Monday, July 02, 2007


Over the last few months, Andrew Shields has repeatedly invited me to participate in his Daily Poem Project, where he, his students, and certain fellow bloggers vote on the best of a week's Daily Poems. The final round -- a kind of playoff of Project finalists -- was this week, and I decided at last to give it a go. Here are the poems that made it into the final round. And below, my comments on poems from that selection that made it onto my personal short list. My suggestion: click & read the poems first, if you can, before reading my comments on them.
All of these poems had interesting things to say & ways to say 'em, but none gets my total vote. All, or practically all, lapse into (or emerge out of) discursiveness. That is, they don't express or evoke so much as talk about... or maybe, to put it more precisely, the evocation these poets manage to do is hampered by the talking about they fall too easily into. Discursiveness is the bane especially of academics, people who do too much essay-writing and -reading, as most of these writers are. Be that as it may... The poems that got onto my "short list" were:

Christian Wiman -- The River. Some great writing here, but I felt let down with the word "crocodiles." He was evoking the animals so well up to that point, he practically (& I'd say, poetically) didn't need to actually name them. I think the poem would have been better if he had continued evoking their qualities through vivid description, but telling us what they are somehow turns this into a high-falutin' version of National Geographic. OK, maybe better than that. And what's that father doing there? OK, I'll accept that.

Tom Sleigh, Blueprint -- This one, I thought, was going to be (as Li Young Lee puts it in a quote a couple of posts back) all out of the mental centre to the exclusion of all else, and who needs that in this overly mentalized society? -- but as a critique of that "abstracting" process, an evocation of the reality he would like to express, this does become quite forceful & ineffable at the end. (Which means I can't say any effin' thing beyond that, without turning this into an effin’ essay).

Laure Ann Bosselaar , Friends -- She doesn't like her heart much, does she? But somehow I feel her description more than a tad put on, adjective-heavy. Her friends she likes better-- so that makes her quite likeable despite herself, doesn't it? I was struck by "the sun heaves daylight" -- that line leaps out as more profound & elemental than the rest of the poem put together. I like nevertheless "I thrum the lit syllables of your names on my sill... etc. An interesting way to evoke friendship. A funky ugly/striking artifact of a self-loathing (?) people-person.

Reginald Shepherd, "Eve's Awakening" -- I like a number of things about this poem. Stanzas five-seven are particularly beautiful. But would Adam know what a flag is? (I don't think Adam knows what a fig is at this point.) Somehow I think RS named God too early. Could it have been better

He called me by a name I'd never heard,
tried to enclose my hand in his: that garden
suddenly seemed small, enclosed
on every side, something that said God,
said call me that.

Something like that.

Oh, and where the heck is Eve? She's hardly there. No, powerful as it is as a title, I don't think I'd call this poem that.

Hadara Bar Nadav, Inside the Maze -- A hell of an interesting poem, the only one I've read from the point of view of the Minotaur. Culturally it is de grande portée. The unique lay-out of words, once one figures out how to read it, makes one feel one is entering the brain of another species, a slow-thinking one at that. (At first I thought the words could be read up and down as well as right to left -- would have been a miracle if the poet had managed that.) This poem quite grabbed me and took me along on its journey, but when the Minotaur refers to his "fragrant catalog", suddenly he becomes Assistant English Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Again, "talking about" -- too bad, but this highly avoidable mis-step unfortunately second-rates the poem, in my view.

Adrian Blevins -- Hey You -- This is one poem that, though highly mental, does not talk about, but is in its own highly eccentric terms -- and leaves you to figure out what those terms are. Kind of reminds me of EE Cummings in the use of an adjective as noun. I enjoyed "I threw my beautiful down at the waterway against the screwball rocks." & I love the final line. I almost gave this one my vote, but for semi-penetrable obscurities in lines 6-10 that didn't satisfy me. So does it really say "Hey You" to me? Well... not very loud.



Hadara Bar-Nadav, Inside the Maze!!!

P.S. It seems Bar-Nadav won the over-all vote too. For the final tally, see here.


Andrew Shields said...

Thanks again for voting, Brian!

Can you correct the spelling of Reginald Shepherd's name? It would be a pity if people went to look for his book because of your post and were unable to find it!

Brian Campbell said...

Will do. Thanx for pointing that out.

R. W. Watkins said...

The problem I have with the majority of these poems is the same problem I have with much of the free verse, narrative poetry, etc. that come down the pipes these days: lack of consistent punctuation. It seems no one knows where and when to use a comma or a semicolon any longer; many folk actually appear preliterate in their lack of ability to transcribe their mental and oral phrasings into words on paper (or screen)--almost like composers who can't read or write sheet music. Just check out the opening line of that Christian Wilman piece, for example: Now, Why couldn't he have inserted an extra comma after those first few words?

Brian Campbell said...

You mean, "In the river where we've stopped, something is moving"? Maybe he actually means "we've stopped something." And maybe that something is called Rob! But, I, think, you, are, rather, too, fussy; poetry is *not* $!@@ repeat!:! *not* punctuation. ;)