Thursday, October 08, 2015

`A Safety-Pin of Wit'

“. . . it takes a remarkable kind of courage, and also a powerful humility, to shape your thoughts into a form that is, for most people, dead.”

I’m not sure about the courage. Maybe naiveté, stubbornness, loyalty to tradition, or a mingling of the three. Regardless, that’s how Brooke Clark, in a thoughtful tribute to the Canadian poet and translator Daryl Hine (1936-2012), characterizes him, his devotion to formal verse and the lineage he traced back to Hesiod, Ovid and Theocritus. He might be eulogizing poetry. In “My Optics” (Daylight Saving, 1978), Hine writes: Form is recognition / Of an underlying / Symmetry in something.”

This week Clark inaugurated the new “Overrated” feature at Partisan with a deft takedown of the inexplicably admired Frederick Seidel. Clark is also the proprietor of The Asses of Parnassus (“Short, witty, formal poems”) and of Wow – Canada!, a site devoted to “Canada through the eyes of world literature.” His sense of humor and general healthy-mindedness may be too robust to survive the Internet.

For instance, you might mistake Clark’s description of Hine’s 1989 collection In and Out for what is called in journalese a “good read” or a “beach novel”: “a masterpiece of sharply drawn characters, swiftly changing scenes, gorgeous descriptions, and a precise charting of an awakening consciousness, culminating in a powerfully realized experience of love and loss.” He also obeys the honorable critic’s obligation to identify the worthy in the lousy and the weak in the strong. He is not a Manichean. Late in his thus-far-laudatory essay, Clark writes: “While I admire Hine’s variousness, that very quality ultimately defeats me: there’s only so much Daryl Hine I actually like.” And of Seidel he says: “The odd good line, like `My face is falling off my face,’ still stands out—but how could it not when surrounded by careless doggerel like `The virus is spread / By love bugs in the bed.’”

Clark’s Hine essay amounts to a writer new to me taking on another I’ve enjoyed and admired for many years. Daylight Saving opens with a sequence of sort epigrammatic poems titled “Daylight Saving: A January Journal.” Here is the seventh, a nice tribute to the impossible task of writing good verse:

“Writing might be fishing through the ice
Where images elude the worried line
And words rise isolated into sight
Hooked upon a safety-pin of wit.”

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