April 22, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Searchers for the Fecund Minimum #8

Usually I only write about contemporary poets in this series, but I think once every so often it might be a good idea to talk about a precursor who has influenced our thinking about the American short poem. William Bronk is a poet whose work you can definitely see shades of in the work of many younger poets today, including Saskia Hamilton and Joseph Massey, whose work I’ve discussed previously. Bronk is someone who I think has been tagged a “poet’s poet.” While that term is usually meant to be a compliment, it seems like it really means someone who poets read, but no one else does. In other words, it is meant to signify “underappreciated” but it more often simply means “overlooked.” Poet’s poet or not, Bronk deserves to be discussed as a major figure of the 20th century American poetry. I recently read his book Finding Losses (The Elizabeth Press, 1976) and frankly it was one of the most powerful reading experiences I’ve had in the past several months.

The book is composed almost exclusively of four-line poems (there is one two-liner and another poem is in two four-line sections). There are 65 four-liners in all. One would think that the formal fixity would lead to certain predictable formulas in the poems, but Bronk varies the pacing, tone and phrasing throughout the book, so that for long stretches of time one can forgot that all of the poems look practically identical on the page.

I was often reminded of the blunt bleakness of the work of Alan Dugan or David Ignatow when I read these poems. Bronk takes pain as such a given in life, that he cannot help but praise it.

The Yes of No

Did you think that our lives mattered? They don’t.

What is never brought into the present endures.

What is is our only present: it is.

We could wish it otherwise, are glad it is not.

Like an Island Downriver from Us

What we call live is a safe place before

we get to desire. It has its own perils;

but we stop off there and play with desire,

knowing how it will destroy us utterly.

But Bronk I don’t think you can accuse Bronk of being altogether a pessimist. There are moments where he startles you with the rapture he can find in the everyday world

The Random

If there were a maker I’d praise the maker but

I think there isn’t one; making is ours.

My random love sings at random. I

(who am I?) sing nevertheless (to what?): I praise.

The Insufficiency

Night and day, the seasons, are as if someone

had arranged them. They were never arranged.

Oh, how marvelous the world is

and I without the strength sometimes to know.

I am also reminded of what has been referred to as the “negative sublime” in Charles Wright’s work–both Wright and Bronk are both deeply committed to expressing the joys of the world-as-such without reading divine design into the landscape. They also both write a poetry in which death is seen as simply the transition from one place to another.

Ignorance

I am concerned about our deaths as we all are.

There may be a real world (as I think there is)

of which we know as little as we do of our lives.

We don’t know our deaths are not in that world.

Bronk’s poetry does more than just keep a stiff upper lip to the loneliness and suffering inherent in being human. The reason he tries to strip away all illusions about the comforts that love and God offer is because he so admires the beauty that can rise from the world’s chaos.

The Passage

People are passing; I look in passing at them.

Look, how the light comes down through them: they glow.

Once, I grasped at one. Oh, it was sweet.

It had nothing to do with me, or anyone.