Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Crowd, Part 2

No attempt to show the central character as any more or less than he might be. The gum-chewing date. The awkward way he puts his arm around her on the bus. The disposal of the chewing gum. The casual cruelty and yet the pity. All the fun of the fair. The phantasmagoria. The snog. The exposure. The exhausted ride home. The preliminaries. The marriage, sudden, substanceless, questless. Fate winding and unwinding. It is not a quest but a survival-and-loss narrative, an extraordinary epic project: Mass Observation as tragedy.

It's not the Hollywood myth. Rooted in Upton Sinclair and John Dos Passos but not exactly critique, not ideology, instead a kind of lyricism partaking of both epic and tragedy. Theodore Roethke's poem Dolor, might have been written for it.


I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

I loved this poem the first time I read it. There is something in it recognizable at a very deep level regarding the sheer, stubborn objectness of objects in a world where people too are objects, among crowds of objects.

My thoughts are still somewhat scattered and fragmentary. I have been writing poems, three in as many days, five in ten. And redrafting. Composition always slightly discomposes me.


Jonathan Wonham said...

Happy New Year George. A wonderful combination of film and poem. The line "These girls have got what ain’t in books." Is a great one, isn't it?

James Hamilton said...

A good thing for Roethke that he hadn't come across this catalogue, or, worse still, this one. Not a Moleskine man, either.

(I wish I hadn't done this now: I love the poem too, but now I can't shake a vision of TR in a long brown coat, pushing a trolley around a Staples or Viking Warehouse. And there's an enthusiast out there on the Net for every item in his list save for the mucilage. Bah.)

Poet in Residence said...

the duplicate grey standard faces

bet they don't put that on the job ad
at work for us inc
join the duplicate grey standard faces
take your seat 4 along
and file the manilla
and frank the stamps

had such a job
stuck it 2 yrs
deserve a medal

david lumsden said...

Very interesting film. The awkward embrace hits the right note ... as you said re Edwin Arlington Robinson ... getting the right clumsiness is the trick.