Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I’m a little behind on the New Yorker poems thing, so now comes two weeks worth. Can you take it?

Rosanna Warren, “From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine, VII.” I’m unfamiliar with I – VI, or if they exist, but this is lovely on its own. She shifts between abstraction and solidity satisfyingly and lightly (the poem opens: “Distance was the house in which I welcomed you./ But it was in the river/ that we became cadence, there where the current braided/ together again, after the stone stanchion parted the stream”), and her consonants follow a similar pattern, discretely repeating in an ‘organic’ burble (like the ‘r’s and ‘s’es of those just-quoted lines). Virtually the whole poem is water, and this gives her a chance for her repeat words to modify different objects, a syntactic mimesis of water moving through similar and discrete patterns (“water/ poured around us, surging up from springs” then, three lines later, more restingly and transformed from an out-around to an in-outward experience, “I am poured out like water.”) which ably involve the speaker essentially in the river as well as the relationship as well as the poem. Some precious flashes, nothing criminal (“Leonardo’s woman, ex.). Lovely ending, both satisfying and maybe a little too neat (“Sorrow/ is a liqueur. Drink deep. We will all be consumed.”) on reread. All the poem ties up in those last lines. Based on how ‘open’ you like your poems, you’ll like or not like it. Personally, I like it most first read, and feel admiration now, on reflection. Sticky topic, intentional craft, when so able. But this is a good poem. Probably the kind the New Yorker would publish more often if they were more on the ball; not a departure from their aesthetic, as I understand it, but an intensification.

Ron Slate’s “The Final Call,” a roundup of easy types who personify various end-of-the-world logics (“The pair of polite apostles,” “an economist explains,” “analysts,” “think tanks,” “The ram’s horn,” the last one, maybe, the only one which doesn’t smell like the result of a mid-80’s SNL brainstorm). Yeah. But guess what? There’s a nice poetic image to save us (“We’re called to parasail/ from hilltops . . . Ah, another soft landing.”) with another vaguely ominous nice poetic image to keep us guessing. Personally, I’d consider this a ‘political’ poem, pace the discussion going on on Victoria Chang’s blog. (I’d also consider Katha Pollitt’s poem in the next issue (below) a political poem.) (Look out, just because there's a bunch of crazies who haven't been right yet doesn't mean the world ain't dangerous.) Basically, it has a two-dimensional consciousness of the kind I get when I spend too much time reading the newspaper & political blogs &c. The challenge is to write political poetry with more than two dimensions. The reason it so infrequently happens is, I believe, simply put, that when you think in more than two dimensions, there are more interesting things to write about than politics.

I’m going to pass on Liz Rosenberg’s “1:53 A.M.” Kinnell-lite and phoned in. No water image, though.

On to the next issue (the fashion issue, btw). Elizabeth Spires, “Nightgown” (clever, no?). This poem starts off with a nice kind of uncanniness—the poets voice inhabits the nightgown, which apparently wants autonomy. The height of the unheimlich is the indented stanza “Someone is inside me./ Someone is continually dreaming/ dreams not my own/ so that I am pulled this way and that!” Unfortunately, it all unravels with that last, terribly clever, line. (The NYer seems to have a weakness for this coy-yet-serious deployment of dead idioms in superficially novel engagement with their surroundings. ) The next lines are ok, but then it descends into sentimental lyricism; shies from the frightening autonomy the poem must have dreamt of, at some point of its composition. Oh well. No water imagery unless the allusion of “the white world” to snow counts. I don’t think it does.

And Katha Pollitt’s “Cities of the Plain,” easily the flattest of the bunch. Oooh, angry god. Lonely god. Oooh. “Killing them/ made him want to kill them again—“ “Being God, he would not permit himself regrets.” oooh. Maybe I’d humor it in a workshop I was running, if it was the beginning of the semester. Pollitt does (did? I haven’t read it in a few years) a great job at The Nation, and I’ve read good poems by her in the past. This ain’t even a bad poem. &, incidentally, no water imagery, unless you count “the turquoise baths.” I’m noticing that maybe the best NYer poems are the ones heavy with water. Just a theory, an addendum to Bernstein’s thesis (disproved in these two issues, btw).

I apologize if anyone has previously enjoyed these poems; the statements made above are entirely subjective and meant only to judge the poems, not any potential readers of said poems. I mean, the NYer doesn’t even know I exist. So.

Well, it's official. We have polar tastes in poetry. That must be bad news for me because I admire your blogging so much. But I have to confess that I thought Rosanna Warren's poem was laughably bad. Please don't tell her. But take line 6: "Do you believe in the soul?" Puhleez! And that may be the high point, IMHO. Each stanza is complete with some cliche. This looks to be the work of one who absolutely lacks soul but oh so much would like to have one. I've seen the whitest folk dance better to the Tempts than this. Almost every line sends me gagging. "Distance is feminine in French." "What does us mean?" "Sorrow is a liqueur" "I am poured out like water." I must be missing the satire, because nothing could be this bad on purpose. This gives quietude a really bad name I'm afraid. Really. I'm re-reading it and cannot believe this is a straight poem. I'm not getting it right. This is a parody right? I can take it. Hey, she put one over on me. Right? (Or maybe I should apologize to Ms. Tabios.)

"From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine" is a sequence from Warren's latest book, Departure. The notes in the book state that Anne was a French poet who disappeared sometime after World War II. But according to reviews, & interviews with Warren that I've read, the history behind the sequence is a fiction.

And by the way, most of the titles on my list were just jokes. But thanks for the suggestions. If only I had the guts to put Cyndi Lauper in the title! But my book will probably be titled, Asleep Inside an Old Guitar.
Greg: That's funny! I'm abashed; I can't say you're wrong; at least, seeing the poem through your words, it doesn't look so sharp. I think I'm a sucker for certain kinds of intellectual sentimentality. We all have our weaknesses.

I think I realized yesterday, looking at that photograph, that you actually live near Acadia National Park. Is that right?
Eduardo: I think "asleep" is actually the best title, from what I've read of your poetry. & thanks for the tip-off regarding Ms. Warren's poems; a google search (like the one I just did) would've cleared that up. It seems Mr. Logan doesn't think too highly of the series either.
Stuart. I actually live about five hours south in the Newburyport, MA area. But I make the Acadia trip so often that it feels next door.
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