Ready For Their
By Suzanne Lummis
The American Heritage dictionary
defines close-up as: 1. A photograph or a film or television shot in which the
subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2. An intimate
view or description.
CONNECTIONS AND OMISSIONS
Jarrell, poet and exquisite reader of poetry that he was, said it
most succinctly. In reviewing a certain stretch of Pound’s failed
epic he concluded, “We cannot help noticing that this, like
so much of the Cantos, doesn’t have the connections and
omissions, the concentration, that a work of great art has.
would be regrettable, wouldn’t it, to have an insufficient quantity
of those – or a surfeit of either. Too many connections will result
in a poem made ponderous by explanation, or in one that doesn’t
allow for interplay between the poem and a reader’s imagination.
Too many omissions (or perhaps just the wrong sort?) and it’ll be
tough for hypothetical Reader to engage with the poem. Or, to put it
crudely – and frankly – she won’t know what the hell’s going on.
purposes of this enterprise I’m imagining a scale in which one
extreme end allows for no omissions and the other no connections.
The following poems then, from the second issue of the new L.A.
magazine, Pool, appeal to me, for each one situates itself at some
interesting point along this scale. And, consciously or not, each
makes quite different use of the notion of connections and
how Mark Wunderlich manages to span time, survey a whole life – or
at least the adult portion of a life – and find that commonality,
that presence, that thing, that X-factor, which links one
event to the next. And what it that? It is the ghost he addresses
at the top of the poem. Or it’s not the ghost, but the pursuit of
it – something that seems always present yet always just
out-of-reach, both of the poet yet outside him.
swift and fluid movement of the piece does not permit an overload of
information – however much we might want to linger a while with
those boys at the cinema, those boys at the beach. The poet has
poured a kind of hunger through the poem – ah ha, maybe that’s
the connecting element -- and it carries both poet and reader in the
current of itself.
simple little title, but crucial. We need “Green,” would be lost
without it, for all these long stroking lines point at or move
forth from conditions of greenness, often grass – states of exulted
grassiness. And because contemporary poetry so often engages –
directly or by implication – questions about language, one startling
moment weaves verdant abundance together with the endeavors of
Believe the sight of it, how voluptuously words fail.
and other mysteries in the poem invite more than one reading. I
submit that poet Jeanette Clough may be offering us the consolation
that, yes, language fails, but -- what the hell -- it goes down
bathed in its own juices and steeped in color and sensation.
finally, the most mysterious of the three – a poem of whispering
spaces and lines linked neither by a narrative voice nor a directly
stated topic. I did not think I understood Chris Abani’s poem on
the first, second or third reading – then suddenly I felt, I
believed, I understood. Or at any rate I’ve come to my own
poem opens “Riddle me this,” then follows with four fragmentary
images: Water standing up; Water in the seamless gourd; Water in
the elephant’s leg; Flame on the hill.
riddle is what? A puzzle, a brainteaser, in the form of a
question. The speaker may be asking what these four fragments have
in common. My own answer (and I don’t rule out that others could
offer better answers): all are memories, pointy chips of memories
that can’t easily be excised or expunged – the “little things that
I add a bit of background knowledge – that Chris Abani comes from
Nigeria, and there he witnessed and experienced painful events.
there’s mystery to spare, edges that dissolve into shadow, lacunae.
Is the “house in which one can’t turn around” an actual house or a
metaphor? Is it the Self?
this poet has produced many relatively straightforward accounts,
here Abani means to leave the poem open-ended; “Constellations III”
it’s called. And a constellation is…what? Scattered points
that must be connected, resolved into a picture – if only in the
imagination of that one who gazes at the stars.
- Suzanne Lummis
From Pool, Vol.
2, 2003, edited by Judith Taylor and Amy Schroeder
I have searched theaters of the flesh
your imagined face found you
the boy whores working the carpeted hallways
cinema, or at the beach in late summer
thighs slipping from a sarong, urging me to compare you
sweet invented one, I have loved you
cleanly and with greater cruelty
any actual suitor, to whom
breakfast, or drove home in my car.
wander the empty house (memory).
appear to me stock-still
snow-covered corn, guarding
have inflicted upon you – you.
your forgiveness. I who invented you
you here to illustrate
sense of having once been shattered,
destroyed you to show the world
intended to be whole.
conquest of pavement and telephone poles.
which is not, eventually may become
deep in it, cow-like.
ocean turning means a storm offshore. Moving onshore.
by magnitude, by so much of it
sky, flower, berry, bud, and those sort.
cow itself or the stones.
the reeds and part them. They’ll brush together in the wind,
season or next.
believe a word of this unless you want to.
the sight of it; how voluptuously words fail.
the earth. Straighten, curl. Flatten, spring.
out of twist for the buttonholes of its finery.
its way, a choker.
Daphnes among us, the Persephones)
in, half out.
Fulfillment is scythed at the end of every season.
Programmed to flaunt it. Bloodier than you think.
Riddle me this –
standing up. Water in the seamless gourd. Water in the elephant’s
Flame on the
Little things that defeat us.
The house in
which one cannot turn around.
A lake, on the body, surrounded by reeds.
rows of white horses on a red hill.
always drips rain
this thing is like dew showering down around.
Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage (University of
Massachusetts Press, 1999), which received the 1999 Lambda Literary
Award. Graywolf Press will publish his second book, Voluntary
Servitude, next year. He is the 2003 recipient of the Amy
Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship and lives in Provincetown,
Clough is the author of Cantatas (Tebot Bach Press,
2002). Recent poetry appears in Denver Quarterly, Nimrod,
Birmingham Poetry Review, and the e-journal Poetrybay.
She is an assistant editor for Solo: A Journal of Poetry.
Abani’s novel, Graceland, will be published by Farrar,
Straus & Giroux in 2004. He is the author of two books of poetry,
Kalakuta Republic (Palgrave, St. Martin’s, 2000) and Daphne’s
Lot (Red Hen Press, 2003).
by permission from:
Pool: A Journal of
P.O. Box 49738
Los Angeles, CA 90049
One issue annually:
1-year $10; 2-year $18; 3-year $24.
Unsolicited manuscripts read January and February only. Send 3-5 poems and
cover letter in #10 envelope. We can only respond to submissions accompanied by an SASE. Simultaneous submissions are accepted with
Ready for Their Close-Up Archive