Friday, August 06, 2004

Ok. New New Yorker, and two new poems. “Stanley’s First Death” by Cleopatra Mathis, and “The Kindness of the Blind” by Wislawa Szymborska.

First question, unanswerable since I know nothing, is is this a historical or personal Stanley? My guess is personal. Personal poem.

I like the syntax shift in the first stanza; up to “its proof,” 3rd person, following first person. Unless the elided continuity “The body became . . . before him nothing but . . .” is intended which is fine, the ambiguities support each other. Breaking the second line on ‘nothing’ is easy, a portent of laziness to come.

The stanza ends with a vibrating rhyme on ‘string’ (with ‘quavering,’ three lines before), which is kind of nice. The bridge between stanzas is, unfortunately, ‘somewhere’ being repeated, which is not a good decision I think.

The second stanza has another syntax shift; the sentence is declarative through “else,” and finishes interrogative (banalest as you can imagine, “who knows?”). This sentence shows another reason why the first sentence of the first stanza’s shift was pleasurable, in that the first part of the sentence comprises two units of syntax (i.e. The body . . .,” and “the rasping breath . . .,”) and the final part one—an uneven balance that feels ‘organic.’ The second stanza’s first sentence has the balance of carelessness. (Warning, supposition to follow!) My personal guess is that the poet by now has been striving for a certain continuity and left behind some clear ideas that a quick discontinuity of composition would have allowed her to get on paper and that her mind is unfocussed by the time she reaches the second stanza. That she just wanted to get to the final image, which is a lovely one. (This is at the very least a sympathetic projection, at worst an outright one; here I claim the rights of the blogger, which are those of the self-published, to try out ideas knowing some might be silly, but probably will help me bring something into focus later simply by dint of it having been expressed. See? Reflexive criticism! Please bear with me.)

I also think it is possible she is self-conscious at having used “spirit/ lofted forth” and is trying to compensate with a laid-backness tone here, which, whatever her intentions, only leaves dangling, for this reader’s ear, that first phrase, which otherwise seemed fine. That is, the second stanza sounds fine on its own, but it clashes uglily with the first stanza, in part because of too-easy linking via the two ‘somewhere’s. And if the image is to be complete, shouldn’t the penultimate line be “then snapped back, found”? Or am I asking too much coherence from the connecting image of the string?

But I’m taken with the ending, which pinpoints, no angels, the place quotidian labor has in preserving us against eternity. And that free will does, the desire to undertake the subjective labors we do in the face of mortality and all that not as Beckett had it, as desperation, but as something worth being for because it is being. Which I guess is what Beckett had it for, though he was pretty keen on the situation’s desperation, also.

So the poem ends with a rebirth into self. A suburban spirituality.

The Szymborska poem, is wonderful. She takes Plato’s bifurcation of philosopher and poet and re-fuses them, casting the poet as he (in the poem the poet is a he) who has ventured out of the cave and returned. In reading to the blind he dreads informing the blind what he has seen not because, as the Plato’s myth had it, he will be ridiculed, but because he will be misunderstood (by making the audience kind not unkind, Szymborska underscores the tension which is perceptual not social, that of misunderstanding, very contemporary/modern) or (and these are both inferred, not explicit, and the flavor of the poem is, I think, the second primary but both. That may just be me.) because he will cause the blind to regret their state, which is, also in revision of Plato, not remediable. The ending is lovely (I think that must be what Alice Quinn looks for, because so far—and only three so far, to be sure—all the endings have been very very nice) as an act of trust and emblem of the partnership a poet must forge with his/her audience, a partnership which can be extremely uneasy and is here portrayed with lovely grace.

So the big question is, are the blind kind for transcending the difficulty they face in remembering/imagining, not seeing, color and image, or for humoring the poet?

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