Monday, March 13, 2006

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.

Have you ever argued with one of your own poems? By writing another poem that contradicts the first? I tried it once, and I think I may make myself do it again as an exercise.

The first poem is one I wrote back in 1990, and for quite a while it was my favorite poem that I'd ever written. (Probably because it got me the nicest acceptance letter I've ever gotten -- not just "we want your poem" but a few words about why the editor liked it, which just tickled me to pieces.) The second poem was written 12 years later, begun while listening to a panel discussion on poetry at the public library, written in a fit of annoyance with myself because I felt like I was working too hard to make everything in my poems Oh So Deep And Meaningful -- a fault, if it is a fault, which "Let X Equal..." is certainly guilty of.

Note that I still like "Let X Equal..." even though I argued with it. (I contain multitudes, bla bla.) Actually I think it served as a better exercise to argue with a poem I didn't particularly disagree with. Can I feel equally committed to both sides of my own argument? Well, I am a Gemini, so I suppose that may be one of my talents. *grin* I've never presented these two poems side-by-side, not in a reading or anything, so it will be interesting for me to look at them together. I won't say which one I think is the better poem, though I do have an opinion about that, oddly enough. (I also think they are both crap, but I am having an "everything I have ever written is crap" night so I know better than to put too much stock in that.)

* * * * *

Let X Equal...

Let the woman wake
from sleep, as she does each morning
of her life. Let her arm
reach out, drowsy, and brush
the bedroom curtains aside,
let her watch for five whole minutes
the cat washing herself
on the front lawn, the bird
pecking madly at damp earth,
the neighbor clutching the front of her robe
as she steps out the door
and stoops for her morning paper.

Let the sunlight be quiet
and warm across the lawn. Let the grass
be succulent and green.
Let the day unfold like a perfect
equation, every moment growing
toward some simple answer,
some singular integer.
Let the woman stand for the thesis,
the given, all the formulas that build
a body of knowledge. Let her waking
be the question, and the window
equal some visible understanding, the work
she is asked to show. Let the neighbor
and the curtains be variables, the light
and the lawn be the sum
of each other, the pure reciprocity of morning.
Let the woman's hand, opening
curtains, and the woman, rising,
be a new theorem, solid and given,
the beginning of an elegant
and irrefutable proof.

[1990; first published in Northwest Review, vol. 30 no. 3]

* * * * *

Against Metaphor

Today, let the cat
be just a cat, crouching
in the kitchen where he hears
a scrabbling mouse. Let this glass
of clear cold water
be simple refreshment,
the morning sun be the rising
that happens every ordinary
day. My face is just my face,
my feet are in my shoes
which are on this wooden floor
in my house which is just a place
where I can live. Sometimes a life
is just a life, and at night
as I fall into my prosaic dreams
let me learn to be grateful
for having lived the day
as it actually was, one place
at one time,
simple witness.

[2002; first published in Calyx, vol. 23 no. 1]


Trista said...

well, I don't think you're actually arguing with yourself in these poems. Because the second poem depends on the possibility of the existence of the concepts of the first. If there was never any possiblity of the cat being other than a cat then there would be no need to state a desire that the cat remain just a cat. Plus, with the first poem stated as wishes and desires for meaning, there is the underlying knowledge that these things are not normally this charged "let the woman... be a new theorem" is a wish that reveals that she is not always so. I think they build on each other beautifully, inform and deepen each other.

I couldn't pick which one is better (and NOT because they're both crap, because they aren't, and since the night is over you probably already know this yourself.)

Garbo said...

In the second poem, I really liked "my feet are in my shoes/which are on this wooden floor/in my house which is just a place/
where I can live" because it sounds like something Zen monks would chant every morning. I think they would chant it because you have to clear out old metaphor and symbolism so you can re-experience everything (so you can create new meaning). The women's group I'm in is talking about Tarot, and I'm very interested in un-associating all the cards from the interps I've attached to them. That's not easy to do.

On another topic, congrats on your 20 years at IU!

Lady Jane said...

Neither pome is better than the other. Both are universal equivalents, little prayers. No arguments there if you ask me.

You are saying ham'du'lillah and that is always good. Never a waste of time to just look around yourself and identify, whatever that signifies hahaha, both senses of the word here.