- On the Poetic Legacy of W.S. Merwin | Literary Hub
- After escaping the anxiety of influence, the poet discovered a brilliant, elemental poetry.
- WS Merwin (Bloom's Major Poets)
- The Palm Trees and Poetry of W. S. Merwin
The Shining City tumbles. What was the rose's name before the soldiers called it Betty?
On the Poetic Legacy of W.S. Merwin | Literary Hub
Even forgotten, the childhood we never had and the Shining City we never made lure us to the precipice of further speculation. Songs rise from the tavern to the valley where vengeance waits, a fate sown by the simple absence of a rowdy rose, who at this moment carves initials in a table, laughing, careless, as you struggle to picture the specific, lurid end. Did the giantess use the shears? Which arm was missing? Wonder walks on air and tipples air.
Struggling out of death the most democratic heap of all Nature profuses. Between unconsciousness and instinct, it produces flowers.
In "Tulips," Volkman expresses the fact of profusion splendidly. Immoderation is the seasonal edict: tulips spike from the earth with the force of the righteous, fist-sized, uncompromising, unforgiving, barely natural "the homespun surreal," I wrote my friend, "like David Lynch" on prim lawns the leisurely envisioned for springtime.
Note: seasons have meaning where the temperature changes it is fresh life from sludge, it is renewal, it is strategic -- The immoderate righteousness of tulips coming into bloom places them ever just beyond the reach of words and interpretations. Volkman positions her language here so as to emphasize the unnatural discriminations of language. Reading "Tulips," we find acknowledgment of a perfect paradox: i. Poetry, "the pure indiscretion" of words, has nothing to say and much to do. As "Tulips" ends, indiscretion abandons even poetry and so escapes.
Through spaces opened by Volkman's indiscretion -- between kisses and science, between flowers and the explanation of flowers -- Nature escapes. The tulips are gone. Nature struggles on carelessly at some site more becoming than a book. The energy of escape rhymes with the reckless shape and force of fire. Near the center of her book, Volkman offers "Combustion," a poem detailing what may be called the "physics" behind or inside Crash's Law. In my wrist veins twist blue flames to the heart's nest, a torqued force, centrifugal, spinning out from any center it finds.
It burns, it blinds, it takes life from my life, flared fist, jealous furnace, assassin reeling in fevered rings. My angels dance on the tips of matches.
They have no wings. A poem is a location and action, a material thing in its soul. The spirit of matter meets the weight of matter on a poem's line.
After escaping the anxiety of influence, the poet discovered a brilliant, elemental poetry.
It is a fiery force that tips the balance and sends poetry over the line, out of syntactic captivation. Here the fire includes the poet herself consumed to fuel the poem. The physics of "Combustion" and of Crash's Law poises upon the brink of metaphysics. Out of control.
Through the factual efficacy of Volkman's angels, Crash's Law ends not in the empty furnace of Daniel but in Revelations' wild eternity of change. In "New Heaven, New Earth," Volkman announces the end of knowledge and the neverending resurrection of things balanced and ablaze. Snow is falling, in a world much like this one, the wood dark, sky heavier -- moon turned to stone -- and the path inscribed, active, where the stepper beveled in Goretex and Thermax attends the still navigable darkness much like this whelped from warmth like kisses -- collaborator with a strawberry lip -- and fresh snow topples from a bough -- but what do I know?
Accepting the legends, reading the clues, the deer tracks stamped in pairs, the timid drifters, fifty inches of snow the going myth for this Thursday's blizzard, burying town and city in chilly brimstone, now the moon hoisted like harlequin, a hoedown, a version of freedom to go on. Beyond the mythic balances of syntax and simile "a world much like this one" there appears an immeasurable omnipotent Now -- "this Thursday's blizzard" -- balanced on turbulence alone. Poetry ends likeness and acclaims revelation. After a turbulence of similes, "analogy" loses "its manners" and all the habits of poetry are blown away.
WS Merwin (Bloom's Major Poets)
Falling objects achieve their greatest velocity at the instant of crash. In "New Heaven, New Earth," Crash's Law speeds to its last words: and the saved one and the lost one, the one on the path, one foundered in a snowdrift, and the one with the ravingest eye, revising the first photographs of earth, all wispy cloudlets and ingenuous blue, as you tender your scared stretch of life like a blessing -- moon broke to blossom!
In revelation's renovation of every thing we can see "moon broke to blossom," and seeing so far, so fast, so high, we begin to see a further edge -- Volkman's brightest innovation -- "keen and shine. Yet while none of Jorie Graham's books has ever gone out of print, no poet in recent memory has been so well served by the publication of such a one-volume compendium.
There has been no doubt as to the significance of Graham's place in the troubled arena of American poetry since World War II -- her poems were noticed by major critics well before she won this year's Pulitzer Prize -- but we had nothing to chart the intensity of her progression over the past 20 years until the appearance of this book. And its title, like the titles of each of her books, is full of new-critical irony as well as astonishing forthrightness.
As with the unified-field theorizing of physicists, should the dream hovering behind these pages ever be realized, then the act of dreaming would have exceeded its human dimension.
The Palm Trees and Poetry of W. S. Merwin
Oddly enough, it's the future that this collection suggests, rather than the mere reciting, or recanting, of a past. Jorie Graham's work makes constant reference to the world outside itself, insists on her own poems as readings of other, sometimes horrifying, historical contexts and texts. If read as an aesthetic statement, a poetics, then the following passage from Jonathan Schell's The Fate of The Earth might account for some post-wars poetry i.
You might say that uncertainty, like the thermal pulses or the blast waves, is one of the features of a holocaust. Our procedure, then, should be not to insist on a precision that is beyond our grasp but to inquire into the rough probabilities of various results insofar as we can judge them, and then to ask ourselves what our political responsibilities are in the light of these probabilities.
This embrace of investigative modesty -- this acceptance of our limited ability to predict the consequences of a holocaust -- would itself be a token of our reluctance to extinguish ourselves. Note that even my use of the catch phrase "poetic project" contains a hidden calculation of futurity.
And Graham's is a poetry whose concerns cling to time, fearfully or boldly by turns. When the world thought its greatest threat was of destruction by nuclear weapons, tacticians and strategists considered merely delaying the use of such weapons to be a victory. While their ultimate banning might have been desirable, the world meanwhile remained livable by means of delay. Further, by implying that "events" might be "obscure" because "future," Schell suggests the centrality of delay to recent history, including recent poetry.
Delay is a concept central to poetry and art. The arrow of time is inexorable, and the danger of dynamism is corruption and dissolution, which one can only delay, not deter. Perhaps the Grecian Urn suggests the possibility of an ultimate deterrence, and perhaps Eliot's Still Point feels available to some believers. But the famous pace of modern life one can measure Modernism from the 18th century if one chooses forces us to confront change with such ferocity that strategies for delay are commonplace, even subconscious.
One of Graham's early poems refers to how ". In such a line, Graham suggests that the everyday, in which we live, asserts itself slyly, not by assuming dominance, but by negotiating a little space for the human in the shadow of the threat of the future. Aside from the need for delay to provide a space within which lives can be led, there is the need to delay in order to examine; there is the examined life to consider, but also the examined art.
Jorie Graham described in a Denver Quarterly interview a sense that even the making of a poem is merely a momentary stay against the inevitable dissolution of the genre, of poetry itself: I feel like I'm writing as part of a group of poets -- historically -- who are potentially looking at the end of the medium itself as a vital part of their culture -- unless they do something to help it reconnect itself to mystery and power. However great their enterprise, we have been handed by much of the generation after the Modernists -- by their strictly secular sense of reality domestic, confessional , as well as their unquestioned relationship to the act of representation -- an almost untenably narrow notion of what that in between space is capable of.
That "in between space" is part of the project of delay, of rediscovering the present before the ravages of the future. This renewing collection allows us, for instance, to read from Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts in the light of Materialism. What Graham's skill shows is not so much a renewal as a salvation of the earlier poems by enriching their context. Just as we can hardly read the early Yeats while pretending ignorance of the greater, later works, those of us who knew best the more recent large and complex Graham poems are now invited to reread the earlier, and to see in them, perhaps for the first time, their full complexities and compulsions.
For instance, consider how a later poem, "Notes on the Reality of the Self" the second one from Materialism , begins: In my bushes facing the bandpractice field, in the last light, surrounded by drumbeats, drumrolls, there is a wind that tips the reddish leaves exactly all one way, seizing them up from underneath, making them barbarous in unison.
Meanwhile the light insists they glow where the wind churns, or no, there is a wide gold corridor of thick insistent light, layered with golds, as if runged, as if laid low from the edge of the sky, in and out of which the coupling and uncoupling limbs -- the racks of limbs -- the luminosities of branchings -- offspring and more offspring -- roil -- except when a sudden stillness reveals an appall of pure form, pure light The drama of this poem is in part a re-envisioning of a poem from her first book, including its title: I Was Taught Three names for the tree facing my window almost within reach, elastic with squirrels, memory banks, homes.
Castagno took itself to heart, its pods like urchins clung to where they landed claiming every bit of shadow at the hem. Chassagne , on windier days, nervous in taffeta gowns, whispering, on the verge of being anarchic, though well bred. And then chestnut , whipped pale and clean It was not the kind of tree got at by default -- imagine that -- not one in which only the remaining leaf was loyal.
In each poem the world opening into the window, through the window, becomes a world of light and leaves, and yet the tiny ironic "joke" an O'Henry allusion? Both poems are appallingly beautiful, as they touch, lightly, everywhere at once. Graham was taught three names for a tree in part because she grew up in Italy, was educated in France, and of course spoke English with her American parents.
This trinity of languages, like the god of Catholicism, achieves a singularity not by suppression of any two languages' implications, but by accepting, in Helen Vendler's words, "an unembarrassed range of cultural and linguistic reference, which she does not censor. She has also spoken of the need she felt in her poems to respond to the pull of closure , to resist its devastations. The Dream of the Unified Field demonstrates how each book successively and successfully re-opens the previous, and proves and improves the ability and need of the poem to delay, to resist, to digress and progress.
As she wrote in "The Visible World":.