SEVENTEEN THINGS I TOUCHED TODAY
-- RUTH ALTMANN Across the Big Map (2004, United Artists)
Soap, my wet soapy body all over.
Steel wool, an iron frying pan,
cool coins, green paper money
rough and torn from use, the radio,
potato chips in clear cellophane,
a glazed pottery mug of hot coffee,
the round glossy hard typewriter keys,
sheets of smooth white typewriter bond,
a paperweight, a Block Island stone
a child painted a face on, a telephone,
the black serifed typeface of Jimmy Schuyler’s
The Morning of the Poem, the poems, a friend’s
anger, rain on my face and in my eyes,
your hands hair lips velvety eyelids.
An obvious and very effective "constraint": list things you touched that day, fashion them into a poem. Some would call it a "list poem", and dismiss it with that. But this one draws you in like a magnet with it's implicit story line. So many flick sequences -- porn and otherwise -- begin with a lovely body in the shower (and yes, it seems lovely, doesn't it, even if that loveliness is evoked by the barest -- excuse the pun -- sensual description) -- but this one takes you in utterly surprising directions. I like, for instance, the way the friend's anger becomes something she has "touched". The way the poem comes back to another sort of shower and touching. I found this on Ron Silliman's blog some time back; he has an interesting if, in accordance with his psychological style, rather cerebral/sociological appreciation of it here.
If this poem is any indication, Across the Big Map is a very good first book by a promising poet from New York. So it may surprise you to learn that Altmann was born in 1920.