I visit the zoo.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dung beetle: Got it!

Visitor: My BAP2004? Fine job, Dungy. And fresh as ever. Shall we?

Dung beetle: I've got one -- thft thft -- sorry, something -- thft thft -- stuck in my teeth -- I've got one all lined up. Today's poem, hooman, is "the story" by Carly Sachs.

Visitor: I'm all ears.

Earwig: I'm all excited.

Dung beetle: Ahem. Ahem ahem.

Visitor: Ahem.

Dung beetle: Ahem.

Sachs writes six stanzas, eight lines a stanza, six words a line except for the last line of each stanza, which might have four or five words. There is no grammar but collocation and very general word order. Here's the first. Ahem.
it was and on was so
felt my saying myself could so
but or he was I in
in anymore was happening at come
to my me kept you way
across be put then me things
so we came and all him
in the feel saying me

And here's the last. Ahem.

he late room he were which
was was hear I it noise
me and what was heard was
wasn't where was there I now
on telling the G-d the shining
to he vagina straddled loving love
what I be after under Kent
on I trouble raped

A rape remembered, the words jumbled, the clues strung together. The notes (the notes!) say

This poem started off as an exercise in revisiting a memory. The poem is about survival and illustrates how the recall of a painful incident changes over time. In this case, the speaker regains the power to take charge of her words and rearrange them, supplanting the original version of events. It is a reclaiming of language, a revision of a memory, a rebuilding of the body. Yet, in a way, the shame is evident, as the memory's linear narrative is concealed, while at other points of time, the raw, jagged things that make language visceral are exposed.

That's too much to claim for these six stanzas. (Never write notes about your poems; if they don't stand entirely on their own, without your notes and CV attached, your poems are no good.)

When she says "the shame is evident, as the memory's linear narrative is concealed," it is possible, but concealed narrative, or avoidance of narrative altogether, is so common that it cannot be depended upon to have this or any other effect. And are phrases such as "he vagina straddled" and "I trouble raped" part of the "raw, jagged things that make language visceral," or just plain words from a plain description of a rape?

The poem can be rescued if we find some good lines, and it has good lines if watery clutches of words like

it was and on was so

are to your taste. You don't know what was, you don't know what was on (or was going on or was carrying on) at the beginning, but it's supposed to be an elusive recollection at first, so this dance of the seven ambiguities is to the purpose. But lines like

across be put then me things

are not as good, and there are more lines in the not-as-good category.

We're left with fairish poetry. There is industry evident in the dismemberment and restructuring of the narrative, so experimentalists might give it credit for effort, and the lines, if uninteresting ("he he anyway the to and"), aren't all aurally rotten. But we should expect more of a poem picked as one of the year's best. Be better, poem. Be spectacular.

Earwig: That's all? This is where you try to be funny, right?

Visitor: When talking about a rape poem? One that is "about survival," no less? First published in a magazine called PMS? Not without taking my address off this blog first.

Earwig: But at it go from could

Visitor: Like all the the confused words?

Earwig: one of favorite bands the the

Visitor: had had pegged talk talk guy

Earwig: bite bite me you my big


At 4:55 AM, Blogger Jilly said...

No more zotz? :(


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