Sunday, December 3, 2006

How We Need a New Poem

The other night when I bloghopping I ran across this poem at the site for Taddle Creek Magazine:

Two Thirteen-Line Poems on How We Need A New Poem

But only a good one. Hammer, mine the day.
Have other poems dropped like depth charges
to break something loose, picture a tight-lipped
brigadier, reciting a roll call, “Acorn, Akhmatova,”
loaded—fired against the circle of whiteness
surrounding the city—reload—and again.
And old women, helping the effort, walk
the streets beating pans to flush out a poem,
report that an old Chinese man looked into
Wah Fook Seafood Trading and smiled, lifted
the stick of an arm and waved gently like a king.
I need something more, comes the reply, more than
police cruisers sailing the streets like sharks.

The young man on the street corner is always there,
growing the thin film of hostility on the inside
of his frame, that much extra weight in a bucket—
heart stamping each day like a blown tire,
not speaking because he knows his voice would sound
like an angry dog—his pet rats lined up on his arm
even seem frightened, as though on a sinking ship,
the sign reading, “OUT OF WORK, OUT OF HOME, PLEASE
HELP. THANK YOU.” Nobody from the passing
stream stops to think if he were God, quietly there,
even a dollar would get you into heaven.
He knows, instead, the fussing crow wing
of a broken umbrella, waving him away.

I like how this poem moves from impulse to execution; how the details in the first stanza accumulate and begin to establish a kind of authority for themselves, and then how the poem shifts direction and the figure of the young man comes into focus, again as the result of patient accumulation; how the whole thing taken together becomes the embodiment of the concern expressed in the title.

I also like the way that the title suggests that we are looking at two poems, but the presentation—the fact that there is one title for the two stanzas—suggests that this is one poem in two parts. That in itself is, well, new. At least to me. So you can read it as one poem, or as two poems, or as one poem again. Kind of like how when you were small you could close one eye, then the other, then the first, and make the world hop around.

The poem is by Alex Boyd. His web site has additional poems and a link to an interesting essay on writing.

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