Friday, July 25, 2008

More on lyric nature and the unexpected

Joshua Corey posted the procedings from an AWP Conference (the one in Vancouver to be precise), a while back and I'm still musing on some of his succinct observations (three or four levels removed from the daily thinking but one has satellites...). While I agree that there is "barely any distance to travel between Wordsworth's 'The Daffodils' and virtually any poem of Mary Oliver's you would care to name," I think there's more distance between Oliver and Wordsworth in general than one might think. In other words, she is even more romantic, no? I've heard--or read rather--Oliver say she never intended to be a nature poet. She, like so many of the school of quietude American poets, seems to simply want to live a life of quiet observation--not carrying a weight of chronicling the unseen in what she is seeing, and with little reference to a wider body of reading or theory. But what bothers me most about Oliver is her sense of "nature." What nature, I want to ask? Where in America is pristine, and not a National Park? Where without complex strands of the industrial complex and politics? Doesn't Oliver live in a national park? Is the school of quietude a poetry that inhabits a nature reserve of the mind, never mind form? I don't mind idealistic representations of nature, we all need some solace in an aching world, but can't we call them what they are?? We might all wish that things were otherwise, but that won't get us anywhere. Here is Corey again:
Oliver's plain poetic speech, meant to serve as a marker of both accessibility and authenticity, represses the strangeness and vitality of language beyond its usefulness as a resource. Her language gestures at wildness, tries to terrify you like a lion at the end of a leash—but it is tame, and we never lose sight of the lion tamer's whip and chair.
And for some reason I come here to Elizabeth Treadwell's Lilyfoil. A few years back I was sitting in Washington Square Park eating (very subersively eating I might add), an ice cream bar, and I had the foil wrap in my hand. It was a windy spring day, and my wrap kept brushing up against the tulips connecting, refracting sunlight and the tulip--that most oft grafted, cultviated, artificial of flowers. I pointed my lens (attached now, I believe, by very fine microbes to my right arm) and shot off a few dozen photos of the creamy foil reflecting and interacting with the tulips. That, in a sense, is the essence of Lilyfoil: replication, duplication, assimilation, association...she is aware of where she is...what she sees and what the implications might be both in a physical sense, and in language...no? Not separating out what might sully the mood. There was ick on the wrapper, it was bent, it had unfortunate wrinkles, my finger there too...

How does this fit, this next leap? Listening to Elizabeth Bishop reading from Geography III a while back I had the sense of a woman coming to terms with the limitations of her ability, or willingness to look. Two Bishop quotes to leave you with. One on Charles Olson: " I can't say I like his poems," and the last one on herself: "I've worked very little in my life."

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