Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Poems of the Day - 3

Linda Gregg’s It Is the Rising I Love, from Poetry Daily, begins like an ars poetica:

As long as I struggle to float above the ground
and fail, there is reason for this poetry.

There’s something unfortunately comic about this picture of attempted levitation. The heart of the poem (and easily the best bit) comes in the closing five lines, her sense that we are grounded in the world and can’t rise above it – suffering, desire, mortality. So what difference does poetry make? Perhaps the reason for the poetry is simply as a witness to the struggle, and as an expression of longing to rise above it? However, the poem itself suggests that’s a forlorn hope. Perhaps the failure to rise is meant as an antidote to the sentimentality of a Maya Angelou (“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/ I rise/ Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear/ I rise” – from ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou). The Venus birth narrative is a reasonable illustration – divinity may rise, but not us mere mortals – but the whole section on rising “bathed in light and air” seems tired and hackneyed and nearly blinded me to the poem’s strengths. I asked myself (and feel unsure) whether a revamped version of the first two lines, along with the final five lines (from “I get on my knees…”), might have been more effective than the poem as it stands. 2/6

The good news is that I liked Kim Gek Lin Short’s offering, Glacier, down at No Tell Motel. I enjoyed the absurdist humour of the “papier-maché ducts” (that male psychology, trying to help, trying to do something, however fruitless), the glacier which “floats on the cement floor” and, especially, the spinning penguins. The strange detail of the "footed flannel jammies" makes sense by the end of the poem – the glacier’s “chilly discipline of silver” becomes an imaginative symbol of the father’s imminence. The tension exerted between humour and fear is well executed. 3½/6


Anonymous said...

Re: Linda Gregg, it sounds like a tired song of pessimistic gnosticism. The material world is an evil and there's no option but to suffer it.

I'm tempted to suggest a quick blast of the Jackson 5 as an antidote. Or a chocolate muffin. Maybe a weekend at Alton Towers.


Rob said...


Well, you made me laugh.

Rachel Fox said...

You may not like everything Angelou has written but 'Still I rise' has some great lines and, for me (and many others), it is a powerful poem and not a sentimental one. I really would be interested to know why you find it so sentimental (maybe her 'sassiness upset(s) you'...maybe you'd prefer Kylie...). Yes, it is full of feeling, yes, it has something to say (is that so bad?) - but it still uses some strong imagery (I always love the 'oil wells', the 'diamonds', the 'gold mines'). It's not subtle but there are times for subtlety and times for whacking people over the head. Sometimes people need the whacking...metaphorically at least. Just sometimes.

Rob said...

Hmmm. I'd rather not argue about that poem, particularly as it's obviously important to you and has helped you. That doesn't in itself help me to like it any more than I do, but I'm glad it's had its uses.

Hope that's OK, Rachel!

Rachel Fox said...

Helped me? I'm not quite sure why you've chosen that word...but obviously you're free not to like the poem! I was just interested in your choice of words to dismiss it ('sentimental' - works every time). It always seems a shame to me to dismiss something out of hand unless it really, really deserves it. And for me this particular poem has more good than bad, more power than weakness.