Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mind Your Ps & Qs

Linda Pastan, The Five Stages of Grief. Borrowing from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s popular On Death & Dying–& how could it not be popular with an upbeat title like that–Pastan arranges poems extraneously related to the five stages of grief--Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance--which serve as section headings. The title poem, at just over 60 lines, is one of the longest & best pieces in this easy-to-read collection. A minimalist--i.e., one who exerts minimal effort, zing!--Pastan relies primarily on imagery to convey complex ideas–sometimes in a poem of a single sentence or a few fragments–with varied success. Some, like “A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century” & “The Mirror,” work well enough, but others, such as “25th High School Reunion” & “Caroline,” seem incomplete–more like starting points than finished poems. To be fair, I’m glad she didn’t expound upon “25th High School Reunion.” I’m not interested my reunions, much less hearing the details of someone else’s. Of course, if I were so inclined, I could watch Archie: Return to Riverdale, Beautiful Girls, Class Reunion, Class Reunion Massacre, Grosse Point Blank, Just Friends, National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, Peggy Sue Got Married, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, Something Wild, Terror Stalks the Class Reunion, Zack & Miri Make a Porno or any of the fine selections available at Netflix. Not a member? Sign up for your free trial today!

Carol Quinn, Acetylene. As winner of the 2008 Cider Press Review Book Award, Quinn has a good ear--her left, I think--for poetry. I like “Sequoia” in particular. However, I have a problem with this collection. Out of thirty poems, thirteen begin with an inscription. In baseball, that sort of average would threaten Ted Williams–I mean, of course, before his corpse was frozen & his decapitated head used for fungo, but still not in a good way. Additionally, following quotations from Anne Dillard & Federico Garcia Lorca which open the book, the Proem (a short poem, "Afterimage," allotted a section unto itself) precedes the “actual” poems. To put a cherry on it, Quinn includes a page of notes to elucidate further upon her work. At times, such notes & inscriptions may be vital, but too often–& Quinn’s not alone in this respect–they seem pretentious, as if the poet were Charlie Tuna, propping up poems with scholarly ornamentations. For instance, Quinn describes “Chaconne” in her end notes as “a response to J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from Partia No. 2 for Solo Violin in D minor.” Speaking of, my “response” is to ask if I don’t get the reference to Bach from the title, can I appreciate the poem without listening to, let’s say, Itzhak “Trust your ability!” Perlman? If not, perhaps Acetylene should be published online so Quinn can provide links, which would be, if I may defer to Urban Dictionary, “god pimp perfect.”

To be continued . . .

5 comments:

helen said...

There was a book--I forget the title and author--which was published with reference to the music the author listened to while composing the manuscript. Needless to say, I didn't buy the book or the music.

helen

Matt Morris said...
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Matt Morris said...

Thanks for the comment. I don't know the book you're referring to, but my criticism, as you know, lies not with Quinn's allusion to the Bach piece--clearly & concisely made in the title--nor her method of composing the poem--but her almost condescending note to explain. As I see it, the poem stands or falls on its own merits or lack thereof. Like in pop culture, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon may correspond with imagery from The Wizard of Oz if both are played simultaneously (esp. when shitfaced), but neither album nor movie require the other to be enjoyed. Quinn's note (which I selected as an example of superfluous notes not only in her book, but in books in general) seems as unnecessary as my placing notes in Nearing Narcoma to point out that "Aspects of Dagwood" is a parody of Weldon Kees' "Aspects of Robinson," which I didn't, because I respect the readers' intelligence & while their familiarity with Kees may enchance enjoyment of my poem, it's not essential. Or, if I may make my point further, I could have noted that the title of "Degrees of Hell at Hattiesburg," a sestina, refers to Richard Hugo's "Degrees of Hell at Philipsburg," not a sestina, & was written while listening to Devo's "S.I.B.(Swelling Itching Brain)," also not a sestina, but how does any of that information lend itself to the poem's accessibility? Indeed, maybe I should have pointed out that "Metrophobia" does not refer to the fear of cities, but to the fear of poetry, concluding my note by scolding readers for lacking the sense to use a dictionary. Obviously, as my lengthy reply indicates, pretentions in poetry rile me, so I'll close by thanking you once again for your comment, which provided me a platform to rail further on one of many subjects that pisses me off.

Matt Morris said...
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Matt Morris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.