22 May 2008

in the campaign spirit

so, despite laura bush's claims that poetry cannot possibly be political -- (which, i suppose, could be true, if what you're reading is my pet goat, but then again, what if the goat had wanted to vote? but that's a whole 'nother rhyming book) -- this poem proves otherwise. with distinction. and hilarity.

i would write more about it, but i have a feeling that there's not much i could say which wouldn't end in a rant or in blathering on and on about my own liberal leanings (you didn't know? that's because i hide those leanings so well. ha.)

so: onward. and cheers to you in this election year. . .

The Real Dick Cheney

~ Jeffrey McDaniel

Know going in -- the lie will one day
fall apart. The beautiful thing is

it doesn't need to last forever,
just until you have a new lie

to move into. The lie's foundation
is less important than its roof. Build

a strong roof with layers of red tape
for insulation, and even the loudest barrage

of facts will sound like a gentle rain,
as you recline beside the fireplace of your lie

sipping mouse blood. Remember:
honesty is the best policy,

but there are other good ones, too.

(published in The Endarkenment by Jeffrey McDaniel. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008).

12 May 2008

"the spark struck in secret"

i have, as the dixie chicks say, been a long time gone (from the blog).

and so i am a little rusty. i'll work my way back into it after a bit; it must be like riding a bicycle, right? pedal, pedal, pedal. . .

and so: i was reading this poem the other day, found in a collection that a dear friend gave me for my birthday, and my heart just about stopped. and so it must be posted here -- not because i want your heart to stop, but because i think you'll be just as stunned as i am by the gorgeousness (that can't be a word) of the language, the sheer glimmer of it, the shine and dark of it.

and while i don't know this poet's writing process, it seems to me that she's taken the subject of the poem (or maybe just the word referring to the subject -- "housefire") and teased out and shaken out all of the sounds from that word -- and then she tracks those sounds all the way through the poem, and the repetition not only adds to cohesion, but also to tension, to the drama of the poem, as the readers wait to hear what comes next, what sound will unleash us from the housefire, what sounds will keep each stanza trapped in it. this is exactly what richard hugo recommends to poets in his book, The Triggering Town; he claims that poems that follow sound rather than meaning tend to make for better poems -- the sounds lead to the unexpected leaps, the associations, that might not have appeared if the poet were faithful to the "project" of the poem rather than the "possibility" of the poem.

the sounds in this poem don't take the subject matter on any kind of wild ride, but they do increase the experience and strength of the images for me, and following sound in this controlled way makes the poem extraordinarily vivid. the sounds, it seems to me, leap up in poem much like flames would -- a base of hissing "S" sounds; the leaps and flickers of "Ls"; the richer, warmer "Rs" that keep adding contrast to the colder "Ss"; the long mournful "O" sounds that make the poem sadder ("mortification," "broken," "swollen") and also more frightening because they're so quiet and lulling ("stroke," "smoke," "smolder").

the miracle to me about this poem is that, quite often, alliteration can become a joke, a commercial jingle, reminiscent of a tongue-twister from the fourth grade. but here, even with the string of S sounds in the first stanza, that sound neither interrupts meaning nor does it show off and upstage the meaning, but instead it reinforces the "subject matter" (much too clinical a term for this, but you get the idea), and bolsters the experience of the poem. in the way the poem is written, in the hush and push of the sounds of the words, i'm suddenly also inside the house, inside that sleeping silence, waiting for the spark to catch.

(the sounds are catching, too, hey? i can't stop with the alliteration/consonance now. . . so before i go over the edge into S-ville, here's the poem).


~ Miranda Field

The spark struck in secret under the stairs in dust
in the cellar smolders the way a face does, and the life
inside it, after a slap. A mortification, stains

on the floor of a caged thing's cage. In dust
in the cellar where our bicycles lean
broken-antlered in the dark. Among molds

in the cellar where the cat swollen with poison
curls in the damp to extinguish herself. It's dark outside;
inside the dark becomes particles a little like rain

stilled. Behind chicken-wired glass the garden
shakes a few leaves down. Most of winter's work is done,
the pond lidded, the ruts of the bicycles' wheels

cast in iron. The fire begins by itself, a breathing-life-into,
a kindling: cells of our skin, soil from the garden;
tinder for the fire's insistence. The fire has been impatient

to begin all along. The house is its accomplice.
Roots of the black walnut hold tight the foundations,
hence nothing grows here, nothing flourishes.

But flames brush the root hairs, make them stand on end.
Like a story's ending, not quite to wake us is the fire's
intention. To stroke us with smoke, our sleeping faces.

(published in Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, eds. Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin. Louisville: Sarabande Books, 2006.)