“Flesh-back,” by Guy Goffette, translated by Marilyn Hacker (published in Poetry London, No. 46), transmogrifies beer into gold and urchins into avenging angels. It speaks in the language of the urbane sophisticate, but rekindles the color of the back-alley brawls of beggars. I am glad that it was part of a longer piece, for it doesn’t seem like enough in and of itself to do justice to its theme, although the individual details are well wrought. I especially love the image of the light, entering into the domain of the dark, the bar, the café, and turning the liquor of despair into the liqueur of hope, a straw-colored ray that brings the heavens to earth, the sky to the asphalt.

Of course the problem with translation is that all sonic effects and matters of form and function are difficult to attribute to author or translator, but in the end, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter. This poem, though perhaps a different poem from the one written by Goffette, is its own entity and can stand alone. So it is not out of place for me to talk about the interesting internal rhyme of cafés/ray’s and urchin/in and shit/shit, rhymes, which do seem to be thematically appropriate, highlighting moments of contrast and of completion. The alliteration is also enjoyable, and it makes one appreciate the skill of a master translator who pays attention not merely to the sense, but to the sound.

“The Final Stroke,” by Peter G. Epps (published in the Penwood Review, November 2003), is interesting in that, more than any poem I have seen recently it keeps strictly to the Petrarchan requirement that the sextet be able to stand on its own as a separate poem. The theme seems to be rejection and loss, especially that which is (or seems to be) a product of one’s own actions. It also has a strong feeling of death and judgment as well. The connection between the two seems to be that realization of the former occurs in the process of the latter.

There are several phrases that evoke particularly poignant and enjoyable images. “Too numb to rest,” is one. The opposite would seem more likely to be true, yet this rings solid and perfect. One is numbed by not resting. I love the transposition of imagery that occurs between the octet and the sextet. The octet ends with an apparent death, a “clotted brain.” The broken vessel of the opening line of the sextet, is then initially read as a blood vessel, and thus is tied inextricably to the woman. This sets up a concrete metaphoric relationship between the woman herself and the vessel which has just dropped from her lifeless hands.

Another nice juxtaposition of nomenclature occurs in the penultimate line (which is also wonderful sonically speaking), when her betrayals are made of clay, a traditional medium for dishes. Although the abstraction of the sextet gets to be a little too much toward the end, it was still a wonderful and enjoyable exploration of the transformation of death, a questioning of what lies just beyond and a suggestion that our assumptions may be turned on their heads.

“A Sonnet For CNN,” by George Bradley (published in The Fire Fetched Down, 1996), was written during the first gulf war, in 1991. It is not a typical war poem, which is appropriate since it was not a typical war. Poignant imagery is used to highlight the dichotomy between the realities of the war, and the reporting of the war as it enters the home of the average US household. In the octet the harshness of the war reporting is emphasized as its horrific images are brought into sharp focus in the “mind’s eye.” This type of war experience was impossible for the average civilian in any previous war, and in that sense it offers an experience of the war, which binds the nation tightly together in unity of purpose, a purpose illuminated by the final quote from Psalms 137. We have a connection through religious roots that ties us tightly to the Middle East even though half a world away.

The sextet, on the other hand, opens by reminding us that what we saw on the screen, however gruesome, could not in fact compare with the realities of the war, we have only a broadcaster’s “monotone” to inform the images. We are missing a primary sense, that of hearing, and are not actually affected by the mustard gas and scud missiles, the things that our children, our troops, are being faced with and suffering from. But rather than be distanced from our children by the impersonal nature of the war reporting, instead, we are led to an even more emotional connection. “How not to weep?” We are, in fact, brought to a deeper understanding our loss by examining the distance between us that would not be as obvious were it not for the seeming closeness that the TV brings to us.

“Little Blessing for My Floater” by Jeanne Murray Walker, was published in the November issue of Poetry. I wish I knew whether the epigram meant George Herbert the 17th century poet or G. H. W. Bush, as I personally can’t see the connection either way but the second seems somewhat remotely more applicable if the intent is to suggest a blind spot in political policy. I tend to think though that it is the former that is intended, and as such, though it may merely be my own poor memory, I can’t find the poem that this is intended to be ‘after’ or in what other possible way it relates to George Herbert at all.

But disregarding the unintelligible epigram, the rest of the poem is quite a nice little piece, with both sonics and sense that are fathomable and fun. I love the oxymoron “tiny ruin,” which seems perfectly sensible within the context, the contrast between the “little speck” and the “deep chip,” and the action attributed with the “piton that nails every rock.” I love the internal rhymes of ‘spot,’ ‘not,’ ‘rock,’ and ‘see,’ ‘sea,’ ‘be,’ ‘me,’ ‘see,’ especially because they become noticeable only when the poem is read aloud, at which point they surprisingly come, for the most part, at pauses in the speech, highlighting them and showing the authors obvious attention to the aural pleasure and the contract between aural and visual.

The idea of the poem, of embracing our difficulties, our faults, our trials, is presented freshly and enjoyably. The alternation between abstraction and concreteness keeps the poem grounded while allowing it to soar. However, the final apostrophe seems overblown and unnecessary. I could have hoped that the poem had ended three lines earlier on “that reminds me what I will be zithromax pills 500mg.”

“Instant Coffee” by Patrick Donnelly, published in the October 2003 issue of The Yale Review, makes a beautiful and tightly woven connection between the coffee and the sunset. This connection is expanded into the change of the seasons, and could be representative of much more, what specifically being left up to the reader. The personification of summer and much of the language make it feel human and personal and lend credence to a reading of personal loss, whether of a loved one or thing making no difference.

The vocabulary of the sunset (falling, cloud) is used to describe the coffee, and the vocabulary of coffee (dregs) is used to describe the sunset. Time is brought in with the cream that holds “an instant.” The insects, the dregs, the giving up, the dark water, the kneeling, the cold, and the dispersion all point to a feeling of loss and mourning. However, the sweetness, the light, the summer, and the bright crystals all point to hope, happiness, and joy. I take away a celebration of life that glories in the transitions from one thing to the next yet mourns the passing of the lost.

There also seem to be some theological overtones. One could imagine the winged things to be angels as easily as insects, the sweetness to be a loved one for whom the angels have come, the pouring out to be acceptance of the loss, the cloud of cream to be a vision of heaven, and summer to be the Christ dispersing light into the cold dark world. However, even without taking it to that level of symbolism the piece is highly effective at evoking loss, acceptance, and comfort or hope in images that are poignant, effective, new, and breathtaking.

Hannah makes some interesting and insightful comments on my last post (scroll down for the comments). The following are my responses to some of her thoughts.

I see, at least within the poem, ‘make’ representing cooperative creation, while ‘being’ includes all of the individuated effort that she talks about. Poetry and essays might in fact be seen as a part of the great repulsive effort that we make (that darn word keeps popping up where I don’t want it) to individuate ourselves. So again I think the poem sort of bounces or really perhaps hovers between the two tropes, and I’ll admit to a little grandstanding at the end of my essay as well, the question is perhaps somewhat inappropriate.

It may be too much of a stretch to make the connection that I did between make and cooperation, and indeed, I was somewhat deflated by the fact that, with two poignant line breaks like those at the beginning of the poem, the subtext that they created was not more directly addressed in the rest of the poem. I perhaps struggled to hard to impute intent when there may have been none.

It is true, also, that there are fragments of the celestial throughout the poem. Her point with regard to the equation of the celestial with the personal is well made, and is akin to the ideas of order in the middle ages, with the celestial reflected in society reflected in the very humors of the body and as such, probably worth playing upon in the poem. Science, too, finds connections and mirroring between the macro and micro, from electronic and gravitic forces to the insidious quanta of Schröedinger’s cat. Nevertheless, on a personal level, I wanted things within the poem to stay at the micro level, at most hinting at a higher plane. The passage itself also seems just a little too high-falutin’ and grandiose. I will admit, though, that it is merely personal preference, my own micro-aesthetic, if you will.

“Repulsive Theory” by Kay Ryan, published in the November 2003 issue of Poetry, captured my attention immediately with its opening phrase, “little has been made.” Much has been made of the phrase “Much has been made of,” and this opening plays off of my familiarity with that phrase. However, the opening line by itself makes a bold declaration “little has been made” This seems false on the face of it, and I expect the poem to support it or subvert it. While the line belies the syntax (or vice versa), both are integral to the understanding of the poem. Looking to the next non-prepositional line, we see that “nothing has been made” is juxtaposed with “while much has been,” an interesting juxtaposition, that makes a certain amount of sense.

I particularly enjoy poetry that makes use of tropes traditionally belonging to the realm of the scientific, a realm that has on occasion (through the branch of linguistics) attempted to subvert or at least control the critical response to poetry. I am fascinated with both mathematics and speech, with both physics and rhetoric, with both science and soul, and this poem satisfies both cravings. We have the hard facts of “magnets reversed” and the “principle of repulsion” followed by the art of “doily edges” and the abstract “arabesques of thought.” The imagery of the poem is obviously reflective of repelling magnetic fields, yet it transforms it to a criticism if you will of traditional thinking with regard to mankind’s need for connection, offering alternatively the truth of mankind’s need for separation, all of this of course, without resorting to such mundane exposition.

In fact her imagery is enchanting, especially in the combination of the concrete with the abstract. Things like “oiled motions” and “pearly convolutions” produce specific images in my mind, but they are attached, in the text, to abstractions like avoidance. Anyone who has watched the rapids of a stream understands the concept of an eddying vacancy. Something normally abstract is made concrete by placing it within a context that defines it by what it is not.

The end of the poem, gives me a little pause because it seems to me to attempt to over extend the metaphor, or rather, it defies the metaphor by taking it out of the personal, where it has worked so well, and attempting to apply it to the cosmological in a way that doesn’t really add anything to the meaning of the poem, at least to my mind. On the other hand, the final three or four lines seem to bring it back to the personal and tie it together, I’m just not sure the jaunt to the cosmos was necessary for them to work.

Finally, to address the question posed in the opening with regard to the making vs. being of much, it seems that the poem bounces between these two tropes, in its own form, and its position on its subject, negative and then positive. In the end, is their any reason that we must make and not simply be?

An Examination of the Development of the Frontier Novel From Cooper to Card

The similarities and connections between James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, especially as exemplified in The Last of the Mohicans, and Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker Series, especially as exemplified in Red Prophet, offer ample ground for exploration and reveal a surprising bond between the two novels.  The ties between the two are so tight that we might almost say that Card has written the series that Cooper would have written had he not been held back by the prejudices of his society:  From his depiction of the Indians to his archetypal hero to his symbolic names and plot devices, Card completes Cooper’s vision of a frontier where a) the character and value of the Indian native is acknowledged, b) whites are only heroic in proportion to their ability to live in harmony with nature and with the Indian, and c) history is remembered with an eye unblinded by racial prejudice.

James Fennimore Cooper—the name alone conjures up images of virgin forests, canoes sliding across crystal waters, savage massacres, fainting maidens, and of course, blustering buckskin-clad heroes.  Natty Bumpo, Cooper’s most enduring character, has been called the first “fully realized frontier hero” (Peck 2), a “mythic hero” (Reuben Sec. 7), and the “quintessential frontier hero” (“Wisdom”).  Daniel H. Peck notes that Cooper’s Leatherstocking has been “the model for countless imitations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (2).  The frontier tale has indeed retained its loyal audience to this day, and the numbers of authors flattering Cooper with imitation grows every year.

One of the most recent of those imitators is noted science fiction and fantasy author Orson Scott Card.  Card’s Alvin Maker series falls into the sci-fi/fantasy sub-genre of re-history or alternate history, a newly popular field that Ray Olson categorizes as containing novels where “the outcomes of an era [. . .] are altered greatly, subtly, or maybe not at all” (1388).  In the case of Alvin Maker, as Michael Collings says, “These novels consciously impose elements of 19th-century history onto the fantasy framework of a magical alternate-world America” (125-26).  It may be that it is that element of fantasy that allows Card’s vision to strike deeper and further than Cooper was able to do.

Cooper was very progressive in his views about the American Indians[1], compared to the average white settler of his time.  He was concerned about their gradual disappearance from areas where whites settled and endorsed a plan of preservation in which Indians would be granted an entire U.S. Territory west of the Mississippi river, a plan which he hoped would stem the steadily decreasing Indian population in America (Cooper “The Indians”).  While modern civil libertarians look back with scorn on what seems a paltry and even hegemonic effort, they forget that many (possibly even the majority of) people “considered the active extermination of Indians to be a good thing, and blessed by God” (Reuben Sec. 7).  Cooper’s fictionalized Indians have been criticized throughout the ages for very different reasons.  Early critics such as W. H. Gardiner, General Lewis Cass, and William Bird (and later, Mark Twain), criticized his Indians because they believed that he idealized the Indian personality and nature, and that no such noble warriors ever existed, while modern critics claim that Cooper’s Indians “belong to the larger racial stereotypes that pervaded American thought in the nineteenth century” and that Cooper is engaged in a “sentimental response covertly justifying that very dispossession” (Peck 8).  However much he might have liked to see the perpetuation of Indian civilization west of the Mississippi, such a vision was destined to remain unfulfilled, as tribe after tribe faded or was integrated into white society.  But Cooper’s fictional world is not limited to the proud and noble savage, he also gives us the Hurons (i.e., Irrakwa or Mingo) who are reviled by both white: “A Huron! [. . .] they are a thievish race, nor do I care by whome they are adopted; you can never make anything of them but skulks and vagabonds” (30), and red: “The Hurons are dogs.  The sight of a coward’s blood can never make a warrior tremble” (257), and there is no hope for their redemption: “A Mingo is a Mingo, and God having made him so, neither the Mohawks nor any other tribe can alter him” (33).  Cooper must provide the Indian enemy that his readers expect and demand, but, in doing so, he chooses to embody all of his society’s prejudices about the Indians into this one tribe, freeing him to heroize his other Indian characters.

In Card’s alternate history, however, Cooper’s vision is fulfilled.  The great Indian prophet Tenskwa-Tawa, also has a vision of a land in which red and white can co-exist, divided by the “Mizzipy,” but rather than confining the Indians to a single western territory, it is the whites who are cut off from the land by the boundary: “Red man will go west of the Mizzipy. White man will stay east. Red part of land will live.  White part of land will be very dead, cut off” (Card 169).  I do not say that this scenario is what Cooper desired, but merely that it is something that he might have desired, had his upbringing not forced upon him certain prejudices that he could not fully shake off.  Donald Ringe notes that in Cooper, the Indians are closely associated with the land and with nature, which are tied to “their own red ‘gifts’” but that these gifts are “far below the Christian ideal that Cooper holds up for his readers” (85).  While Hawkeye listens in sympathy to Chingachook’s story: “Then, Hawkeye, we were one people, and we were happy,” he is nevertheless careful to make it clear that he is a man who “has no cross in his blood, although he may have lived with the redskins long enough to be suspected” (Cooper Mohicans 25-28).  In contrast, Card’s Tenskwa-Tawa says, “The Red man belongs wherever he is in this land. [. . .] To him a knack [white-person magic] is like a fly, buzz buzz buzz.  Far above this fly, the power of the living land is a hundred hawks, watching, circling” (36).  In Card too, the Indians are closely tied to the land, but in Card’s case, it is the Indian nature that is held to be the higher.  Tying himself further to Cooper’s original, Card makes his “bad” Indians the Irrakwa as well: “The Irrakwa are the urine of sick dogs” says his Indian hero Te-Kumsaw.  Turning the stereotype on its head, Card’s Irrakwa are not made unredeemable by God, but rather, are evil because they have become white: “Odd, The English seemed to find them to be kindred spirits.  And LaFayette adores them” (205), replies the fictional Napoleon.  Ta-Kumsaw makes the final pronouncement: “‘The Irrakwa have all turned White in their hearts.’ Said Ta-Kumsaw. ‘Eight-Face Mound [an Indian holy site] would never let them in now’” (226).  However, again providing the completion to Cooper’s beginning, Card holds out a hope of redemption even for the lost Irrakwa: “When the white man is gone, and the land is strong again, not sick [. . .] the Irrakwa will become true Red men again or they will die.”  In other words, they can find redemption by returning to the land, and becoming red again.

Cooper’s Indian character, Uncas, is probably the first occurrence of a heroic Indian in American literature.  But even as he makes Uncas a hero, Cooper must disparage the rest of the Indians to do so: “But Uncas, denying his habits, we had almost said his nature, flew with instinctive delicacy, accompanied by Heyward, to the assistance of the females” (Cooper Mohicans 115).  Wayne Franklin sees this disparagement of other Indians as “a sure sign of Cooper’s fundamental belief in the superiority of his own culture” (62), and that he had such a belief is certainly undeniable, but the important thing to get out of the passage is his attempt to lift even one Indian up as an heroic role model, something none of his contemporaries (or, indeed, for the longest time, his followers) was willing to do.  He was a model of civil activism compared to his contemporaries.  However, because of this constraint, much of Cooper’s most telling commentary comes from the mouth of the “Bad” Indian, Magua (a.k.a. Le Renard Subtil), a drunkard and traitor, and it is crucial to an understanding of the real import of Magua’s oratory to realize that Cooper never in the entire course of the novel contradicts Magua’s claims (Peck 9).  If Cooper did not intend Magua’s words to be taken as truth, even if on a subliminal level, he would surely have provided a “white” counterargument that would make short-shrift of Magua’s argument when he says things like “Was it the fault of Le Renard that his head was not made of rock?  Who gave him fire-water? Who made him a villain?  ‘Twas the pale-faces, the people of your own color” (Cooper Mohicans 102).  In almost every case, however, the white character, so confronted, cannot but admit the truth of the Indians’ claims, while still denying any personal culpability, as did, no doubt, Cooper himself.  Peck argues that Magua “is the most fully and successfully delineated character in The Last of the Mohicans, rising above stereotypes of the bad Indian” (10).  This level of character development is necessary because Magua is more than a bad Indian; he is a mouthpiece for the dispossessed and disenfranchised.

The Indian hero in Card’s work is represented by Ta-Kumsaw[2].  Unlike Uncas who is a chief of no people, Ta-Kumsaw is the completed chief: “Not a chief of the Shaw-Nee, or even a chief of the Red men of this north country, but rather the chief of all Red tribes in the war against white man” (Card 39).  There is also a second difference:  While Uncas had to become white, or white-like, to be made heroic, the re-visioned Indian becomes heroic by making war upon the white man.

The Indian drunkard is also represented by Card’s red prophet, Tenskwa-Tawa, who turns the stereotype on its head by drinking only to silence the “black noise” of white man’s disruption of the land, and once freed of the black noise, becoming a powerful shaman who gains a vision for the immediate future: the land divided by the Mizzipy, but for the perfect future: a crystal city where red and white build a community together in peace.  The attainment of this city is the heroic quest towards which Card’s ultimate, archetypal hero, Alvin Maker, will journey.

Cooper’s Nathaniel Bumpo, known as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, is the “classic image of the noble frontiersman, an enduring character whom Walt Whitman described as existing ‘from everlasting to everlasting’” (Franklin 52).  Hawkeye, in fact, created and defined the noble frontiersman.  Hawkeye is a romantic hero, his experiences and feelings are timeless, and yet poignant, as mythopoeic critics in the 1950s and 1960s have commented (Peck 12-15).  As the novel progresses, he encounters increasingly difficult issues of moral confrontation, racial conflict, and the conflict of civilization with nature—issues that “have resonance for the American (and human) experience both in his time and in ours” (64).  What are the defining characteristics of this noble hero?  Ringe explains:

Only Hawkeye, of all the whites, is competent to survive, mainly because his experience in the woods has instilled in him the humility he needs to understand the Indian and to interpret the white and red man to each other. [. . .] He alone sees virtue and justice among the Indians as well as among those of his own color. (44)

Hawkeye is a mediator between the world of white and red, and though he has more sympathy with the red, he inevitably is forced to acknowledge the superiority and right of white society.  Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent that makes it feel as though this acknowledgement is as Cooper’s might have been, not intrinsic to his worldview and beliefs but a function of his upbringing and society that he would have overcome if he could.  Franklin says that the violence in The Last of the Mohicans constantly threatens to transfigure Hawkeye, to “transform him from scout to savage” (50). But I, for one, get the feeling that Hawkeye is at his greatest and most noble at just those moments when he wrestles on the brink of so-called savagery.

Card once again moves forward to territory that Cooper simply couldn’t reach within his time, providing us with a hero who does overcome his societal beliefs to become a true mediator, Alvin.  In fact, Alvin goes so far beyond Hawkeye’s romantic heroism, that he “approaches the level of mythic, archetypal heroism,” defining “what it is to be essentially [and perfectly] human” (Collings 114).  Examined in the light of David Leeming’s eight stages of the monomyth, in Seventh Son, he experiences stage one, a Miraculous Birth; in Red Prophet he experiences stage two, childhood, initiation, and divine signs, as well as stage three, withdrawal, preparation, and temptation (Collings 100-101).  Within each novel, he also follows a shortened form of the hero’s journey, including calling (his apprenticeship to the smith), rejection (his desire to stay at home), acceptance (occurs during his meeting with the red prophet), descent (into Eight-Face Mound), reward (the return to life of his brother Measure), and homecoming (in which he also reaps the reward of full citizenship within the Indian community).  While Cooper’s hero was positioned at the edge of white society, Card again requires his hero to go the extra step:  He must become red.  And indeed, during his seclusion and training with the Indians, he begins to connect with the land in ways no white man has done before.  When he dreams of a sacred Indian site, Ta-Kumsaw tells him they must go there: “No white man had ever seen that place—the land was strong enough to keep them from finding that.  Yet this boy had dreamed of it.  And a dream of Eight-Face Mound never came by chance.  It always meant the same thing” (Card 208-9).  When they arrive at the mound, it appears that Alvin will not be able to ascend.  After they circle the mound, a path appears “Right on the edge shared by Red Man’s Face and the unknown face beside it.  ‘You are half Red,’ said Ta-Kumsaw” (Card 227). Compare the following description of Alvin with the previously quoted description of Hawkeye by Ringe:

He alone of all the characters in the novels can see with the eyes of the Whites and of the Reds; he alone of all the Whites that have invaded his world can hear the sounds of the greensong, the sounds of the natural world itself as it responds to its nurturing by the Reds and its destruction by the Whites. (Collings 126)

Hawkeye may understand the Indians, but Alvin becomes Indian, once again completing and extending Cooper’s vision.  Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, though moving in the right direction, ends leaving us confused as to who or what we are supposed to believe or think about the world.  Card provides a clear picture, working from the base that Cooper provided and extending it to provide a mythic archetype which satisfies a deep need of the human soul for order and harmony and truth.

Another facet in which Card’s work fulfills and completes Cooper’s work is in the level of symbolism.  While there are occasionally symbolic moments within Cooper’s work, for the most part he avoids any overt symbolism, except in the matter of names, which have obvious and direct significance.  Hawkeye says: “I’m an admirator of names, though the Christian fashions fall far below savage customs in this particular.  The biggest coward I ever knew was called Lyon; and his wife Patience, would scold you out of hearing” (Cooper Mohicans 53).  In Card also, names have significance in describing the occupation or character traits of their owner.  Hooch Palmer sells alcoholic beverages in a dishonest fashion; Mike Fink is a backstabbing treacherous river rat.  Alvin Miller is, of course, a miller.  His son, Calm, keeps him from blowing his top; his son Measure is able to take a balanced view of events.  Armor of God Weaver is an ardent Christian, and though he is no longer a weaver by trade, he is still responsible for weaving the town of Vigor Church and its surrounding farms and villages into a unified community.  However, in Red Prophet, names do more than fulfill this didactic purpose; they also fulfill a symbolic purpose, especially in the case of Indian names.  Take, for example, the naming of the title character in the following passage:

In his vision they called him the prophet, but he insisted that he was not that at all.  He was only the door, the open door.  Step through, he said, and be strong, one people, one land.

The door. Tenskwa-Tawa.

In his vision, his mother’s face appeared, and she said that word to him.  Tenskwa-Tawa.  It is your name now, for the dreamer is awake. (Card 97)

Tenskwa-Tawa is the door through which his people will travel to the west of the Mizzipy River, and into peace with the land and with the white people.  Alvin Maker’s name, too, has a deeper significance.  Alvin means wise or noble friend to all (Lansky 251), and Alvin is the Indian friend, but more than that, he is the only person who can bring friendship and cooperation to all of mankind, to fulfill the red prophet’s vision of a crystal city.

Both The Last of the Mohicans and Red Prophet have, as a central event in their plots, a massive slaughter of innocents.  In The Last of the Mohicans, this massacre takes place after the French have promised safe passage to the English after the English surrender of Fort William Henry.  As the English begin to leave the fort, Magua leads a band of renegade Hurons against the soldiers and unarmed civilians alike: “The flow of blood might be likened to the outbreaking of a torrent; and, as the natives became heated and maddened by the sight, many among them even kneeled to the earth, and drank freely, exulting, hellishly, of the crimson tide” (Cooper Mohicans 181-2).  In Card, the bloodshed is just as great, but it is perpetrated by the whites, and serves a higher purpose within the novel:

The grapeshot carved gaps in the crowd [. . .]. Miller noticed that the blood didn’t soak into the grass of the meadow.  As it poured out of the wounds of those most recently hit, it formed rivulets, streams, great sheets of blood flowing down the slope of the meadow. [. . .] No one could ever claim that Tippy-Canoe was a victory, or even a battle.  It was a massacre, and white men committed it, and not one Red raised a hand in violence or defense. (242-246)

The red prophet takes the blood of his murdered people and uses it to form a magical barrier preventing white men from ever crossing the Mizzipy River, as well as to curse the settlers who participated in the massacre. Once again Card uses but subverts and controls the cliché.

It seems clear that James Fennimore Cooper heavily influenced Orson Scott Card’s work.  Both present a fictionalized history, which allows them to make a social commentary and present a vision of racial harmony; both create heroes whose heroism is most pronounced and most obvious when they are engaged in communion, communication, and commitment to the Indians as brothers and friends; and both use names symbolically to provide a deeper insight into the character, purpose, and nature of the names’ owners.  Card is free to take this commentary to a level that would have brought scorn, ridicule, persecution, and, possibly, prosecution to Cooper, but that seems consistent with the direction in which Cooper was attempting to move.  As the frontier novel continues its work of entertaining the American masses, it is worthwhile to occasionally stop, reassess, and see where this harbinger of change is leading us and what ideals it is holding out; and, if they are worthy, to grasp them and seek them, and bring them into being.  Certainly Card’s vision of America has relevance for today’s society, and its very creation signals just how far we have come from the time when someone like Cooper’s social commentary was considered radical.


Works Cited

Card, Orson Scott. Red Prophet. New York: Tom Doherty Assoc., 1988.

Collings, Michael. In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card. Westport: Greenwood, 1990.

Cooper, James Fennimore. “The Indians.” Notions of the Americans: Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor.  New York: State University, 1991. American Studies at the University of Virginia. Ed. Adrianna Rissetto. Dec. 1996.  4 Apr. 2003. < http://xroads.virginia.edu/%7EHYPER/HNS/Indians /notions1.html>.

—. The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Bantam, 1981.

Franklin, Wayne. “The Wilderness of Words in The Last of the Mohicans.” New Essays on the Last of the Mohicans. Ed. Daniel H. Peck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 25-45

Lansky, Bruce. 35,000+ Baby Names. New York: Meadowbrook, 1995.

Olson, Ray. “Tired of the Same Old History? Try These Alternatives.” Booklist 98 (2002): 1388.

Peck, Daniel H. Introduction. New Essays on the Last of the Mohicans. Ed. Daniel H. Peck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 1-23.

Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century – James Fenimore Cooper.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. 5 Jan. 2003. 4 Apr 2003. <http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/cooper.html>.

Ringe, Donald A. James Fennimore Cooper. Boston: Twayne, 1962.

“Wisdom of the Ages: James Fenimore Cooper.” Third Age Daily News Newsletter.  8 Aug. 1998. 3 Apr. 2003. <http://www.thirdage.com/news/archive/980808-04.html>.

 



[1] I have used the terms American Indian, Indian, and red only in keeping with the terminology of the novels in question. No disrespect for Native Americans is intended.

[2]   Ta-Kumsaw is a fictionalized version of the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh.

Well, I’m going to do something that will probably be frowned at, and go classic for this final poem of this series. Yep, that’s right, I’m going to look at Shakespeare, specifically at Sonnet 130, my favorite of his. I think I like Sonnet 130 so much because I, like Shakespeare, am frustrated at the pointless hyperbole in love poetry, both in his time, and today. This poem says, let’s get serious and talk about reality. Reality is better than hyperbole, even when it is, as always, worse-seeming.

In one sense, this poem doesn’t have to be very original, since it simple takes the clichés of the time and deflates them, the entire poem almost seems to rest in the last two lines, the closing couplet. It is of course filled with many things that are considered no-nos in modern verse: archaism (not so at the time perhaps), clichés, unrelentingly end-stopped lines, inversions for meter’s sake, etc. The question that I ask myself is whether we simply accept these supposed flaws as relics of the time period and culture and ignore them in looking at Shakespeare’s poetry, or whether we still consider them flaws but opine that Shakespeare’s verse is so piercingly poignant that it overcomes these flaws to succeed despite them, or whether we decide that Shakespeare’s poetry really wasn’t all that good because of all these flaws (though of course we don’t dismiss his drama in the same way thus allowing ourselves to still claim we admire his “work”), or what? The answer, I think, lies somewhere in the middle. There is a happy medium I think, where we say that it is partly simply an acceptance of his culture, partly that these “flaws” may not be quite so insurmountable defects as is made out (that is to say that in a century or so, the trend toward anti-archaism, anti-endstopping, anti-meter, anti-rhyme may have reversed itself, though I doubt I could convince anyone on the modern poetics scene of this possibility), and partly that even the greatest poets are not perfect nor is their work, no matter how canonical.

Some of the things that I like best about 130 besides the ending, are the matter of fact tone, in statements like “I grant I never saw a goddess go,” and “breath that from my mistress reeks.” I like the foretaste in the third quatrain that we are not going to be left depressed. The speaker tells us “I love to hear her speak” even while admitting that there isn’t any music in it. And of course I get tingles when I hear “And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,/ as any [. . .]”

“Player Piano” by Kevin Young (published in the Winter 2002 issuse of The Georgia Review) is one of only a few free verse poems that I am going to look at in this 15 poem series. Although I stick primarily to formal verse in my own writing, and hence feel that formalists are where I will be able to learn the most, an occasional foray outside one’s own bailiwick must surely be beneficial. So in the spirit of learning, and with the caveat that I am venturing outside my bailiwick, I tentatively venture to approach the work of a poet who Flagpole Magazine calls “one of the hottest commodities in poetry today” and Swing magazine labeled one of the most powerful men under 30 (see same article).

“Player Piano” seems to be a sort of take on a love poem, but the images it employs to arrive at this sense are highly unique, and captivating. Allusions to the underlying theme come just often enough that I don’t get lost in the images–a good thing. I did think the transition from fishing images to he bookstore was a little too abrupt, one of my only nits. The poem shows evidence of a high level of crafting. I enjoyed the frequent use of highly poignant internal rhymes and/or significant assonances, such as near/fear/smear, forgot/rot, better/beg, and list/slick etc. The juxtaposition of the sound of the heart and the sound of the fish in the opening section was particularly effective for me as well.

Another thing that really stands out about this particular poem is the way that young seems to bring all of the senses into this poem. From the sound of the heart, of the fish, to the smell of the perfume, to the sight of women’s magazines, to the feeling of sea-sickness, to the taste of salt-water taffy. And let me also just mention a few of the line breaks that I thought particularly well chosen: “This afternoon I tore out [. . .]” “Driving home, [. . .]” “to beg– [. . .]” and most especially, “how still [. . .]” with its doubling of meaning when taken with the line before vs. the line after.

Idea wise, I was particularly taken with the idea of wanting to be a keeper, in the sense of fish/love. We see through this image that the speaker has not been a “keeper.” up to this point, and this gets expanded upon throughout. I think the first part of the Women’s magazine section worked least for me, from the perspective of the ideas presented. I don’t know why, but the idea that the speaker’s name might be listed as a disease in a Women’s magazine is just so far fetched and is juxtaposed with such an otherwise matter of fact account, that it just doesn’t hold water for me. Unbelievably, the idea of the speaker as a fish wanting to be caught makes more sense on some weird poetic level. On the other hand the second part of the magazine section, the part dealing with perfumes is absolutely brilliant in the way it conjures up scent, especially the clashing scents of the perfume samples of women’s magazines and the connection of that smell to sickness works especially well for a bundle of allergic reactions such as myself.

I’m guessing that the apple was chosen as the source of the sickening smell because of all of the apples baggage with women and sin and sex etc., but it didn’t work very well for me, primarily because even the rottenest of apples, at least to me, still has a scent that is, at some level, pleasing, but that may just be a personal quirk. Also, apples have cores (most likely), skins (not likely), remains (possibly), but do not, in my experience, have husks.

To move back to the accolades which are more due this poem, the ending introduces yet another metaphor, has nice associations of the sea with tears without ever making that explicit (which would be cliché), and ends on a positive note that keeps the poem from descending into self-pity. The ending opens it up into an offer, and one that, I think, no sane lady would turn down. In the end, the poem has certainly moved me at the least.

“To A Critic” by Timothy Murphy (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is very interesting because it is a response poem. It was obviously written (am I assuming too much?) in response to a deleterious remark from a critic in regard to one of the poets mentioned in the piece or to poets in general, yet we don’t need to know the specifics to appreciate the poetry. Its audience is probably somewhat limited by the topic to people who are close to the critic/poet relationship on one side or the other though it might be appreciated by anyone in a similar type of antagonistic relationship such as actors, singers, and other performers. The pertinence of the Yeats quote was unclear to me. It is on the same subject, but the poem does not reference it in any way that makes it necessary to the understanding of the poem. It seems to be there just for show value.

Even though I am not familiar with a single one of the referenced contemporary poets, I don’t feel the lack at all. In fact, I am now going to have to seek out and read “Western Elegies,” “A Thing Well Made,” and “Musical Chair” if I can get my hands on them. The specificity makes what might be just a rant become more than a rant. For the poem is very expository in tone and style, a lecture to an unseen critic for whom we almost feel sympathy. Yet I, for one, am right there with him, lecturing that critic as well. I could substitute any specific poets in place of Hope, Wilbur, and Hecht, and conjure the same images. It is simply the specificity that matters.

The poem is written in iambic trimeter, with many anapest and trochaic substitutions. These substitutions come slightly too often to be acceptable especially in such short lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme is unusual, having the form abcbac in each stanza, but is consistent and works well with the movement of the poem. The trimeter moves the poem along quickly, rant-like. Form and content are well matched.

“Sonnet For A Nurse” by Elizabeth Tibbetts (published in Volume 53 Issue 4 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) manages to somehow deal with the issue of death, of the final decay of the fleshy portion of our being, without being overly sentimental, without being cliche, and without being depressing. At the final line, it almost begins to dip into the over-sentimental with “while I still have the chance,” and I think that I would rather have seen it end on a less mellodramatic note, but still, it is a little enough portion of the whole, that I can get over it. Other than that, there is a lot to enjoy in this poem. The association of washing with death helps to keep the poem from being too dark. The line “So I talk because I’m alive” is just perfect. The image of the connection between the living nurse who has only time between her and the bodies she is working with is sad, poignant, and yet not cloyingly sad–appropriately sad and yet holistically right.

There are also some nice sonics going on: The alliteration of slow,circles,skin and something, soothe, stretched, serene, stranger’s, the rhyme surrounding the quatrains, the assonance of croon/room and howl/mouth, etc. There is not so much so close together that it becomes a tongue twister, yet there is enough to be noticable in its pleasing sonic effect. There is a clear volta between the octet and the sextet, yet the one flows into the other without a jolt or break in the thought. All in all a model well worth emulating.

“Bird’s Eye View” by David Anthony (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) seemed to me to be just a little contrived. I am sometimes willing to give more of a benefit of the doubt to formal poetry just because it is formal, which means that the author took at least enough time and thought in their creation to produce reasonable facsimiles of rhyme and meter. Free verse on the other hand, has only its content to catch me (unless we get into sound poetry, concrete poetry, performance poetry, slam, multi-media, etc. which we won’t). However, this poem fails. From the pointless interjection that absorbs most of the first and second lines, “(how could he know/the weight of all my cares)” not to mention the other one on line 7, “how I’ll dazzle them,” to the clichés, “weight of all my cares,” “to and fro,” “unfurled its wings,” to the poorly chosen exclamation mark, this poem has little to recommend it.

Why then would I choose it from the galaxy of poetry available out there to include in my poetry analyses? These are supposed to be helping me improve, not devolve, right? There is a simple answer that is nevertheless profound, at least to me. This poem was published in an at least semi-respectable online poetry journal. What does that mean to me? It means that I need to quit hemming and hawing, and start submitting. Even if I can’t get published in POETRY or The Paris Review, I surely ought to be able to get something into The New Formalist or Triplopia, which is not to say that these are bad rags of the sort where my bad work might be accepted, nor is it to say that I have previously undervalued my work and have upgraded my assessment, it is simply to say why not give it a try. It’s only some 37 cents to give it a shot since most lit-zines prefer legal envelopes as opposed to manila. But anyway, to get back to the poem…

There are a few things that do work for me in this poem. I really like the image of the robin looking for worms “along the fresh cut line” (Line 5). This image gives a symbiotic feel to the relationship between the mower (person) and the robin. I love the line “The bird has his agenda; I have mine.” (Line 8). If these were the two ideas juxtaposed in the poem, I think it would be a success, but the whole “animal who thinks it is the center of the world, how silly–oh wait that’s me” theme has been done to death, and there is nothing new about it here.

“On Stars” by Nancy Callahan (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is a very minimalist piece of formal poetry, written in iambic trimeter with rhyme scheme of abacdc. At a mere six lines, it has to be pretty packed if it is going to say anything, and it is. There are two problems that seem to me to be pretty common in minimalist poetry. The first is minimalist poetry that doesn’t have anything to say. You see this in a lot of modern Haiku. I’m not bashing Haiku per se, as I have seen Haiku that was poignant and perfect, both traditional and non-traditional Haiku. But we’re not talking about Haiku here, as much fun as that might be.

This poem does seem to have a close relationship with Haiku that might be worth exploring further. Besides its brevity, it also has the natural theme, and the enclosing structure that it shares with Haiku. In the case of “On Stars” the enclosing structure is generated by rhyme rather than syllable or word count. Each of the tercets can be easily said in a single breath. The natural theme, a comparison of the sun and the stars, is not quite at the imagistic moment level of Haiku, but is still piercing in its specificity and insightful in its description. It has the typically English device of a twist at the end, where the poem is wrenched into a new direction that transforms it from simple imagery to full fledged commentary.

I love the phrase “pinpricked night.” I love the twist from contemplation of the heavens to the backlash against science and scientificism towards a more spiritualistic view of nature. I love the em-dash, but I hate the commas. I don’t want to be slowed down ’til I hit the full stop of that dash, proper punctuation be damned. I’m not fond of the title, but at least it is appropriate. I love “half a cosmos” vs. the whole cosmos. I love the “warmth of one”, separated from “or shine.” I originally read one as representing a person, and perhaps that’s what we’re really talking about, the sun is a personal thing, while the stars are remote. Whatever the case the poem is beautiful, and enjoyable, and a nice break from all the longer poetry that runs so rampant these days.

“The Bat” by Kasey Jueds (published in Volume 54 Issue 1 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) has a lot going on in it. There are three primary images, the bat, Blake’s angels, and the rain. They are tied together in an orderly fashion, so we have a progression rather than a juxtaposition, and that progression is marked by stanza breaks. If it weren’t for the title, I think it would be just a progression of images, but the title ties the final image back to the first, and allows the poem to suggest a connection between two images that would not work together if overlaid as direct metaphor or juxtaposition. We just can’t make the leap to connect the bat with the rain without the intervening stanzas to lead us through a progression. However, once we have been led there, the connection seems appropriate. Our experience with the bat and our experience with rain are connected, and we reevaluate our connection with the former in the light of the latter.

I like the feeling that we are moving from dark to light, in mood, in imagery, in our perceptions. I like the line: “First sleep, then eyes” standing by itself. Coming after the darkness, it gives us a foretaste of the revelation to come. The poem is eye-opening. I love the way that “rain isn’t rain” although I would have preferred a more formal diction for the last three lines to mirror the weight of the connection being made. Of course the common diction speaks to the commonness of the uncommonness of the feeling, smell, attitude, but still…. I’m not sure I like the word something in line 5. I think that maybe it would work just as well, and yet make it less distant. That would also coincide with the it of the next line. Still, it is an amazingly potent and tightly packed little poem.

“Fault Lines” by T. M. Moore (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of <A href="http://www2.evansville generic cytotec.edu/theformalist/formalist.htm”>The Formalist) draws a parallel between the fault lines between tectonic plates, and the lines of a poem, a “poet’s verse.” However, the almost the entire weight of the metaphor rests on the closing couplet, which seems an awful lot for the poor thing to bear. It makes one appreciate the ballance of a Petrarchan sonnet. On the other hand, the jarring impact of that final line is profound, and guarantees the poem a re-read so that the reader can catch all the allusions that may have been missed on the first time around.

The diction is a bit scientific, which for me doesn’t quite convey the awe and mystery that this poem is attempting in every other way, but I know some people who find science and even the pseudo-scientific awe inspiring. On the other hand, I really liked some of those scientific words from a sonic perspective like countervailing. It just means counteract, but it means it with so much flair.

I think, though, that my favorite part of the poem is the part where it says “throws into turmoil people, buildings, land” (line 11). When I first read it, I understood it as saying that buildings and land were going to be thrown into “turmoil-people” which is an interesting image, and works quite well. I had caught the intended sense of it by the time I got through the next line, but I think this double meaning justifies the inversion of using “into turmoil people” instead of the more correct “people into turmoil.”

I also like the use of unreconciling where the temptation might be to use unreconciled. The former seems to offer more hope for the future, and although the poem certainly ends on a downer, I think it is intended more to inspire awe than to act as a warning or doomsday type message.

“Yaddo” by David Galef (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist) seems to suggest that feeling just before one writes of somehow having to do everything else possible before beginning, even though once the writing begins it is one of the most enjoyable experiences possible.

The short line length seems to accentuate the feeling of being on the cusp, which works with images like ledge, edge, trembling, encroaching, promise, frustrate, etc. The rhymes are not that original but are very pertinent in places, especially the emphasis that the rhyme gives to edge and ledge and the congruence that is made between sight and write. Even these rhymes are not uncommon, but they are used to great effect here.

My favorite part of the poem is the analogy between the glass of water and the man. It is set up as a simple simile, but it travels throughout the poem and becomes a metaphoric representation. It is half-empty, but has a promise of fullness. Its consumption is frustrating, yet filling–always demanding “one more sip have a peek at this web-site.”

The speaker of the poem seems to present a front of disinterestedness, but his subject belies the calm of the words. The cumulative effect is that the diction presents one emotion, and the content another. Both are valid, and they work together to create a picture of the writer who is objective, and yet somehow pours himself into his work.

“Lunar Study” by Ann K. Schwader was published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist. It seems to have a somewhat gothic, ethereal, witchy tone that is produced both by the long lines and phrasing, the meta-female theme, the Greek mythological references, and words like ancient, legends, vengeance, moon, bloody, hunt, oak, sand, siren, tempting, wine, and wave.

It does not have the tightly controlled length of the sonnets that I have been looking at, but it does keep to its own rigidly formal structure of iambic pentameter divided into quatrains of crossrhyming couplets. One of the nice things about this is that it can spend time developing its themes, and has plenty of time to provide an engaging narrative that draws us in to the deeper complexities.

Although feminist in execution, this, much like Sexton’s poetry, speaks to universal feelings that transcend gender. There was one reference which I thought it might be unlikely that the average reader would be familiar with, and that was Artemis’s “bloody/Handmaids of the hunt” (Line 7-8). The other references are common enough that most people probably can grasp them without difficulty. So the question is, does the reference to Artemis stand without a knowledge of the background mythology? I think that although a knowledge of the mythology would probably heighten the enjoyment of the poem, the mythology is not so intrinsic that the poem fails without it.

I think that I would rather not have known that the poem was based on a photomontage because it seems to be a smoothly flowing narrative that does not require the apology or proviso of the note. I find that I rarely appreciate notes above a poem unless they are quotes from another poem that is being responded to. A footnote would, I think, be much more effective.

I love the final line of the poem, the books cresting in a wine dark wave just pictures for me the elegance of a private library with candelabra, a glass of wine, and Poe or Lovecraft on a dark night. To me it is that that the speaker is discarding, not literature per se, but academia and snootiness. She embraces her womanhood, her connection with the Virgin goddess, complete without any man. You know, on second thought, I think the reference to the mythology does require the background knowledge to be effective. That doesn’t mean I would change the poem though. I think it little enough to expect that the reader look up one semi-obscure (not really that obscure) reference in a poem this engaging, not interrupting the first read perhaps, but before the following reads which are sure to come.

“Silent Reading” by Deborah Warren was published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist. The first thing one notices about “Silent Reading” is that it references a fairly (though not unobtainably) obscure historical document. As such, it might limit itself to a more erudite audience if it did not, in the first stanza, lay out all the necessary details of the story. Since it does lay out all those details, the reference at the top seems rather superfluous, especially since it does not provide enough detail to be useful as a reference.

However, with that exception, this sonnet seems to be quite well crafted. It is an unrhymed Petrarchan sonnet (if that isn’t an oxymoron), but it keeps enough resonances of sound between the consonances the assonances and the occasional rhymes that it really retains the feeling of a traditional sonnet well. As someone who is perhaps overfond of rhyme, I didn’t even miss it, and didn’t realize that the poem was unrhymed until my second or third read through of it. I thought that made it really interesting from a formal standpoint.

This is one of those sonnets where the volta really stands out. The shift in thought from the octet to the sestet is almost jolting, which is appropriate for imagery of the earth standing still. The feeling of absolute shock and awe, of the paradigmatic shift that must have hit the Romans at Amrose’s reading is absolutely captured. I thought it was especially interesting the way that the octet provided a narrative, and the sestet a commentary by way of a single image, form and function working together dramatically yet again. One leaves the poem, like Ambrose, like the Romans, silent.

“Parallel Universe” by Marion Shore (published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist) evokes the feelings of unrequited love in a unique and poignant way. It has a highly scientific tone that distances the feelings of rejection, holding them off until the antepenultimate line (And yes I do mean third from the end, not second). It is yet another sonnet (if you’d like to know why the sonnet is so perfect for the English language, see Mike Snider’s Formal Blog and Sonnetarium. Thanks Chris), which you may find will be a recurring theme in my analyses.

There are two blips on my rhyme meter. Slant rhyme is used in the L2/L4 rhyme and in the closing couplet. In this particular case, I think the slant rhymes work, though I would normally expect either all (or mostly) slant, or all perfect rhymes. Why does it work this time? Because in both cases, the slants are used to pick out a theme from the rest of the poem. It is the same theme in both cases, and the nature of the theme matches the technique used to highlight it. What I am talking about is the idea or feeling of being out of place, the idea that “time is out of joint”, the impression of imperfection and the placement of that imperfection at the universal level. The use of imperfect rhyme perfectly complements the meaning of the poem and puts me in awe. Although there is much else to admire in the poem, I think because it is so rare to see such direct cohesion between form and meaning even in the well-known poets that this may be my favorite part of this poem.

The poem, as its title suggests, posits a parallel universe in which an unrequited love is requited. It poses the reasons that the love is unrequited, and brushes them aside with a mere stroke of fancy. The speaker seems somewhat self-deluded and yet nevertheless does not strike us as hopeless, but instead as coming to grips with reality in a unique way which allows her love to exist on one plane while acknowledging its loss on another.

The theme of unrequited love is virtually a universal experience, and as such, the poem speaks to the rejected in all of us. It tells us that it is not our fault, and that had things just been different we might have triumphed where we have failed.

“Love Recidivus” by Lisa Barnett (Also published in the September 2003 issue of Poetry) seems to suggest images of adultery, of passion pushed beyond reason, of the failure of constancy, and inevitability. It succeeds admirably in this through the use of careful images, and the slow buildup of tension through the quatrains, leading to a sudden and truly unexpected release in the closing couplet. It is couched in the form of the sonnet, and adheres fairly strictly to the Shakespearean standard.

The quatrains and couplet are separated by whitespace rather than by the use of indention as is more common, but this may be the fault of the copy editor or print setter rather than the poet. Either way I think the sonnet too short and the ‘stanzas’ too integrated to suffer this amount of whitespace. The only other problem that I noted with the form itself was the use of sight rhyme between tries and fidelities. Although the British pronunciation of fidelities allows for the rhyme, nothing else in the poem indicates a British diction, and the poet is distinctly American, so I think this is a failure of craft. While it is not a formal problem, I also dislike the title. The use of recidivus (a word that does not exist in the English language as per the OED) seems blatantly obtuse. Why not simply use the correct word, recidivate?

However, despite all these flaws, some of which seem to me to be glaring, I did enjoy this poem, and can understand why it was included in a magazine as prestigious as Poetry. Perhaps I simply have a bias, but again I find the twist at the end to be the most satisfying part of the poem. The poem has been building a picture of faithfulness and virtue, and then introduces the spark that “tries resolve past all resisting.” We would expect the closing couplet to return to virtue, to offer a solution to the dilemma, but the solution seems to be to accept the inevitable–sometimes passion overrides reason and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t like it from a moral or philosophical standpoint. I don’t agree with it. But somehow in those final lines, I identify with it, and that is the transformative power of poetry.

The September 2003 issue of Poetry has William Walden’s “A Posy of Love” which contains a section entitled “18th Century.” Since each section stands on its own as a whole poem, I am going to look at this section. In my previous analysis, I had not had the guidelines provided by my creative writing instructor, Toni Manning, and so went through as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, time restraints prevent me from being able to offer such detailed attention to every poem that I analyze for the class. So I will give the Rubric by which I will be looking at each poem. For each poem I will be answering as many as possible of the following questions, as well as looking at other things that particularly strike my interest or that I think will help me to improve myself as a poet, though not necessarily in that order:

  1. Describe the style of the poem?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. What does the poem assume about the audience?
  4. What is the poems suggestion?
  5. What kind of poem is it? (i.e., narrative, descriptive, concrete, sound, formal)
  6. What is the best part of the poem?
  7. Where does it fail?

“18th Century” is, of course, formal verse, specifically, 4 rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. It has an archaic feel to it due to words like wantonness, lechers, and unsullied, and to overpoetic contractions like o’ervault and am’rous. The archaisms are probably the part of the poem that least works for me. Although I am departing a little from my chosen text here, I will go further and say that the archaisms might have worked had the series, which has a poem for each of several centuries, progressed poem by poem through the diction of the centuries, eventually approaching modern diction in “19th century.” Instead it seems that “18th Century” is the only poem that makes use of such overt archaisms, while the rest use, at least, an essentially modern lexicon, if not a completely modern grammar.

Well, that dead horse is thoroughly beaten, so lets talk instead about what does work. I think that the best part of the poem is the twist on the typical caution to maidens and lovers. Here we have a lecturer who suggests that the victim is more terrible than the foe and instead of letting the “ogling lechers” besmirch her virtue, will cause them to “flee in shame.” The images are delightful humorous, while at the same time injecting a serious note as well about the plight of womankind, who can be neither chaste nor unchaste without reproach.

It is obviously written for an educated audience (but what poetry isn’t these days), with its large vocabulary and archaisms. It expects a reader who is familiar enough with the history of fashions to be able to appreciate the predicament of the lady in question, and with it’s teasing and humorous approach to the issue seems likely to appeal more to a male than to a female audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and hope to see more of Walden’s work appear on the pages of Poetry. Even the archaisms cannot detract from the overall pleasantness and craftiness of the piece.

I am writing a series of poetic commentaries on various poems that strike my fancy for my Advanced Creative Writing: Poetry class. Hopefully, a deep exploration of the poetry of others will enhance my own poetics. I will be posting the analysis to the list, and if I can find a link to the poem already online, I’ll provide that as well. Otherwise I’ll let you know the source. Anyone who would be willing to point out devices in use in the poems that I have missed, or places where I have imputed intent or over-analyzed will be much appreciated.

A. R. Ammons’s “Clabberbabble” (85th2.gif Poetry 85th Anniversary Special Double Issue. Chicago: Poetry Press, 1997) is a delightful romp through the world of language usage and at the same time a poignant expression of nostalgia for a past in which people were closer to nature. The title of the piece is a newly minted compound word that both embodies the theme of the poem in its very construction, and leads into the poem both in content and in style. Clabber is something muddy, lumpy, and inconsistent. Babble of course refers to unintelligible speech, with a somewhat muddy etymology that places its source as most likely originating in the sounds of infants, but its senses influenced by the biblical account of Babel (OED babble). The change of language and the loss of understanding and connections seem to be the primary thematic elements of the poem, and so the title works well from that perspective. The title also has an onomatopoeic quality that matches its sense and makes it a pleasure to read, especially aloud. In fact, as mentioned earlier, babble’s etymology is strictly onomatopoeic. The first line of the poem begins, “How usage changes usage,” which seems to be a commentary on or specification of the previously mentioned new word, focusing the direction which the poem is going to take, while expanding from word to meaning. This idea of specification and expansion of ideas is then followed throughout the poem with the continual use of colons as its marker.

Made up of six unrhyming tercets with no established meter, but with a smooth unhurried rhythm, the evenness of the line length, the four to five stresses per line, the consistency of the stanza formation causes it to have an evenness of flow that accords with the implacable flow of the years, and the immutable laws of language change: “How usage changes usage.” Colons allow the changes in the stream thought to retain a level of connectedness that the finality of a period would not. Changes come gradually, just as they do in language. Other than this important shift in colon use, the punctuation of the poem follows for the most part standard English usage, and so does not distract from the ideas being presented.

The diction is earthy, as befits a poem nostalgically revisiting an earthier time. Phrases such as “something the w has been left out of,” “animals were television then,” and “high-billed meanies” place the reader as an equal and ameliorate the affects of the scholasticism of the etymological question, the use of a word such as anserine (gooselike), which has all but dropped out of the common lexicon (I know I had to look it up), and the implied criticism of modern technology. Because criticism is not the point: the point is to mourn the passage of both words and lifestyles while accepting and coming to terms with the inevitability of their loss. Another aspect of the diction is that onomatopoeic effect that I mentioned. It also persists throughout the poem with words like “swishing,” “hissing,” “shrieking,” and even “gaggle.” For me at least, these tie the highbrow idea of “language,” to the concreteness of specific auditory imagery. But it is not overdone either; so many poems that emphasize sound also overemphasize it. In this case, the sound gently and inconspicuously supports the theme of the poem while providing a subtle music to add to our pleasure.

The imagery of the poem is interesting, for a poem that purports in its opening stanza to be about language and word use, in its utter lack of linguistic events. It is this, for me, which brings out the more important nostalgic aspect of the poem from its pedagogical origin and makes it a poem rather than a lecture. The “English hamlet, houses clustered/at a bend in the road where a bridge crosses/a stream.” is perfectly picked for its balance of nature and humanity. The gaggle and the boy as well provide a balance between human and nature. “A gooseless world in no need of tending” ties the previous images to the deeper nostalgic abstract, making it immediate and real as we relate it to the real, though past, images. Interesting too, is the way in which the imagery in the 5th stanza, leading up to our return to language, and to the bereavement of the final stanza, begins to take a darker tone with the “dark lively trees the brookbanks had/spared and the shattering…” All in all, I don’t think Poetry could have picked a better poem for the opening of its 85th anniversary double-issue. It was a pleasure to read on so many different levels and in so many different ways.

In her poem “Her Kind” originally published in To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), Anne Sexton paints a picture of woman as an outcast in youth, marriage, and death. First, she presents the woman as a rebellious youth, “not a woman, quite,” “dreaming evil,” “haunting the black air, braver at night.”1 In the second stanza, she presents woman as a passive housewife.2 Still, at least for her speaker, there is no connection with society: Her house is found in “warm caves in the woods.” Her husband and children are “worms” and “elves.” She is misunderstood. Finally, in the third stanza, having survived adversity, she is at last “learning the last bright routes.” Approaching death, she is still separate and outcast from society, this time because of the path she is on (i.e., the cart she is riding), and can only wave “at villages going by.” In the end though, the poem transforms this rejection by embracing it in a sort of active passivity, “not ashamed to die,” and claiming it triumphantly, “I have been her kind.”

The witch, an archetypal feminine outcast, is presented boldly and possessively from the very beginning. “Witches (always female, of course) are by nature alienated, different, shunned by society” (Hall 90). The descriptions of an outcast pile up quickly. The speaker is “braver at night,” whereas most people are braver during the day. The speaker dreams of evil, indicating a rebel attitude, a desire to throw off the shackles of conventional morality. When she speaks of having done her “hitch over the plain houses, light by light,” we can see two things. First, she is not in the houses, and she considers the houses to be plain. Second, she is over them, above them, aloof from them. We begin to see a possibility that this rejection is not necessarily externally enforced; nevertheless, we are presented with a character that is not happy with her situation. She is “a lonely thing,” — desirous of company; she is twelve-fingered — different, possibly a monstrosity; she is out of mind — unattended, unnoticed, unworthy. Indeed, she is somehow less than a woman. Kay Capo notes, “Even amid cries for indulgence and passive imagery, a resistant tone keeps emerging” (26). This tension between helplessness or passivity and resistance or rebellion is mirrored in the rhymes (e.g., between witch representing rebellion, and hitch, a required term of service, representing passivity).

The second stanza describes a housewife who is so cut off from society that she places herself not in a house in suburbia, but in “caves in the woods.” It is important that we see that this is only a metaphor, so she tells us that she has all the trappings of civilization, indeed, “innumerable goods.” In this stanza the tension between passivity and rebellion is further heightened as passivity gains the upper hand. She passively conforms by cooking and cleaning, yet the resistance is still there, for she does not cook for her husband and children: She cooks for “worms and the elves.” Even the dominant vowels in this stanza have shifted from the hard resistant i and o of night, light, mind, quite, out, possessed, over, lonely in the first stanza to the softer more passive and i of woods, filled, skillets, silks, goods, fixed, worms, misunderstood in this one. It does not take much to understand how this woman is “misunderstood,” but it does require some work to connect her to the witch of the previous stanza. The relationship is certainly a temporal one, between the middle-aged housewife, hiding in fantasy, and the young rebel, flirting with evil; however, the relationship is also a progressive one as the passivity builds unacceptably. This connection is confirmed when we move on to the depiction of the woman facing (or flirting with) death.

In the final stanza, we see a woman who is “learning the last bright routes.” That is to say that she is facing death. Of paramount importance, and often ignored, is the question of the identity of the new character introduced in this stanza, the driver.3 This stanza differs from the previous stanzas, both in that it is directed at a particular recipient and in that it is projected as an outcry rather than as a passive description. The driver, I believe, is a symbol for society, which drives the woman to be something she cannot be in the first two stanzas, forcing her to rebel and live as an outcast. She is, of course, still an outcast. She can only wave her “nude arms at villages going by.” Now, though, she is stronger; no longer does she need to be “braver at night.” She has survived the aspersions of a society whose wheels have cracked her ribs. No longer does she seek to bring the trappings of society into her exile, or to pretend to be that which she is not. She will no longer fix “suppers for the worms and the elves,” nor can she any longer be misunderstood, for she is at peace with herself and with her outcast status, “not ashamed to die.” While society has not reconciled itself to her (“[its] flames still bite my thigh”), she has at last reconciled herself to society or, rather, out of it. The tension in the piece, built up through the first two stanzas between passivity and rebellion has reconciled itself into the ultimate form of passive rebellion, death.

Having examined the stanzas individually, it is necessary to examine the work as a whole. The poem begins with a very regular rhythm, though without a traditional normative meter. It is reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It has an accentual meter of four beats; the majority of the lines are broken up in to distiches separated by a caesura; and some of the lines even have the appropriate accentual alliteration (e.g., “black air, braver” and “dreaming evil, I have done”), further reinforcing the cadenced feel. “‘Her Kind’ employs a rhythmic, incantatory stanza and refrain” (Kammer 128). This chanting rhythm is quite appropriate considering the otherworldly topic. Although she loosens the strictures of the form very quickly, one is nevertheless induced to almost chant it in the mind as it is read. This meter, the end rhyme (i.e., ababcbC dedeceC fgfgcgC ), and the stanza ending repetends tighten the ties between the stanzas, and force one to examine the poem as a themed whole, rather than as several disparate pieces. Jeanne Kammer says: “The endings of Sexton’s poems are for the most part unmemorable, except for a few that set up a complex resonance and mark the best pieces” (130). “Her Kind” is one of those memorable “best pieces.” Additionally, the poem is presented in a temporal sequence, following the woman’s life from youth to death (or at least acceptance of death). The completed woman is presented as outcast and alone throughout her life. First “not a woman, quite,” then “misunderstood,” and finally “not ashamed to die.” In each summary line, the woman is presented as separate — from society, from her family, and from the world.

At the same time, there is a contrasting thread of unity that is brought out by the three distinct, though undifferentiated, voices in the piece. Many critics have noted this multiplicity of voices.4 Diane Middlebrook sees only two personas or viewpoints, the two Is, but I think that a case can be made for a third (“Poet” 114). The first voice is the voice of the outcast, the madwoman, a self-descriptive and self-abusive character who rants through the first five lines of each stanza. The second voice is the voice of judgment or conscience or society that makes a value call about the previously described woman in the sixth line. And finally the last line is the voice of the reader or the narrator or even, this being confessional poetry, the author, who ultimately identifies with the outcast. “‘Her kind’ contains its own perfect reader, its own namesake, ‘I'” (Middlebrook, Anne 114). In so doing, the poem creates a kind of society of outcasts of everyone who reads and identifies themselves with that line. It creates a synthesis of acceptance and passivity with rebellion and unconformity and announces this synthesis as survivorship. The ability of the outcast to come to terms with her own estrangement and to accept death “not ashamed” is in fact a victory of sorts over the repressionist society that has rejected her.


Notes
1 All quotes without parenthetical notation are from the primary source: Sexton 21.

2 Many critics interpret the second and third stanzas differently. For some of the more common alternative interpretations, see Colburn 167 and Johnson 85 (Speaker as a witch throughout), or George xiii and McCabe final paragraph (Speaker as poet: autobiographical interpretation).

3 For a notable exception, see Capo 36.

4 Discussion of the multiplicity of voices throughout Sexton’s work can be found in George 100-101 and Middlebrook “Poet” 72-73 and Anne 114-15. McDonnell 40-41 discusses the psychotic nature of these multiple voices.


Works Cited

Primary Sources

Sexton Anne. “Her Kind.” To Bedlam and Partway Back. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. 21

Secondary Sources

Capo, Kay Ellen Merriman. “Anne Sexton’s Communal Voice.” Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton. Ed. Francis Bixler. [Conway, Arkansas]: Central Arkansas UP, 1988. 22-45.

Colburn, Steven E. “‘This Is My Tale Which I Have Told’: Anne Sexton as Storyteller.” Wagner-Martin 166-77.

George, Diana Hume. Oedipus Anne: The Poetry of Anne Sexton. Chicago: Illinois UP, 1987.

Hall, Caroline King Barnard. Anne Sexton. Boston: Twayne Pub., 1989.

Johnson, Greg. “The Achievement of Anne Sexton.” Wagner-Martin 81-93.

Kammer Jeanne H. “The Witch’s Live: Confession and Control in the Early Poetry of Anne Sexton.” Anne Sexton. Ed. Steven Colburn. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1988. 125-134.

McCabe, Jane. “A Woman Who Writes: A Feminist Approach to the Early Poetry of Anne Sexton.” Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics. Ed. J. D. McClatchy. N.p.: n.p., 1978. Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. 10 Feb. 2003 <http: // www. english. uiuc. edu /maps/ poets/s_z/ sexton/ herkind.htm>

McDonnell, Thomas P. “Light in a Dark Journey.” Wagner-Martin 40-44.

Middlebrook, Diane Wood. Anne Sexton: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

—. “Poet of Weird Abundance.” Wagner-Martin 72-80.

Wagner-Martin, Linda ed. Critical Essays on Anne Sexton. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.