A Confounding Clarity

Poetry, October 2020. Cover by Edra Soto.

Proliferation of phrases: — A turn of speech makes my point vividly — I’ll use it. But this other phrase is pungent — I’ll use it too. Yet another is incisive; and one is innovative; and one wry; this one has shock effect; they’re coming to me like hotcakes, I’ll use them all! It’s a rhetorical strategy that can shade from festive elaboration into prolixity. Where the line is crossed may fluctuate according to a given reader’s tolerances. Poet and scholar heidi andrea restrepo rhodes (sic — her LC) is testing mine in an expansive essay on aphasia and poetry published in the eponymous magazine’s watershed October 2020 issue. I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet.

There are homely words and hoity toity words. I too often practice self-abuse here, opting for the latter and piling on verbiage in hopes of camouflaging a humdrum thought. But take a word like “movable.” It’s ordinary and colorless, unlike “mobile” or “portable,” or better yet “itinerant.” “Movable” gets interesting, however, in an unlikely pairing, such as with “feast.” “Movable feast” lands a certain punch that took root and became a trope. It requires discretion and a good ear to invigorate humble words by pairing them unexpectedly. I don’t claim to have those qualities, but Louise Glück does.

What I admire about Glück’s art even when I don’t understand it is its icy concision. Her language is spare, precise, incised, lean; every word, every inflection, every punctuation symbol is rigorously pondered and intentional. She has an ear for pairing ordinary words like “cotton mouth” (a poisonous snake common where I live) and “roughhouse” (rowdy behavior) unexpectedly. Movable feast, moving target. Her poems remind me of the pools of water I puzzled over as a kid when touring the Carlsbad Caverns. Way down in the cold earth they had a preternatural limpidity that made the bottom seem an elbow’s length distant, yet the water was a dozen feet deep. Pennies tossed there were crystalline yet remote. It was haunting and incomprehensible to the naive senses. I simply couldn’t fathom it or get over marveling.

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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