Monday, September 17, 2007

Strand: Addendum

Having finished Strand's Blizzard of One, my overall impression is much kinder than my rather snarky remarks made in mid-read below. I can say now it was a worthwhile and enjoyable read, well worth buying. Poems that impressed me were "The Great Poet Returns" (quoted below), "The Blizzard of One", "Two de Chiricos", "In Memory of Joseph Brodsky", and the final poem, "The View". I also enjoyed his longish penultimate poem, "Delirium Waltz". That's quite a number of excellent poems for one collection (well, "The Great Poet Returns" is excellent, until those final lines...). I can see why Strand hasn't published a book since, and may never publish: the book seems a definitive bidding adieu to poetry, and life. That in itself is weighty, and significant. Here's "In Memory of Joseph Brodsky", perhaps the most moving poem in the collection. Pls. excuse what the formatting does to some of the longer lines.

In Memory of Joseph Brodsky

It could be said, even here, that what remains of the self
Unwinds into a vanishing light, and thins like dust, and heads
To a place where knowing and nothing pass into each other, and through;
That it moves, unwinding still, beyond the vault of brightness ended,
And continues to a place which may never be found, where the unsayable,
Finally, once more is uttered, but lightly, quickly, like random rain
That passes in sleep, that one imagines passes in sleep.
What remains of the self unwinds and unwinds, for none
Of the boundaries holds – neither the shapeless one between us,
Nor the one that falls between your body and your voice. Joseph,
Dear Joseph, those sudden reminders of your having been – the places
And times whose greatest life was the one you gave them – now appear
Like ghosts in your wake. What remains of the self unwinds
Beyond us, for whom time is only a measure of meanwhile
And the future no more than et cetera et cetera ... but fast and forever.

3 comments:

R. W. Watkins said...

Poems like this one demonstrate perfectly why no one wants to read poetry any longer--including a lot of us poets. This is just a lot of pointless bafflegab that doesn't tell a story, doesn't comment on the sociopolitical climate, doesn't set a mood or paint a haiku-like image that will burn into your brain and remain there like a low-frequency hum for months or even years, etc., etc. It doesn't even accomplish what it (supposedly) sets out to do: Make some sort of metaphysical or philosophical comment on Brodsky's death. (Poor Brodsky!) Furthermore, it doesn't have a rhyme scheme or some other formal structure to hold it together, or at least make it a bit more appealing and inviting to the eye. All the poet has done is merely taken a lot of simple, immemorable little words and knotted them together indecipherably in order to pretend to say something which no one in his/her right mind has even the patience to attempt to comprehend. It almost reads like the work of someone PRETENDING to be a poet. Read it again. Can't you see what I'm talking about? I actually found myself laughing and shaking my head when I read this the first time--it's so clumsy, unfocussed and off-the-radar. (Even my two earliest attempts at the ghazal [collected in Agha Shahid Ali's anthology] are more interesting than this, and I must admit that they are somewhat embarassing to behold in their unperfected manner a decade later.) Make no wonder folks fall asleep in (smoke-free) coffee houses nowadays.

The fact that this actually got published in a volume by a major house only confirms what I've suspected for years: that there's some sleazy trick at play when it comes to appeasing mainstream publishers these days--either that, or the manuscript readers and editors are hellbent on perpetuating mediocrity in a bid to shut out new voices and innovations that require development and promotion. From a Canadian perspective, this poem is indicative of about eighty percent of the garbage that winds up in our (government-funded) mags and litzines these days. Who has time and effort left to criticise the Harper government when s/he's content to write this sort of humdrum hogwash in exchange for a fat council cheque? And this sort of thing is CERTAINLY not going to instill revolutionary fervour in the minds of the readers, just put them to sleep--ulterior mission accomplished.

Brian Campbell said...

I’m sorry, I beg to differ with you on this one. Your indignation about the incestuous mediocrity of the poetry scene may be justified, but I think you’re aiming at the wrong target here. I had no trouble relating to this poem, or comprehending it. Chalk it up perhaps to my Buddhist practice, or how recent circumstances have done a lot to lighten up a melancholy nature. The poem is touching, gentle poem about the ethereal mystery of what it is to be alive – the paradox of how this mortal self seems enduring, however subjective and illusory that sensation may be: and how a friends’ death makes that feel, well, all the more poignant. He is addressing a personal friend, by the way. No, the poem may not do the kinds of things you want a poem to do. No revolutionary fervour here. For me, though, there’s room for all sorts of poems. If it’s “off the radar” for you, maybe it’s because it falls outside the outside the range of your cookie cutter. For me though, that image of what remains of the self that "unwinds into a vanishing light, and thins like dust… that moves, unwinding still, beyond the vault of brightness ended” stayed with me like that “low frequency hum” of which you speak.

To test, though, what you say (I have been known to hallucinate before), I passed the poem to my girlfriend. She’s a writer too – short stories, some of which have gotten published in good places. She’s a sensitive reader, although she sometimes has trouble articulating exactly why things affect her as they do. She *really* doesn’t like intellectual stuff, stuff too much in the mental centre, as Gurgieff would put it. She read it. I really didn’t know what to expect.
“So, what do you think of it?” I asked when it was obvious she was finished.
“I – I like it. I like it a lot.”
“What do you like about it?”
“I think it’s a very sensitive, gentle – a gentle poem. He’s dealing with a lot of things… the mystery of life, a friend dying, and how strange it makes him feel to be alive.”
She agreed that there were some beautiful evocations, some of which I described.
Then I showed her your critique.
She read it, started shaking her head.
“I disagree with it. No, I disagree entirely. I think he’s full of crap. Who is this guy?”
“He’s somebody who comments a lot on my blog. Sometimes his comments are brilliant.”
See, I was defending you.
“He sounds like a young, ranting, uh…”
“He’s not so young. He is an “uh”. Sometimes he rants. Sometimes what he says is right on. He’s very sophisticated reader, in fact”.
“I think he’s full of himself. Where does he come from?”
“Newfoundland.”
“Does he have his own blog?”
“He has a website of sorts where he posts poems, opinion pieces, and so on.”
“Do you know what he looks like?”
“An average sort of looking guy. Has a goatee, I think. But doesn’t look like Dracula.”
So there you have it. I think, though, on matters poetic, girlfriends can’t be wrong. At least this one. It took me a long time, by the way, to find this one. (Type in “unloved poets” in the “Search Blog”.)
Anyway, it’s always good to spar.

Cheers.

R. W. Watkins said...

I'm unconvinced (not to mention rather touched that I don't look like Count Dracula). To be honest with you, Brian, I find John Milton at his artiest easier to read and digest than this. Sorry.