Tag Archives: Charles Olson

“Origin” and “Bees”: The Latest (New Yorker) Installment of Official Verse Culture

Preface: Because people don’t tend to read blogs for contextualizing entries, a fair number of readers might assume that the following article reflects an all-out hostility to poetry that appears in The New Yorker. Before any reader makes that assumption, I would urge her or him to read my blog post (November 9, 2014) on Suzanne Lummis’s poem about Ophelia, which also was published in The New Yorker.

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“shall i uncover honey / where maggots are” – “The Kingfishers,” Charles Olson

In a recent issue of The New Yorker (Sept. 3rd), a poem entitled “Origin” (pages 52-53) begins:

“I was born inside a mourning dove.”

The poem poses a riddle, initially, since birth is a process by which a living creature separates from its gestating entity. It doesn’t prove to be an interesting riddle; rather, its pathos at the poem’s conclusion only serves to underline how far short its opening falls from matching even the effort of a popular song. “Jumping’ Jack Flash”‘s use of figurative language in its first line is far more intriguing. providing the reader with enough complexity to move with accelerating interest to the second line. (Though Keith Richards is credited with the music, it is Bill Wyman’s primary riff that underscores this impetuous metaphor of the British generation born during World War II.)

Katie Condon’s trope plays with the long-standing obsession of poets with dead animals, as well as the constant proximity of death to animal life. One could take this subject and turn it into a compelling poem, but it would require an artist who pays more attention to the use of her pronouns. “I” and “us” and “you” are sprinkled around this poem like garnishes on a plate of microwaved frozen food that do nothing to hide its high salt content. Did no reader of this poem before it was published suggest to Ms. Condon that she needs to review the relationship between these pronouns?

While fans of this kind of poem might view my comments are overly harsh, I want to remind them that far more strident attitudes towards Condon’s poetics are at work in contemporary verse. I can imagine many avant-garde poets (and their significant affiliates) sneering “Quietude” and viewing the sentiment of the poem as a kind of maggot that the Fly of Limited Imagination has graced the carcass of Tradition with. I’ll leave it to other blogs to argue that case, but I will say that if “Origin” is an example of what Ph.D. candidates in Literature and Creative Writing are producing these days, then academic poetry is truly taking a turn towards the banal.

In fairness to Ms. Condon, I am cutting and pasting the link to her website, which appears to provide links to other poems she’s had published. I am not in any rush to read them, but perhaps those who yearn for “success” as poets might want to hurry to her site to see what they should emulate.

http://www.katiecondonpoetry.com/poetry-1/

I myself find Condon’s poem most useful as a reminder to visit William Blake’s “The Fly.”

“The Fly”

Little Fly
Thy summer’s play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

In Condon’s poem, what is conspicuously missing is the “blind hand.”

As for the ending of Condon’s poem (“I am // as afraid as you.”, I jotted down a quatrain shortly after reading her poem:

THE MAGGOT

No maggot is afraid.
The tiny egg, when laid,
Knows thickened, sated Fate
Will never make him wait.

Turning this critique on myself, I hope that anyone who finds my rejoinder as insufficient as I do quickly turns to someone who could have done a far better job: J.V. Cunningham. Just as I suggest that readers would be better off reading Blake than Condon, I do not pretend that my work is more deserving of sustained attention than those who have far surpassed my efforts.

Post-Script: Oddly enough, there is also a poem about “Bees” in the same issue, and the juxtaposition recalled a poet who would have viewed this pair of poems with utter disdain. As such, I have just now gone back to the beginning and inserted an epigraph.

Kirk Gibson and Charles Olson

Monday, August 19, 2013

The approaching 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run has coincided with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning an astonishing number of games in the second half of this season. Although it’s been decades since I’ve cheered with any enthusiasm for the Dodgers, I am pleased to see the team doing well, if only because Vin Scully has endured more mediocrity in recent years than any Hall–of-Famer broadcaster should be saddled with. For his sake, I would be pleased to see the Dodgers do well in the postseaon playoffs.

In the drumbeat boosterism that is beginning to build towards what the local economy hopes will be a Dodger triumph in the World Series, this quarter-century celebration of Gibson’s limp-off dinger is an all too obvious item on the restaurant menu. Sure enough, the Los Angeles Times trotted out a long column by Bill Plaschke the other day that reviews some of the background contributions to Gibson’s sole at bat in that series. Most of the key elements in the story, however, are not particularly insightful revelations. In particular, Gibson’s use of a scouting report to anticipate the pitch that Dennis Eckersley was going to throw is fairly common knowledge, and anyone who has followed the game at all knows that Gibson has previously credited Mike Davis’s steal of second base with helping him settle in at the plate and focus on the basic task of getting a single and simply tying the game at 3-3. A pinch-runner could then have been used to finish off the job of rattling the Oakland A’s confidence in their odds-on status of being the team favored to win the Series.

There’s been at least one game this year, in fact, in which a similar comment to the one Gibson made years ago about how Davis’s steal affected his equanimity at the plate. In mid-May, the Cleveland Indians were playing the Seattle Mariners in Cleveland in an extra-innings game that was tied at 3-3. According to Jordan Bastian’s coverage of the game, a two-out walk to Drew Stubbs (who has struck out 113 times in 354 Abs this season and drawn only 28 bases on balls) proved to an unforgiving extension of the inning by the Mariners’ pitcher. As with Mike Davis’s two-out walk in the 1988 game, the subsequent stolen base altered the approach of Jason Kipnis, whose comment after hitting a home to win the game was very similar to Gibson’s recollection of his most famous at-bat: “I knew that I had to go up there and just get a single — just slap it,” Kipnis said. “That approach may have helped me stay back on his offspeed.”

In other words, as with writing a poem, don’t try to do more than needs to be done to resolve an immediate adversity. That’s easier advice to follow, of course, about a conservative game, such a baseball, as opposed to choosing a course of “self-action with Whitehead’s important corollary: that no event / is not penetrated, in intersection or collision with, an eternal / event.” Furthermore, the hyper-masculine environment of professional baseball remains a problem in drawing any analogous permutations of potential choices with outcomes. The word missing from Olson’s reminder at the end of “A Later Note on Letter #15” is one of gender assignment: Are “the poetics of such a situation … yet to be found out” patriarchal or matriarchal, or is there a new androgyny yet to articulate its plural capacities? (In one of the poems called “Elements” in “Great Slave Lake Suite,” Leland Hickman included a slight variation on Olson, describing his context at Fort Providence in Canada as the “poetics of this situation not yet figured out.”)

Nevertheless, the intersection of familiar cycles with a seemingly infinite variety of personal circumstances makes both baseball and poetry prime subjects of my daily meditations.