Ready For Their Close-Up

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. 

 OF CONNECTIONS AND OMISSIONS 

 

Randall 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.

 

Yes it 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.

 

For the 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 omissions.


I like 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.   

 

The 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. 


It’s a 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 language.

 

Believe the sight of it, how voluptuously words fail.

 

This 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.


And, 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 understanding. 

 

The 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. 

 

And a 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 defeat us”.

 

To this I add a bit of background knowledge – that Chris Abani comes from Nigeria, and there he witnessed and experienced painful events.

 

Still, 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? 

 

Though 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

 

Mark Wunderlich

INVENTION

 

Ghost, I have searched theaters of the flesh

for your imagined face found you

 

among the boy whores working the carpeted hallways

of the cinema, or at the beach in late summer

 

tanned thighs slipping from a sarong, urging me to compare you

to the heraldic figures.

 

You, my sweet invented one, I have loved you

more cleanly and with greater cruelty

 

than any actual suitor, to whom

I offered questions,

 

fed breakfast, or drove home in my car.

I wander the empty house (memory).

 

You appear to me stock-still

in the snow-covered corn, guarding

 

what I have inflicted upon you – you.

I beg your forgiveness. I who invented you

 

brought you here to illustrate

my own sense of having once been shattered,

 

then destroyed you to show the world

I intended to be whole.


Jeanette Clough

GREEN

 

Mossy conquest of pavement and telephone poles.

 

That which is not, eventually may become

 

hoof deep in it, cow-like.

 

The ocean turning means a storm offshore. Moving onshore.

 

color by magnitude, by so much of it

here in this place.

 

Not the sky, flower, berry, bud, and those sort.

Not the cow itself or the stones.

 

Comb the reeds and part them. They’ll brush together in the wind,

this season or next.

 

Don’t believe a word of this unless you want to.

 

Believe the sight of it; how voluptuously words fail.

 

Hair of the earth. Straighten, curl. Flatten, spring.

 

Never out of twist for the buttonholes of its finery.

 

Given its way, a choker.

 

At home underground

(the Daphnes among us, the Persephones)

half in, half out.

 

Fulfillment is scythed at the end of every season.

 

Programmed to flaunt it. Bloodier than you think.

 

Rose; apple; fuchsia.


 

Chris Abani

CONSTELLATIONS (III)

 

                        Riddle me this –

 

Water standing up.  Water in the seamless gourd.  Water in the elephant’s leg.

 

 

                                                      Flame on the hill.

 

Seh!

 

                        Little things that defeat us.

 

                                                    The house in which one cannot turn around.

 

            A lake, on the body, surrounded by reeds.

 

Two rows of white horses on a red hill.

 

                                                            The roof always drips rain

 

And this thing is like dew showering down around. 



Mark 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, Massachusetts.

 

 

Jeanette 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.

 

 

Chris 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).

 

 


Printed by permission from:

Pool: A Journal of Poetry

P.O. Box 49738

Los Angeles, CA 90049

 

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Ready for Their Close-Up Archive

 

Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach