Saturday, April 28, 2018

`Assuaging Time and Time's Indifference'

The late Helen Pinkerton once told me she was still unable to understand some of the early poems written by her friend Edgar Bowers (1924-2000). The work in The Form of Loss (1956) is cool, dense and cerebral, and offers no easy concessions. In “To the Reader,” the volume’s introductory poem, Bowers writes: “These poems are too much tangled with the error / And waste they would complete.” In an age that values the slapdash and trendy, Bowers doesn’t stand a chance. In later volumes, he loosened up, writing more colloquially, often in blank verse, as in one of his finest poems, “For Louis Pasteur.” Bowers tends to inspire immediate distaste or devotion. Among the devoted is a poet I have just discovered, Kevin Durkin, whose “Eternal Reader” is dedicated to “Edgar Bowers, 1924–2000”:

“In your gray jacket, pinstriped shirt, dark tie,
a book of blank verse open on your lap,
you tilt your head a little to one side
and smile into the camera for all time.
You have acquired your doctorate, will write
the haunting poems of your generation,
and leave a legacy of elegance
few will appreciate and fewer equal.
Your mind now hearkens after cadences
as calm and constant as the ebbing sea’s.
It is your way of listening for peace
when all the past seems broken by the war
you witnessed and took pains to understand.
You also know the war inside, the one
between the self and what it ought to be,
which staves off loneliness and love’s defeat.
Assuaging time and time’s indifference, you
will read yourself through brilliant nights and days
until there is no time to turn a page,
no chance to write the world down as you see it.”

Durkin’s prognosis is correct: “a legacy of elegance / few will appreciate and fewer equal.” Elegance is no longer judged a virtue. Durkin acknowledges that Bowers was a conflicted man, given to alcohol and the resulting hiatus in his writing. His productivity was relatively small. But it was also very nearly perfect, and about how many poets can we say that?

[Bowers inspired love and respect among certain poets. Go here, here, here, here and here to read my accounts of Dick Davis and Clive Wilmer honoring Bowers. Go here and here to read Joshua Mehigan and Helen Pinkerton on their friend.]

No comments: