Wednesday, April 27, 2016

`As If They Could Have Been Here All Along'

“When we hear a poet's voice speaking from the page, we hear it internally: The tempo, the emphasis, the feelings are synthesized in us—which is why I prefer to read a poem rather than hear it read aloud.”

When not simply dull, poetry readings are embarrassing because the poet is usually a ham unaware of the feebleness of his lines. Few read well and fewer still write well. Poets tend to get in the way of poems, so it’s best to eliminate the middleman. All in all, I’ll stick to the page, as Arthur Krystal suggests above in “Listen to the Sound It Makes” (This Thing We Call Literature, 2016). I remembered Krystal’s observation during my first reading of Compass and Clock (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2016) by David Sanders. Sanders is not a kid – the collection gathers thirty years of work -- and the voice in his poems is the opposite of callow. The tempo, to follow Krystal’s outline, is largo – thoughtful and meditative, not nervous or jumpy. The emphasis is on details, often of the natural world (not to be confused with that unholy creature “nature poetry”) and layered with memory. The “feelings?” Well, that will depend on the reader. In “Pianos,” Sanders writes:

“So much that wasn’t played,
The silence resonating like the dusk
That ushers out the fall . . .”

From this brief sample alone you might detect a familiar echo, that mingling of nostalgia and wistful regret without sentimentality that Donald Justice made his own. Think of his suite of poems in The Sunset Maker (1987) devoted to studying piano in Miami when he was a boy in the nineteen-thirties. This is from "The Pupil": “Back then time was still harmony, not money, / And I could spend a whole week practicing for / The moment on the threshold.” One of the best poems in Compass and Clock, “Some Color,” carries an epigraph from a Justice poem, “Absences”: “It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.” In “Some Color,” Sanders moves from a nicely sketched “caravan that never broke camp” in Southern Ohio (“Bondoed pickup trucks abandoned”) to an internet search for “names / that I last wrote on classroom valentines,” to a flower farm near the Ohio River. The flowers will be harvested and shipped and finally planted “for their one quick season”:

“Once they’re out on the cul-de-sacs, on lawns,
Or massed under saplings that buttress municipal buildings,
And set in the dirt, treat them lovingly,
As if they could have been here all along
And belong here, as they do now, being
What and where they are so well: some color
Introduced into the indigenous green.”

As the title Compass and Clock suggests, Sanders is looking for a place and time where we might feel at home, even if only for our “one quick season.” On first reading, I recognized an unexpected affinity with “Some Color,” almost a personal memory, as though Sanders were speaking to me from among all his readers. Krystal would understand this rare and privileged experience: “A poem speaking to me from the page is private and makes itself felt as no stranger’s voice possibly could.”

No comments: