro, however, uses them as props instead to reinforce a conventional poetic sensibility and misses a chance to write something genuinely strange and memorable.



This and That" is an intriguing puzzle. This could be a first-rate piece of writing, yet it stalls on its own conceit, the repetition of "this and that", which is distracting. Shapiro sounds bored with his details, or impatient to get the poem done, but whatever his state of mind, the continued application, stanza to stanza, with all the attending variation, stalls the work. Some other conceit should be worked out if there's to be some connecting colloquialism uniting the strand, but perhaps it's best that the notion is abandoned altogether. There is marvelous, powerful writing here, and it will survive the troublesome T's.


And please, someone ask Mr. Shapiro to rewrite the last three stanzas where his concentration falls on the lone traffic light hovering over an empty town on a winter night. All builds to a power resolution until the last few lines

to recollect only enoughof what they used to mean to sharpenthis feeling of now forgetting it--


This obscures what should have been powerful, visual, final, with a knowing lack of finessed language. Instead, we get this, a cloud bank of frightened introspection, something from a grammarian's notebook. Lost in this gush of uncertain articles and un-anchored verbs is any sense of the physical world, an appealing element that until these last lines was so skillfully outlined with the description of the half-awake children and the splendid use of the objective correlative in having the white, barren town illustrate the narrator's quality of mind and action.

In these instances, the spoiling use of "this and that" aside, there is a skillful linking of an exterior world with an interior existence. The subjective is subtly, gracefully conveyed; Cheever short stories couldn't achieve a finer concision of telling detail. Shapiro needs to rewrite the last image, and pare it down a bit, as the build-up borders on being overworked. The traffic light, waving in the snowy wind casting off signifying colors into a black night sky should remain as is, with as spare a remark as the author can manage. The image needs to speak for itself. The situation should be felt, not explained

"Suspension Bridge"is Whitman-like in all the good and bad senses of the term, good in so far that Shapiro gives us a breathless sweep of details, mostly unremarked upon or decorated qualifiers, that themselves form that Biblical rhythm of long lines hypnotic in their names and distinguishing marks, and bad in that at times the lines don't end soon enough as Shapiro finds yet more things to notice, to bring into his creation of this bridge as a center of a kind of combat.

The problem in that sense maybe the reading--Shapiro sounds as if he lost his place a couple of times, the pacing tripped over itself. He sounded distracted, he paused too long, maybe dropped a page, or had them out of order? No matter, I guess, since the poem is overstuffed to a degree suggesting a too-broad leg trying to cram is itself into a too-small pant leg. But I do like the poem, and there is much to admire here. Shapiro is remarkable with the way he brings elements that create a personality of place from a terrain otherwise seen as inert and coldly utilitarian:

Little lights along the catwalksand ladders running up and downthe water towers near the shore,and headlights shining into taillightsflashing on and off as faras where the lanes converge and branchoff into ramps that cars swerve outin front of other cars to take,while other cars swerve out from on-ramps,speeding or slowing as they merge.Sensation of war. Of being mobilized.Each urgent vehicle, each signaland counter signal, flash of brakelight, finger reaching for the scan,the tuner—all the too-small-even-to-be-recognized-as-small maneuvers of a massiveoperation, effect of ordersbeing passed down through a steelchain of command, from car to car

Movements come across as herky-jerky, grinding and stuttering, traffic formatted as divisions of military components merging in some slowly coherent momentum toward a marked set of targets. There is the effect of a panning camera here, from the start describing the suspension bridge over the Mystic River, down to the tail lights of the cars, the lines, the broadening and narrowing traffic lanes and tributaries, all this brings into the heart of a downtown Boston on what feels like a winter day, with the last line that clinches the feeling that all is instinctual movement until the sun shines on the city streets again:

...the headlightssoon will sweep across, sweepingacross like searchlights overthe momentary faces and torsosof manikins arranged like decoysin civilian dress, in allthe postures of suspended living. 

Beautifully expressed, with a language that's as crisp as the weather the poem evokes.This is about a city in search of a place to stand in it's wait for the center of the day, when the sun is at it's highest , over the bare trees and hard surfaces of the buildings and shines its brightest and warmest for those fleeting moments when one may pause, unfold their arms, move their fingers, take a deep breath, lift their faces as they squint their eyes, a brief moment that life is it's worth and value and that the air carries a whiff of spring scurrying on breezes scurrying around city blocks, the city comes for a time unfrozen that day and for a time it's citizens go back to work, thinking of their lives and homes, perhaps, and not the suspension bridge many of them will soon enough have to drive over again to the homes that wait for them.

-----

This poem reads like John Updike's prose, not a bad thing at all, though it the condition comes with the same objections; the writing is too rich in parts for the subject matter and the idea under it all. The flower, the iris, we address, is being weighed down not just by another blossom coming to life, but by Shapiro's bright, violent eloquence.

"Inter animating pain" is telling and didactic, fine for a prose sequence that are philosophical investigations of a kind, but for what is at heart an imagist-inspired verse, finding significance in the smallest of seemingly small things, the sound this makes is too loud. It's the sound of traffic roaring by the park we imagine this setting to be in, not the park itself.

A softer, less compounded word set is needed, as this confuses and stuns you with its remarkable achievement in phrasemaking, but makes you forget the poem you were reading. It derails the process. Likewise, a ghostly time lapse in reverse is simply the poet working too hard at being memorable. It's too much verbiage for the length of the line and the images it attempts to give character too. Simpler language would have worked better, I think, and given the lines a faster, surer, rhythmic flow. A lyric poem, which this is essentially is, needs to consider its tempo, its musical meter, and eliminate anything that does not serve the sentiment.

All told, though, "Iris" is quite a good love poem, very fine for Valentines Day. Fussy as his diction a be at distinct moments, he organizes his images credibly, beautifully, and draws his comparison between the blossoming iris, with the opening and closing of petals, the way the plant gives grows and changes and modifies its existence with the lovers ever so subtly, gracefully.

It's the second part of the poem I think works most well, where the metaphors are wed, the quick cutting between the flower and the couple, the last statement crystallizing the idea of being inseparable. On re-write, I'd suggest Shapiro cut the beginning, spending less time setting up the final metaphor, the last very fine set of images.

-------------

Shapiro has a feel for the vaguely sad and sullen poem, and he does it well ; "Egg rolls" has the kind of Carveresque undercurrent of percolating anxiety that makes the everyday things we pass through rife with small wars being fought between people whose relations are both the source of their strength and security and the relentless doubt that hovers just over them.

The nice Hitchcockian effect of this wander being started with what ought to have been only a slight disagreement about whether egg rolls should be eaten or passed on by indicts the reader into a curious conspiracy to guess the larger dynamic, the bigger controversy under the passing remarks and criticism. A perfect device for a poem, eavesdropping, wherein only portions of conversation and chatter are heard, mixed and blended and obscured and otherwise enhanced by the incidental noise of a busy restaurant. What Shapiro does well, as he has before in this section, is given the detail that is precise, arranged and described in ways avoid the impulse to add ornamentation or irrelevant literary references;

The gregarious babblemuffled the sharpwords the couplein the next boothwere trying allthrough dinner notto have;onlyan occasionalNo you, youlisten for a change,or How dare youor I can't believe thiswould riseabove the barelysuppressedstaccato pleasegod not nownot here rhythm ofan argument they wantedboth to swallowand spit out.
Then the pause,the momentarysilence in whichthe whole placeseemedto be listening

What works here is the breathless pacing, the rhythm that reminds you of someone rushing across the street, leaning forward. Noise, motion, psychology are woven together in a mind that is frantic to sort out and make sense of the small disturbances at other tables that make him dread the consequences of those parts of his life he hasn't lived yet. Shapiro is perhaps the best poet I've read so far of the new Urban Nervousness. It's a poetry whose nerves are bad, an over alert and agitated sensibility that is easily set off into a worrying verse. Shapiro makes it a point to have the reader aware that his narrator isn't merely considering the abyss in a gloomy, formlessly downcast mood, but that the unease is triggered from external incidents; noises, things said, the reaction of others.Shapiro makes mention of the reaction of others in the restaurant ; all the changes and intensification of spirit are matters that churn in the author's unrelenting self-analysis, but the linear aspect here is not a separate bit of language considering only it's inability resolve the problematic.

It's an interior life presented as simultaneous with the presentation of self in relative degrees of public performance; first the overheard conversation in the restaurant, and then the more private realm of intimacy where there still remains another person for whose benefit a mask must be maintained, and then the unknown qualities of a wakeful mind constantly processing the effect and intent of its own motions and analyzing each interaction for evidence of something not seen. So linear, yes, but not without recourse to the phenomena outside the mind. And I do think that Shapiro's execution here is masterful, a wonderful blurring of an overly alert consciousness interacting in the otherwise meaningless interactions that make up daily life.



Saturday, April 9, 2011

Garbled

Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature: Why does she ask all the wrong questions? - By William Deresiewicz - Slate Magazine
The central conceit of a much contemporary criticism has been to raise the critic's musings on literature to the same level as the literature these folks intensely scrutinize. This seems a ploy to have literary critics form a new priesthood, an authoritative to be sought out no less than that of the poet, the novelist, the playwright, even the philosopher. Marjorie Garber is fairly typical of the academic who feels the need to produce a tract, composed almost entirely of weathered , rusty post-modernist adages, that demands that the reader requires the professional critic to open up the text for them and so facilitate a new rigor in how those so blessed think about the world. "The Use and Abuse of Literature", a manifesto intended to convince the readership she condescends to that their particular takes on books they've read and lived with are woefully incomplete, even shallow. We need to stop asking what things mean and investigate instead how they mean. If you labored for some years with attempts to grasp recent critical trends, you no doubt realize this is something that creates topic drift. Garber gives us permission to not debate ideas put forth through narrative conflict and metaphor and instead insists on turning us into mechanics. It's a messy and pointless labor, I think.


Anyone who knows me realizes that  I am not anti-critic--my chief concern is that the profession and the practice resist the codification of  closed-system terms that want to seal literature from the rest of the universe the art is assigned to engage and to prevent the interested reader from having a nuanced take on a writer's work that can stand beside the effusions of the doctors of literary chatter.  True enough, the critic ought to guide, poke, prod and urge a reader to think outside the conventional , freeze-dried frameworks an entertainment media foists upon us; the activity , though , ought be a temporary thing, as the  theoretical reader we're addressing should cease turning critics for clarification and  consider them, instead, as a means to heighten their own insight. Critics , ultimately, should be a short-lived thing. Garber writes as if she thinks the assignation should be permanent. This is hubris made worse by her habit of asking continuous strings of rhetorical questions about the whys and wherefores of  what creative writers do and then slipping away from  her implied assertions as she glides to the next issue . It makes for a splendid bit of dancing had one the elegance of a Nabokov or a James to pronounce their vagueness with the sweetest and most distracting of verb al music. Garber plays no music whatsoever; this book is a consistent paraphrase of  old notions presented in a droning monotone.

Even a critic I happen to enjoy, Harold Bloom, wrote a little instruction Manuel called "How to Read and Why", a grandiose albeit slight volume where the good critic plagiarized himself from other of his books about and offered up an inconsequential mumbling about reading in a correctly guided manner. Oh well, even smart people with insight and several levels of wit and discernment can be subject to a brief bits of blow-hardism. Though I do think that the there is a variety of "truth" that literature is best suited to reveal and bring forth for discussion, I am not taken with the idea that fiction and poetry and plays are intended to reveal facts. I have no objection to the questions that Garber wants to ask; the reservations comes with Garber's seeming need to rush past those questions and hurry instead to the next set of wonderings. She brings forth a continuous stream of inquiries and then defers, delays, goes diffuse at the edges. What this book lacks is a genuine discussion of any number issues, contradictions, controversies the task criticism contains. She resembles the critic Fred Jamison in this respect; there is a concentrated period of throat clearing and har-rumphing, followed by what can best be described as a gutless strategy of deferral. It makes you want to re-read Terry Eagleton's books on the critical arts, like "Literary Theory", "Problems of Post Modernism" or "After Theory"; background, thesis, argument. In general, I am interested in how literature works , indeed I am obsessed by it, but I am not willing to settle for the Professional Critic to be the priestly arbiter of what needs to be noticed, inspected, discussed; her insistence that the general reader's response is useless with out a Critic's watermark is implicit in this cozy apology.

In any case, Garber's insistence that the task of the critic isn't to discern what a book means but rather how it comes to mean is a handy method to avoid the harder answers a roving pundit might ask of an author's work; she seems very close to insisting that criticism defer a discussion of meaning produced by the form the author chose and instead shine the big lights on the forces contemporary criticism would insist the author is unaware of and beyond his control. This leaves little room for imagination as subject; it is a word many critics seem to fear. You wonder why, after all this time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Counting one's chickens

"Odysseus Seeing Laertes"has a burdensome title, if nothing else. We are made to think that a cataclysmic revelation is about to make us quake in our boots, that something had been written in a more formal age has resounded through the historical corridors and asserts its truism as prophecy. This isn't the case,  however, and the portentous title does a disservice to the  poem's real merit, which is more in line with sort of slight lyric that attempts to clarify a vague feeling but succeeds instead in producing another  kind of beauty.The thinking here appears to be that this poem would resonate louder, brighter, more deeply if there was a classical gloss laid upon it. As there is nothing within the poem that clicks with the oblique title --no reference, that is, that would trigger the reader's own associations independent of a didactic explanation--the reference is merely decoration. The weight it adds isn't inherent significance , but merely freight. It threatens to make the poem ungainly and unspeakably pretentious; the poem, though, survives the author's striving to insert irony where it does not exist.   All this is a pity , since this poem has the makings of being a nicely controlled bit of observational verse, an adult perspective of a distant childhood perception that has, by chance, influenced the narrator as he was growing up; through the fog of memory poet George Kalogeris could have situated the speaker's current state of mind and shown us what it was that made him grasp this faint memory with such a sudden vividness of recollection. I am thinking , of course, that this could have been an intriguing reconciliation between parts of himself that have never quite been at equipoise. 
The poem, though, does work effectively as a snapshot of a something pulled up from one's distant past--there is that sense of someone going through their family photographs, placing them in the best chronological order they can manage. A narrative forms from the sequence, and what emerges in the telling, wonderfully spare at its best , uncluttered (save for the title) with quaint literary props, is a young mind as a blank slate which the world is writing upon.
he elements from modern Greek culture aren't in dispute and, in fact, make this an interesting contemporary poem. The weak corollaries with classical texts, though, serve the poem not a wit. Themes of absence/presence regarding parent-child dynamics have fairly much been absorbed by the larger culture have, in fact, become common stock for poets, novelists and playwrights to make use of; this poem, as is, is fine as an evocation of an adult attempt to bring focus to a diffuse memory and can stand on its own merits. It does not need the Classical allusion the title provides; it's window dressing, a redundant signifier, an advertisement that the poet is well read. The poem does not need it, the reader does not need it, George Kalogeris didn't need to provide it. 
This is an alarm bell I've sounded before, tiresomely so; my dislike of poetry about poetry.One of the things that have been choking the life from much of the work of poets these days is the habit of many to clog the arteries of their stanzas with entirely self-conscious and self-admiring references to poetry and it's traditions. Indeed, too much of the the subject matter of poetry has been poetry itself; there are some with genius and talent enough to make the self-referential style swing and sing with real verve and brains, but genius is rare. In this case, anything less than that level of genius--of a Stevens, an Ashbery, a Silliman--is to not be a poet at all. It's a different kind of game, and it is fueled by its own waste products.


Friday, April 1, 2011

The way of poetry

I used to insist that poems that didn't have "dirt under the fingernails" were without value, insisting that live as it's lived by working men and women in America were more interesting , more complex and more important than the dense, academic poems one was made to read in contemporary poetry anthologies. In full disclosure, I was an undergraduate at the time, in the mid to late seventies, an earnest poet trying to be relevant who, incidentally, was having problems in literature courses requiring same said anthologies. There might have been a worthwhile insight somewhere in my whining for a polemic I could write if I cared to take the time, but it suffices to say that I was lazy, too lazy to read the poems, too stoned to go to class, far, far too stoned to read the secondary sources to be prepared for class discussions or for the papers I had to write. I did what anyone genuine undergraduate poet/radical/alkie would do; I blamed the system. So there.

It took a bit of doing--sobering up, bad grades, failed relationships--for me to get wise(r) and actually read the work I thought unworthy, and the remarks of critics who've done their own work considering the aesthetics at length, and I've since backed away from trying to shoe horn all poetry into a tight fitting tuxedo. What was learned was relatively small, a revelation for the truly dense; poetry works in many ways, and the task of the critical reader cannot be merely to attack and opine but to make an effort to weigh a poem's elements on their own merits , studying how effects are accomplished, and then, finally, lastly, to offer a judgement whether the poem works . Not that I adhere to this prolix method--I shoot from the hip and often miss the whole darn target--but I try. Now the issue, from Slate's Poems Frame, is whether a poem can work if it lacks the glorious thing called "heart".

Anyone seriously maintaining that a work of art, be it poem, novel or painting is doomed to failure because it lacks this vague quality called "heart" has rocks in their head. Artists are creative people, on that most of us can agree, and by definition artists of narrative arts make stuff up from the resources at hand. Whether the source is actual experience, anecdotal bits from friends or family, novels, biographies, sciences, all these are mere furniture that go into the creation of the poem. The poet's purpose in writing is to produce a text according to some loosely arranged guide lines that distinguish the form from the more discursive prose form and create a poem that arouses any number of responses, IE feelings, from the reader. "Heart", I suppose , would be one of them, but it's ill defined and too vaguely accounted for to be useful in discussing aesthetics. Confessional poetry and the use of poetry books and poetry readings as dump sites for a writer's unresolved issues with their life doesn't impress me generally, as in the ones who do the confessing never seem to acquire the healing they seek and instead stay sick and miserable and keep on confessing the same sins and complains over and over. Journaling would be one practice I would banish from a poetry workshop I might teach. We are writing poems, not an autobiography .

I would say, actually, that one should suspect that poet who claims that every word of their verse is true, based on facts of their lives. I cannot trust the poet who hasn't the willingness to fictionlize or otherwise objectify their subject matter in the service of making their poems more provocative, worth the extra digging and interpreting. Poems and poets come in all shapes and sounds, with varied rationales as to why each of them write the way they do, and it's absurd and not to say dishonest that "heart", by which I mean unfiltered emotionalism, is the determining element as to whether a poem works or not. My goal in reading poems isn't to just feel the full brunt of some one's soggy bag of grief or splendid basket of joy, but to also to think about things differently.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soul

David Ferry is among the least interesting poets I can think of. He does, though, come with an interesting premise on occasion, although the result is predictably disappointing; what you thought me might capitalize on he instead fumbles, makes dull witted. "Soul", a poem  now on Slate,  is his  attempt here to convey the worries and woes of getting older through the persona of a lobster is flat, humorless conceit that is not helped not at all by the poet's hurried pacing. The punchline seems to be a variation of an old  12 step group cliche about wanting one's insides to match other's outsides,that one wanted the ease and comfort others appeared to have for themselves. Ferry's monologist feels his body falling apart and changing for the worse and  desires a hard shell, something that both protects what is left and which also hides.
All thought, and all digestion, and pornographic
Inquiry, and getting about, and bewilderment,
And fear, avoidance of trouble, belief in what,
God knows, vague memories of friends, and what
They said last night, and seeing, outside of myself,
From here inside myself, my waving claws
Inconsequential, waving, and my feelers
Preternatural, trembling, with their amazing
Troubling sensitivity to threat.
Ferry isn't addressing anything , isn't discussing any points of contradiction, is not attempting to embrace a dialectic in his experience, that is, witnessing conflicting reactions to what his life has come to and witnessing the facts that result from the conflict, the new ground he'll be standing upon. This is  a man reciting a list of talking points  which hastily connects a crustacean attribute with an elderly human foible .  This reminds me  of nothing less than someone reciting aloud key points of an exam they are about to take or an address they are give.  This is not a lobster speaking, but instead a narrator who is musing why a lobster's body would be better for him than the one he actually has. The metaphor, as I said, is an interesting one and has potential, but Ferry doesn't make it work. The tragedies and set backs and declining physical prowess make the poem poignant, but do not, of themselves, make them poetic.
David Ferry hasn't engaged his idea--this is the writing of someone trying to describe in detail the things they see from a moving car's passenger window, the result being a series of quick summaries and ad libs that cannot avoid their essential inanity. Kerouac had written that the first thought was the best thought ,that one ought not refine their "ah-ha!" with refinement, an attractive premise that has , in fact, ruined countless poems. The poet's job, I think, is to put in the work, apply the craft and, like good actors with a superb director guiding them, don't let anyone see you sweating the technique.Empathy is easy for all things related to getting older and feeling less vim and vigor ; I understand Ferry's interest in the topic. Empathy, though, does not by itself grant quality. He had an interesting at the start when he suggested that lobster's body is better suited to a human one since he is feeling less human the older he gets. It 's just too bad that Ferry's resulting poem doesn't rise above a rambling list of aches and frustrations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Put Your Ipod in the Microwave


I neither own an iPod nor wish to get one. As a user of public transportation to work, it's an expected sight to witness row after row of collage students , gang bangers and men and women in various states of middle age creep sitting or hanging on to rails with the earplugs in, long white wires filtering down to the nearest pocket, staring off into some spot on the bus where there is no gaze coming back, looking nothing less than already defeated and depressed by the day ahead of them, there thumbs dialing the volume of their 85,000 song list up and down. Contrary to what the expectation of solitude they think headphones assure them, they are in fact sharing their music with everyone on the bus; muted bass lines, screaming guitar solos, muffled vocals, thudding drums, sounding as if the iPod were in tin can at the bottom of a storm drain,
blasting away under the batteries went dead. Not a pleasant sound. On one ride a passenger trying to read a newspaper had had enough with this ugly sound and stood up to lean over the aisle and poke a student wearing the device to turn the music down. "Fuck off," said the punk, "I will fuck you up".

"Turn your shit down" the newspaper reader repeated, and at the point I got off the bus to get to work, thinking that it was a low irony that music hadn't soothed the savage beast, but rather only pissed him off royal, all before 8 o'clock in the morning.

I'm not an erstwhile   Luddite,  but I would venture that folks hunched in a seat wearing iPod headphones don't look as if they're having a "more active, enjoyable inner life " as a result of technology. To a man and a woman, they look withdrawn, wan, depressed, and for all the joy having instant access to every song ever recorded is supposed to confer upon them, they, as a class, fidget and twitch. More often than not their music is simply too loud, and the muffled hizzzzzzzzzle of music is forced upon all seated near them while they damage their hearing, oblivious to the rights of others. Music is then merely a garish or inane wallpaper that puts the world in a position to talk to the hand, speak to the fist, mumble into one's Styrofoam cup rather than interact with the world. This isn't to say that each of us needs to greet and discuss their issues with those they don't know in some mistaken idea of participatory democracy; iPods, cell phones, anything form of  headphones frees one from the common courtesies that make life in the city bearable; the small things that keep us civil--the nod, the thank you , the excuse me, the small things that keep our hands unclenched and our limbs relaxed, are taken  from our  interaction toolkit, leaving little else but blunt, stumbling, aggression. As with the cell phone yakkers who fill every public space with the blare of their voice detailing every inane detail of their day , iPods are
evidence that what technology makes it easy for consumers to do is inoculate themselves against the world and convince themselves that there's no need to give a flat fuck about whether others think you're a jerk for imposing your gadget-happy fetishes on their fellow citizen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lola Ridge claws her way out of the dustbin



I can't imagine anyone considering Lola Ridge a good poet; spare as her images may be, they come off to me as suffering a dual deficiency. First, her language is flat and prosaic, ordinary in the sense that Theodore Dreiser is prosaic, even clumsy in his phrasing. A latter-day generation of graduate students and their topic- starved faculty can easily fall in love with her poems and even generate claims for quality using specialized and wholly incomprehensible criteria, but this fact does not convince me that my horizons are too low.

Ridge sounds like just another tone-deaf poet; I think she is frankly as posthumously overrated as the splintery metal shavings that Mina Loy claimed as her poetry. Even considering the period style, a quality where we're supposed to suspend our notions of fluid, economic expression and accept as an aesthetic plus we've yet to accept in our preferences, this strange mixture of styles just seems like someone who is dedicated to making their work striking, noticeable, singular--there is a perceivable straining toward original style that succeeds, basically, in subjugating interesting material to serve a self-conscious artifice.

Ridge is notable, I think, for having the still-current curse of demanding that you get her drift; writing for the day when centipedes march over false prophets "who will have their hands tied" is one of the worst political tropes I've read from any poet, period. It's a groaner, a gas passed that rips out during a stagnate, soul-killing poetry reading, a cut-doll of a trope, flimsy and blatant.At this point you are reminded of being compelled to  listen to someone go off on a rant about  one injustice or another , weaving a tale that converts the entire fabric of  reality as one streaming conspiracy of bad bad juju , bad faith and paranoia and wickedly ill-executed metaphors making you feel as if someone had just pissed on you, you powerless to respond, to argue or reason with, all you can do is nod, smile, nod, harbor thoughts of violent revenge against what you don't know. I would pray a compassionate God would give me a cardiac arrest on the spot as a blameless way of getting out of this person's presence. Ridge is that awful. You can appreciate, I suppose, why she was popular in her own day; you can understand just as easily why she was forgotten. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Catapult

Dredging the memory swamp for  a glimpse of how you used to conceptualize the world as a very young person who hadn't, as yet, been incorporated into the tough neighborhoods of  group think and bitter fear  is often times an activity that will suck you down to the  bottomless ooze of wishful thinking and  regret that will, if you're lucky enough to have held your breath long enough and clawed your way back to the rutted surface, convince you that you know nothing of the essentials that make up the meaning and direction your life took on. That can be depressing; for poetry,the matter is better served if the writer realizes what it is they cannot answer; the vague outlines, the nuanced shapes, the sounds and smells that get the mind swirling are all textures to recollected experience. The past is an impressionist painting and the art of it is in the Not Getting It Right. I rather like Kimberly Johnson's poem "Catapult" for that reason --her sonnet promises to capture her object memory in a set of metaphors, but  comes away only with what the images suggest .

The intent appears to be to make things that would other wise be mere remains and relics on the ground on which they were found into heavenly creations by making them airborne, momentarily free of gravity, suggesting that they could ascend directly to the next level just before they reach their penultimate height and give into the call of the flat, hard ground below. It's a fine idea for a poem, I think, bringing a child's idea into view and to capture both the expectation of miracle graces meeting an inevitable fact that gravity always takes its toll; even better that poet Kimberly Johnson has the child blithely ignoring whatever lesson adults might reasonably expect to be learned instantly and instead try the endeavour over and over and over again, until the agent of arced aviation is satisfied with the results, or, in other words, merely bored with her game.  

Bored or not, the child's devices and desires were to see things in transcendence, in flux, exhibiting the glorious suggestions that a light of God might shine on them; I sense a childhood fascination with flying, sensations of weightlessness, the exhilaration of being freed from the grasp of mundane earth with it's regimen of cause and effect and perhaps, as a result of that liberation, becoming empowered to transform the world one sees; this has much to do with magical thinking, I think, a child's cosmology that deals with the dark mysteries about why life is the way it is, hard, without joy, abrupt, the creation of private myth making as to why things are the way they are, locked into position, beholden to arbitrary laws of nature.


Our catapult operator here desires a peak behind the wall that separates her world of neighborhoods, driveways, schools, traffic lights and the higher realm where everything that matters is a manifestation of grace; this could be a child's version of Wallace Stevens lifelong poetic task, to imagine beyond the cruelty of appearance and to get at the perfected state of Things In Themselves. The difference, I think, would be that the intent here isn't as baroque as Stevens' ruminations were; Johnson, young Johnson, perhaps, wants only a glimpse of what things might be like if solid, material things were closer to God's breath, just an idea of what it would be like to tap into a source of great power. Just a glimpse, mind you. Like Stevens, Johnson's young catapult operator wouldn't know what to do with the transcendent state for too long a period; Stevens seemed stunned into awed immobility and, I suspect, our protagonist here might have gone where ever else her curiosity dictated.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A poem should be, criticism should mean

Someone recently broad-shouldered their way into a decent discussion of a poem by David Blair in order to achieve little else than suggest that those present were taking themselves too seriously with all this high=falutin' nonsense. Predictably, he concluded with the stale bromide Alistair MacLeish that a "poem should not mean but be." That, he supposed , would be the end of it, but those who know MacLeish and his Modernist cousins can sniff a misreading when the aroma seeps under the door. It should be noted that what MacLeish intended (or, let us say, meant is that poetry itself ought not mistake itself as an adjunct of philosophy and render what otherwise be formal
arguments in verse form; the modernism he was apart of, along with Pound, Eliot, and especially WC Williams, was to slough off the preceding Romantic tradition , with it's habit of heroically trying to wrestle the existence into order.
Yesterday, 1:15:10 PM PDT
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The general concern with the early modernist poets was to treat the poem as if were a hard, malleable material and to write poems that , like paintings , sculpture, photography, would get across human perception, with words and phrases that adhered to the cadence of the speaking voice and which used no linguistic buttressing. "The thing itself is it's own adequate symbol"
I believe how Williams put it. This wasn't , though, a proviso against detailed interpretation of poems--Pound, Eliot, and the others obviously wanted their audiences to see the world in new ways, free of the burden of the past. In keeping with their general desire to improve the language and how it can be used, their aim was also to inspire a more vigorous discussion of the work and, in doing so, about the world we live in

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Charles Simic's wake up call

Charles Simic's poems appeal to me for the same reason you might like a wisecrack someone makes as they recall an incident that  turns into one of  life's little lessons:  whether lost car keys, spilled milk, or walking around a department store with you fly open, a terse, casual summary, vaguely self mocking, with an odd detail tossed in for texture, makes the phrase memorable . We can each supply our own example of things a friend has said we wish we could claim as our original wit. Simic, here, has a poem, The Red Alarm Clock, I wish I'd written.


Red Alarm Clock"I want to sail down the Nile
At sunset
Before I die,"
You said once, Cleopatra.
The room, I recall,
Had a plank floor,
A narrow bed, and a window
Facing a brick wall,
Plus a chair where I kept
A pint of bourbon,
The coffee cup we used as an ashtray,
And a red alarm clock.



This is a perfect snippet of a longer conversation, the start of something that makes you lean closer for the juicier parts, the contrasting accounts of what was said and done and how both the narrator and the "you" remember each other's response. It is a vivid, brief, alluring tease of a poem that does not drift off as would a conversation between two people fade as the couple walked further up the sidewalk from where you stood. It is cut off, rather, bright, loud, full of hard things, a tangible place. A room with a skinny bed, a window that gazes upon the grain of brick wall, a chair used as night stand to hold pint of bourbon. Simic has the particulars of a James M. Cain novel, he all but suggests a lustful reunion before and the beginning of a bittersweet dissection of an ended affair in the rumpled afterglow.

 It's not unlike some smooth camera work; you can feel the lens slowing panning the stark room,  ending up in on the coffee cup --the additional bit of it being "used as an ashtray" is a precisely brilliant fit for the situation evoked here--and the red alarm clock,  uncluttered with poetic language, it's color alone setting the tone of  an urgency both these characters would rather ignore. The clock, though, is enough to bring home the fact that the clock is ticking all the same and that  time runs out for everything, even regrets and reunions. Simic  concerns himself with neither the back story nor the tale that continues after the last line, he focuses on this slice and creates, I think, a set of particulars that create a mood, if not a meaning.

The feeling of  that time has expired is made more tangible even by the way the narrator says, lastly, at the end of his sentence, as throw away detail "...and a red alarm clock ."  Unfreighted with meandering metaphors or latch key similes to ham handedly imbue the object with intangible qualities, Simic prefers the physical over the literary and lets the situation as described create the mood from within it's parts; the phone is mentioned,the color is emphasized, like something remembered , suddenly, brutally, an intrusion of truth that seeps into a conversation that reminds you that yes, whatever was the case before is done with and now is the time to move into respective horizons
.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What and Why is Hip?


Lipstick Traces:
 A Secret History of the Twentieth Century
by Greil Marcus
Image result for lipstick traces marcusMarcus is obsessed with secret histories as manifested in the inchoate habits of a populations seeking to amuse and distract themselves, and his decades-worth of rants, ruminations, and reiterations wherein he tried to wed his original concern with rock and roll as an inevitable countercultural force that galvanized various energies that would, finally, transform the world in very Hegelian way with the larger aims of politics and social theory, we are met with decidedly mixed results; lots of insight, extended bits of associative brilliance that only a word-drunk can manage, but a thesis, as an articulated examination of what is happening in our world typified by art, music, demonstrations, technological upheaval, the good author falls short. Lipstick Traces, of all his work, is the best example of what he does, and I would recommend it to the reader is interested in reading the poetic extrapolations of a writer who thinks that he's found something significant in the rock and pop album he bought --things as significant as the books he read in college--who cannot, or will not, stop microscopically examining the examples he brings up and construct a theory on which his metaphors can rest. Marcus seems to assume that the theory is implicit in the examples he pulls from the dustbin, but he makes the mistake of forgetting that he is supposed to be writing criticism, not poetry. Implicit is the idea that there are discrete but discoverable bits of spontaneous resistance in the arts to the dominant ideologies that control the money, the armies and navies, the cops, that are leading civilization to a blind-sided destruction; that it is human nature to reinvent the world informs and concept that attempts to break an enforced world view. Marcus links Cabaret Voltaire, Dada, Rock and Roll, French Cinema and, of course, Situation-ism into this scheme, but he never makes his case convincing beyond the obvious need for him to believe it himself. It seems a beautifully rendered bit of what might have been.

Marcus might have made his task simpler if he simply asked: "what is hip?"  John Leland did that, with better results. John Leland's Hip: The History is the sort of book I like to read on the bus, the portentous social study of an indefinite essence that makes the reader of the book appear, well, hip. This is the perfect book for the pop culture obsessive who wonders, indeed worries and frets over the issue as to whether white musicians can become real blues musicians or whether Caucasian jazz musicians have added anything of value to the jazz canon besides gimmick. What we have with Hip is a what Greil Marcus has been attempting to for decades, which is write a coherent narrative of the margins of American culture, descendants of slaves and the children of immigrant parents, coalesced in ways in which each other's style and manner intermingled even if the respective races did not. The grace moment in history is that some wonderful things emerged from all this borrowing, posturing and tension, the jazz, rock and roll and a genuine American literary vernacular; the tragedy is that it took generations of racism and violence to produce the historical conditions for these vital arts to emerge. The question of hip furnishes the theme that brings Leland's sources together--what emerges is the story of two races that cannot live together and cannot be apart. 



Leland, a reporter for the New York Times, has done his research and brings together the expected doses of cultural anthropology, literature and, of course, music to bear on this sweeping, if unsettled account as to what "hip" is and how it appears to have developed over time. Most importantly he concentrates on the lopsided relationship between black and white, each group borrowing each other's culture and suiting them for their respective needs; in the case of black Americans, rising from a slavery as free people in a racist environment, hip was an an ironic manner, a mode of regarding their existence on the offbeat, a way to keep the put upon psyche within a measure of equilibrium. For the younger white hipsters, in love black music and style, it was an attempt to gain knowledge, authenticity and personal legitimacy through a source that was Other than what a generation felt was their over-privileged and pampered class. Leland's range is admirable and does a remarkable job of advancing his thesis--that the framework of what we consider hip is a way in which both races eye other warily--and is sensitive to the fact that for all the attempts of white artists and their followers to cultivate their own good style from their black influences, the white hipsters is never far from blackface minstrelsy. For all the appropriation, experimentation, and varied perversions of black art that has emerged over the decades, there are only a few men and women who've attained the stature of their African American heroes, people who, themselves, were the few among the many.




Saturday, March 5, 2011

Should poems be beautiful?


I like ugly, imperfect, ambiguous art, especially poems, but I also love form, elegance, an ordered pairing of opposing things that once, brought together, gives us a sublime thing indeed. What gets to me is a poetry that gets across what the poet attempts with a mastery of techniques that are true to themselves, not an ideology.Beauty is something that is limitlessly subjective, and as much as a protracted discussion about what constitutes a beautiful object can be, I'm inclined to think that poetry ought to be interesting on its terms, the best effort a poet and his or her craft can create with their talent and personal inclinations. The problem with insisting that a poem should be "beautiful" according to a standard imposes limits on what the poet can do with a work and, in effect, implicitly dictates that a work adhere to requirements that are ill-suited for an emotion, an idea, an event, an experience that would motivate a writer to compose some lines.




The beauty of the best poems I read comes less from their adherence to formalized structures and strategies as it does from those elements that seem to break away from the phrase-making one expects and combine with a writer's honed instincts for developing a rhetoric that allows a poem to stop you for a moment, ponder the phrase, parse the image, appreciate the shifts in tone and sound as layers are added, and appreciate the unexpected places where the stanzas stop, where they jump to, where they land. These are elements achievable in any number of ways. I care less for the aesthetic choice a poet selects from the outset than I do for the results he or she gets when they're finished with work and judge it ready for a reader's appreciation and response. The validity of any idea is in how it works. Henry James said that, in better prose.











"Interesting" might be a mild word, but I used it because I think it encompasses more things for discussion than whether one goes by whether a poem is "beautiful" or not; beauty, I think, is a banal consideration since it funnels one's concentration on the surface qualities of a work. You can discuss only so much about the heroic efforts of writers who desire to make their experiences--or the experiences they would like to have had--stand out because they've mustered up a High Rhetoric and a line of striking, fussed-over images. Beauty, more often than not in my readings, comes down to how well the world is made to harmonize in all its shades, hues, and tonalities, the conversion of notions into ideal types; what makes a poem interesting, the elements that bridge the gaps between experience, a philosophical position and the word choice which produce, in turn, that effect, the irony, the unexpected perception, gets glossed over. Interesting poems for me are those that get at the exactness of particular states of mind, shifts in personality, dissonant situations that are uncomfortably linked, and an understanding of what makes these written expressions fascinating makes for a fuller discussion, or debate, as it were. Beauty, for me, is a vague and useless term when applied on such a broad scale--as I mentioned before it's more compelling to discuss how successfully you think a poet is getting across those inexpressible things in terms of the unforgettable.














Too much of the time "beauty" represents a conservative, repressive and reductionist set of conditions that, at their essence, seek to contain whatever socially provocative or critical aspects a work of art, a poem, in this case, might contain and which could be delivered to a readership. Herbert Marcuse saw "beauty" as having become bankrupt a term in the late global capitalist formations after World War 2, and argued in his book "The Aesthetic Dimension" that the role of art is solely to produce joy, that state which comes from a liberated, enlightened condition, and that society's obligation to the artists was to leave them alone. I would agree with him, since what he wanted was a population that could uncover the wit and wisdom of a piece (in a manner of speaking) by considering the particulars artist's obligation is to be truthful to their gift, their talent, and to apply it fully so that the particular sorts of truth they're capable of sensing and sussing out from the dissonant happenstances that, presumably, are not readily gotten by those of us who go to work, have families, struggle with daily things rather than ponder the big questions.
















This is Marcuse's point, in that he believes, quite beyond any political or philosophical predisposition regarding the default job and obligation of being an artist, that they are definitely the antennae of the race, that their senses are enhanced by their being poets, novelists, painters, architects and have the ability to make us aware of nuances and intrigues, truths usually not told nor considered. I would agree with Marcuse that the culture would benefit far greater from the work these folks undertook if the rest us changed the conversation about whether the poems, the paintings, the books , the buildings created by these folks adhere to a shackling set of imperatives and instead considered the work on its own terms--what is that the poem, for example, might be saying about a set of contradicting factors, and is the language adequate to the goal of helping you go further than the received reactions a duller aesthetic would have you settle for. It's a dialectic, to advance a singularly unoriginal idea about the process--I don't think the artist delivers a set of redecorated cliches about affirming life that experience proves to be patently false. Yes, the artist ought to challenge expectations, and the audience would need to argue how well the craftsperson succeeded in the attempt.






















Friday, March 4, 2011

David Blair's Argument with Heaven

In some sense most of the poems we read tease the edges of a death wish, not in the sense that the poet desires to merge with the molecules and greet the large dark before him, but rather more like a curious soul daring the unknown and the unspoken dimension of human experience, the end of one's life, to reveal some knowledge. David Blair's  "A Poem About Heaven" poem seems something like that, a fragmented, giddy swirl of associations that have been triggered by his mother's death; what this mind creates isn't a metaphysical speculation on ideal associations remaining permanent while the flesh fails, or an autobiography to where another's mortality furnishes the punch line to one of the chapters, but rather a rush of sensation, of images, associations that bump, careen and otherwise swerve around one another.   As with the issue of rage, unleashed anger, overwhelming the mind to the degree that the world is presented as linked in a sequence of irrational targets that have misery to one's life, the shock that precedes the onslaught of grief is full of sensations of being whisked around a gallery of past events, significant and inane details dovetailing into one another against rational association. The silly and the sublime are not so much linked as they are twined and untwined in what seems like pulverizing vortex.
I am such an impressionist.
My legs get cold;
my arms get cold,
weird thinking of my mom dying
in my old bedroom, now the den.
And kneeling is weird. The northern lights, 
weird. Arcade lights. Wildwood, New Jersey,
weird, inside my eyelids. But I'm not thinking
of Poe again and the dance of colors.
I'm thinking of the hierarchy
that my mind wants Heaven to be.
A house keeping is suddenly in order, a reinforcing of what one knows in their world is required; Blair gives is a hurried desperation of one examining the things of their world, their experience, their accumulation of habits, talents, material things, in an attempt to repair the gap a family death creates. What he does here with the fast jumps between stanzas, the giddy and the reserved clamoring against each other to set the tone for the young man's attention, is create the sensation of being in free fall. It's not unlike being thrust into the reality of an old cartoon where the coyote, during his chase, missed the bend in a mountain pass and finds itself in mid air, falling only when it realizes that there is nothing supporting his feet; I think the feeling of spiraling down, clawing at the air for anything that might be there to grab onto, is unmistakable.
Why else
these figures
from a deck of cards,
kings and queens kneeling down to Jesus
in the neon shoreline,
tunnel of love, of horrors, boardwalk
attractions—
only these
are blissful religious figures. They kneel 
because they are weak in the knees.
So much goes through the mind, combinations of shock, anger, denial, fleeting relief; the narrator argues against the concept of heaven and assigns the kneeling tribute to a Jesus figurine not as an acknowledgement to divine presence but rather to weak minds or merely fatigue, insist instead that the things in the world he has grown to know, his family, friends, his community, have a significance that provides him with everything with everything Heaven was promised to be. The doubt is palpable, and the argument Blair's narrator tries to make lacks coherence, but this is someone trying to regain their balance, to brace themselves for the inevitable rituals he knows are coming.
<i>I go back downstairs
to a house full of the voices
of all my family, my whole life,
sure, we are going there.
 
There comes the point in all of this frantic self-scrutiny where one the dissonant, radio like static of doubt, denial, anger becomes white noise of kind and fades and one is left numb, finally, alone with a stark
set of facts that makes the best lyric poetry and most inclusive philosophies seem no more than an archive of chiseled sophistry; there is the irreducible fact that whatever one thinks the meaning of their life happens to be, whatever one thinks about how things should be or how they should turn out, that however high or low one climbs or descends on the scale of measurable things , we all, finally, going to the same place. Blair's protagonist, it seems to me, isn't at this moment convinced that it will be place where they will all meet again; he is convinced, though, that it will be a situation when the arguments stop and there is a peace only eternity, by any definition, can provide.I think of the last lines as a paraphrase of Samuel Beckett's famous line " I can't go on, I'll go on." The whole enterprise of living becomes an intolerable burden, and yet one pushes further and deals with what's in front of them--family, job, friends, --because one cannot simply resign from their commitments. It's not that one cannot resign, of course, only that it's not simple. Blair's narrator by poem's end appears to come out of the conflictied swirl of sensations and decided to return to the family that quarrels, cries and banters, thinking , perhaps, that in the meantime, the time before one's own demise, it's better to be amid the clamor of the irresolute than be be  self-sustaining and isolated.