18 March 2008

"envy of other people's poems"

i have this kind of envy. a lot. sometimes it's even jealousy.

this envy does not negate appreciation -- in fact, it may enhance appreciation, increase close reading, intensify focus.

or not.

the envy quite often gets in the way of reading, and reading well, and thoughtfully. and it's soon followed by panic (why am i not writing like this? why am i writing so much NOT like this? why am i writing? why am i not writing?), and it's followed thereafter by either giving up, beating myself up, or quitting the reading of poems entirely -- none of which i really want in my life. and so, i've started to try to think of poems as gifts -- tiny page-long (or more, if you write as i do) gifts for the day -- even as i admire or marvel over them, even as i quash the envy threatening to take over.

and this one was a gift for today -- and also, it's a poem about that kind of envy. doubly good for today. and, i believe, it's about what happens if that envy takes over and plugs up your ears against the poem, and it's about the envy we may have built up in our minds that may just be ridiculous, out of proportion, but at the same time, stifling and deafening. and, of course, that envy (and its results) isn't limited to poems.

(and that's a very simple overview of a complex and rich poem -- apologies for my watering down of said poem. and yes, i am a little envious -- a lot -- of this poem, too).

Envy of Other People's Poems

~ Robert Hass

In one version of the legend the sirens couldn't sing.
It was only a sailor's story that they could.
So Odysseus, lashed to the mast, was harrowed
By a music that he didn't hear -- plungings of the sea,
Wind-sheer, the off-shore hunger of the birds --
And the mute women gathering kelp for garden mulch,
Seeing him strain against the cordage, seeing
the awful longing in his eyes, are changed forever
On their rocky waste of island by their imagination
Of his imagination of the song they didn't sing.

(published in Time and Materials, Robert Hass, New York: HarperCollins, 2007)


naoko fujimoto said...

I really understand what you feel! I try to absorb something from those feverous poems like I am human poet vacuum cleaner…

naoko fujimoto said...

and humiliation...

Talia said...

maybe you need to read more "bad" poetry...there's plenty out there.

just kidding! I envy your poety, Sally.

hannah said...

i not only envy your poetry, i envy your person :)

i've loved this poem. and he is one of the many that i try to whip out for inspiration, only to wind up irritably wondering who i thought i was kidding.

naoko fujimoto said...

...even 'bad poems' have sparkling moments...

sallylynn said...

i envy all of you, actually.

but i also thank you for posting a comment or two! i love the "human poet vacuum cleaner." this is what i would like to be.

except when it comes to robert hass. whom i love, don't get me wrong. but i can't "vacuum him up" because i spent an entire summer totally paralyzed until i finally put down his book _praise_ and picked up some folks who are "down here in the mud" with the rest of us. :)