raccoon cadaver of colored crayon

3 02 2008

the poet (at his wurst?) as sausage maker …”supplying the pig snouts and rectal tissue of language / which the critic encloses in a thin membrane of explication.”

 

Here’s another Stephen Dobyns poem (see always engaged in revision), found here (where they will read it for you)

Can Poetry Matter?

Heart feels the time has come to compose lyric poetry.

No more storytelling for him. Oh, Moon, Heart writes,

sad wafer of the heart’s distress. And then: Oh, Moon,

bright cracker of the heart’s pleasure. Which is it,

is the moon happy or sad, cracker or wafer? He looks

from the window but the night is overcast. Oh, Cloud,

he writes, moody veil of the Moon’s distress. And then,

Oh, Cloud, sweet scarf of the Moon’s repose. Once more

Heart asks, Are clouds kindly or a bother, is the moon sad

or at rest? He calls scientists who tell him that the moon

is a dead piece of rock. He calls astrologers. One says

the moon means water. Another that it signifies oblivion.

The girl next door says the Moon means love. The nut

up the block says it proves that Satan has us under his thumb.

Heart goes back to his notebooks. Oh, Moon, he writes,

confusing orb meaning one thing or another. Heart feels

that his words lack conviction. Then he hits on a solution.

Oh, Moon, immense hyena of introverted motorboat.

Oh, Moon, upside down lamppost of barbershop quartet.

Heart takes his lines to a critic who tells him that the poet

is recounting a time as a toddler when he saw his father

kissing the baby-sitter at the family’s cottage on a lake.

Obviously, the poem explains the poet’s fear of water.

Heart is ecstatic. He rushes home to continue writing.

Oh, Cloud, raccoon cadaver of colored crayon, angel spittle

recast as foggy euphoria. Heart is swept up by the passion

of composition. Freed from the responsibility of content,

no nuance of nonsense can be denied him. Soon his poems

appear everywhere, while the critic writes essays elucidating

Heart’s meaning. Jointly they form a sausage factory of poetry:

Heart supplying the pig snouts and rectal tissue of language

which the critic encloses in a thin membrane of explication.

Lyric poetry means teamwork, thinks Heart: a hog farm,

corn field, and two old dobbins pulling a buckboard of song.

 

Pallbearers Envying The One Who Rides

 (Penguin, 1999)

 

 I love his struggle —

Which is it,

is the moon happy or sad, cracker or wafer? He looks

from the window but the night is overcast. Oh, Cloud,

he writes, moody veil of the Moon’s distress. And then,

Oh, Cloud, sweet scarf of the Moon’s repose. Once more

Heart asks, Are clouds kindly or a bother, is the moon sad

or at rest?

 

Excellent… Sometimes poetry can go for the technicolor image instead of the truthful one, the meaningless but evocative metaphor rather than true meaning. Of course, there are many other points in this poem, but, after all, you could truly say that I am enclosing another’s post and another’s poem in a thin membrane (oh so thin) of explication myself. Perhaps the thinner the better.

 





his safe smell was all around and he told me he was so sorry he would drink up every bit of water in Dresser’s Pond if that would make it all unhappen. it can’t

3 02 2008

LEARNING TO SWIM is a painful narrative of poems that — truly — I expected to hate as soon as I read the first page. I could see where they were going from that first page — as the poet intends —  and I didn’t think I had any desire to travel there.

 

I’ve only just begun to understand how to read poetry — reading particularly each word and phrase, not just the ideas and content, bringing a concentration that is unnecessary for comprehension but allows me to appreciate the art. It is not necessary to study a painting to understand what is portrayed, or even to appreciate it at some level. But if you do study it, and the artist has invested his skill in the painting, then you will be rewarded for your contemplation, especially if you have taken the time to educate your eye. This concentrated reading, I find, means that painful poetry has more power than painful prose.  And I’ve read enough “important” stories of trauma to have a distaste for it in literary form. So I set this book down when it got distasteful and ugly. I don’t feel that a book or a story has to be about some terrible act in order to be important, and I feel a distaste for the easy importance that clothes such stories. But that false patina of power is not what I found when I picked it up again — hoping to read swiftly until I found this passage, the one that had caught my eye in the first place:

 

There are veils

over the high bush blueberries,

like huge white wings

brushing the ground.

Mother and I scrooge under,

tin cans in hand,

and pull the berries down

so fast they rattle

and fill to the brim.

I hate their sour taste

but love being hidden

under the netting

where no one can see

me.

 

But as I quickly read, I found myself drawn in and found the story in these narrative poems so true as to be compelling. And these poems are true, reflecting not only the pain of the assault, but the eventual cleansing and moving on that happens in real life. A recovery that doesn’t make the original act any less repugnant, but is not a permanent destruction of youth and childhood either.

 

In the prologue, she says

 

This is what I remember:

that hot room,

your strange body,

your hands hurting,

and harsh words

telling me terrible things

would happen

if I ever

told.

 

But now you can’t

find me or reach me

or hurt me ever

again and once I tell the words

I am going to kick

you off my porch

and learn to breathe

again.

 

Perhaps you find this a promising beginning. I did not. But the speaker recovers, and so does the poetry.

Or, rather, first the poetry, then the person.

I hate the color yellow.

I hate limp curtains.

I hate iron bedsteads

and thick boys in shorts.

When I grow up

I will have a green room

with a soft, mounded bed

and white curtains

blowing in the windows.

In my room

there will never be

a thick boy in shorts.

 

For me this recovery was even more appreciated because I didn’t quite believe it was going to come, so fully, either in the story or especially in the almost poetry — I call it that just this once because it has so little besides formatting and intensity to make it such. Perhaps it is more fairly poetry that is almost not poetry…

 

Daddy held my hand

as we scrambled down

the path to Dresser’s Pond.

We waded in together,

and I thought of white, bony

things I could not see,

of a lake octopus waiting

to sucker its tentacles

around my skinny legs.

Daddy said,

“You are learning to swim,”

and I let go of his hand.

“I am learning to swim,”

I chanted

and when the bottom

fell away,

I bobbed on top,

my face like a white flower

before me.

 

Perhaps it is realistic because it is real — the book is subtitled A memoir. Perhaps parts are painful to read because they were painful to live — and to write, the author said that starting these poems was like eating ground glass (although I doubt she can truly make the comparison, I believe this right is included in the poet’s license.). The good thing to reflect on, is that perhaps she recovers so fully because that is what people do.

 

In the end, I don’t find this poetry to be many things that I want poetry to be. It is painful and uncomfortable in many places. But it’s true in a sense that includes emotions and goes beyond facts, and that is something.

 

LEARNING TO SWIM: a memoir by ann turner

ann turner’s books