July 4, 2010KR BlogKR

My Name Didn’t Touch Me

I normally don’t first ask a book of poems “what’s the best thing you got?,” but I was hungover and feeling pushy when I picked up Rosmarie Waldrop’s Reproduction of Profiles. So: what she got was:

I thought I would die if my name didn’t touch me, or only with its very end, leaving the inside open to so many feelers like chance rain pouring down from the clouds.

Points for oblique refined turn of phrase and for synesthetic smoosh, points for sense of high spiritual stakes. I read the book’s whole long title section in a single sitting, eating buttered toast and listening to the idiot robins’ sociable songs outside. The day (last week) was nice, but there were pages of nice days right in front of me so I stayed in.

I’ll take a breathless stillness over ecstasy (especially when I’ve had too much wine), and Waldrop’s poem-proses talk just long enough (shortest = 55 words, longest = 155 words) to muster just such a mysterious, urgent wit. And who’s her funny friend, who turns up poem after poem?

I ventured that a line might represent a flower that would reach the sky, or, on the other hand, rain falling. You replied that the world was already taking up too much space.

Eliot Weinberger writes of the contemporary era that “an aura, albeit an evil aura, has indeed returned to illuminate the everyday objects of mechanical reproduction.” Weinberger meant cultural trash, but Waldrop’s artistic leap is to identify words (not just Facebook statuses and Cornell boxes) as among these haloed objects.

Back to rougher sentences, I said, to the incomplete self and choice of desires. This postulated the vacancy as social rather than biological, and that it need not be filled. My body was calm, even naked, safe in its transparency.

This July morning I rode to work in drizzle, past explodingly green imported true-ash trees, shivering in my sweatshirt, and thought, Cool summer.

Then I imagined Laplanders in shorts in such weather, maybe barbecuing on the taiga, and thought, Things you love better because they’re worse. Would I be paying attention to the day if it was simple-pretty out?

You went in search of more restful altitudes, of ideally clear language. But the bridge that spans the mind-body gap enjoys gazing downstream. All this time I was holding my umbrella open.

Just as I find myself tired of post-Romantic piety (Stevens’ “my hands such sharp imagined things,” Saroyan’s “I leaps // through my / eyes”), I get tired of postmodern poetry that assumes that postmodern poetry’s big discovery–of the world-in-world, the inextricability of language from imaginative perception–is big. Spare the heroic gestures! I’d rather a small step from a brave prior assumption, or Emily Dickinson’s little stone in the road “fulfilling absolute Decree / In casual simplicity,” or:

All this time, I tried to describe a blot of ink on white paper by stating for each point on the sheet whether it was black or white.

Isn’t this sort of sight refreshing? Scrupulous? Fortuantely, Waldrop has about 90 other poetry books, essay collections, and translations for her to read, and her husband has a monster beard, so I see a future for my love of her art.

And speaking of cool summers