For awhile now, I've been a fan of Regular Rumination and of Lu, so it should come as no surprise that I want to tag along with her great idea to challenge us all to read more poetry and to post more about it. Poetry is a semi-frequent part of my wordyevidence equation as I write it and read it, but I like the formality of this idea. Making sure I get in one post a month and knowing that there are several other folks across the interweb doing the same will certainly raise the profile of poetry for all of us. Plus, I like the pretty blue button.
To respond to this challenge, I pulled from the TBR shelves a little volume I picked up at the last Conference on Southern Literature. It is called Kingdom of the Instant and comes from contemporary poet Rodney Jones. This book (published in 2002) is not his most recent or most acclaimed collection, but it is the one I chose. I don't even remember why, unless it was his unaffected, quiet tone resonating from the stage. Wanna' hear for yourself? Watch this little video from the Griffin Poetry Prize (for which his book Salvation Blues was shortlisted).
Well, whatever the initial reason, the result was notsomuch. I hate to start off this cool event (which I am, of course, late to) with a less than glowing review, but this collection just did not sing my favorite tunes. There are jewel-bright moments, undoubtedly, (like the line "Days flash-seal with a pop like canning jars"), but the overall effect of most of the poems and of the collection as a whole was unsatisfying. Jones constructs a type of poem that probably annoys Ted Kooser considerably. It is intentionally abstract and is written in a form that the poem neither demands nor supports. In his The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Kooser writes
Many contemporary poets choose to use, say, three-line stanzas, possibly because it makes the poem look more orderly and suggests a relationship to music. After all, we do talk about poems as "lyric." Whatever their reason, unless the stanzas make some sense as blocks of speech, like paragraphs in prose, they can call attention to themselves. ... The reader stops to think, why on earth is this poem chopped up like this? Is it just to make it look like a poem? (68)Jones does this very thing in many of his poems, and while I am not at all against a narrative-driven poem or a visually-experimental poem, I have to agree with Kooser regarding the affected feeling of this choice. And though I don't always agree with Kooser about a poem's need to be accessible, Jones is really hit-or-miss in the "does this line make any natural sense" category. To read his poems is to be reminded of the masterful nonsense of Eliot, so that could be considered a good thing. However, like Eliot, Jones sometimes made me pause and wonder: was that really good or really crazy? Too often, I found myself slipping through his poems, enjoying the rhythm and sound of the lines, but not really trying to take any meaning from them. Here's an example from the opening lines of the opening poem, "Keeping Time":
To be in there with it, tock to its tick, mudIt has a cool, jazzy sound, but making sense of it takes more energy than I was willing to give, even on a second reading. Conversely, I found these two images to be unbelievably rich:
to its chink, oh, but running, unthinking,
alive, lurid, unprepossessing, liquid,
mercurial, lucky scalpel, leap,
love cry, music sticking from the violin.
And that was Grandma Owen,
a vine, as I remember her in her dotage,
putting out the brown flower
of one hand. (p. 15)
until, as he always did,There were other such moments, and I wish I could sing this collection's praises. I wish (for your sake, but more for mine) that it had raised the hackles of my very soul, but this time it just didn't happen that way. Just like with novels, short stories, essays, songs, and television shows, some will strike us just right, and others will falter. It won't keep me from reading poetry, though, so I'm glad for this ongoing chance to explore new voices and to bring more poetry to light in this space.
Miles Winton's incorrigible mongrel
spurted up from the ditchbank
like a flame turned inside out,
sleek black to the bone with rage (p. 45)