Saturday, 11 October 2014

Poem by Donna Stonecipher

Model City [1]

It was like taking the train across a border between two countries with disparate languages, one built like a fortress and one slinky as a river, and thinking about how orderly languages are, keeping within borders.


It was like anticipating how the station-names will change abruptly from words stout as fortresses to words slinky as rivers right after the border, as if each language lived in a world untroubled by the existence of the other.


It was like crossing the border and trying to feel it underneath the train, to feel this instance of division, of order, of force, of fate. But the border was an abstraction ordering other abstractions, like stout and slinky languages.


It was like noticing the train has stopped at the border and seeing a man outside with the wrong passport apprehended by police — and remembering the luxury of forgetting the brute ordering force of abstractions.

Model City [2]

It was like going to see “The Unbuilt City,” an exhibition of architectural plans and models for transforming your city — grids, towers, monumental ministries, vast plazas — that ultimately came to nothing.


It was like wandering through the exhibit looking at futuristic drawings that figure the erasure of the nineteenth-century four-story architecture you love, and feeling pleased the plans came to nothing.


It was like taking note of a resistance in yourself to the futuristic, the futuresque, the future — while not denying a certain nostalgia for antiquated visions of the world of tomorrow.


It was like looking at the futuristic models and thinking about the unbearableness of the present, and realizing there are two kinds of people: those who can’t wait for the future, and those who can’t wait for the past.


The poems above made their first appearance in the Paris Review last year as a group of four. This is just two of them. I hadn't come across Stonecipher's poems before, that being a reflection on me not on her work, but seeing and hearing her poems in Druskininskai (why do I always want to write Drunkininskai?) I was immediately excited by them.

Why did the poems strike me so?

In the first place because they accorded with my own sense of the balance between reportage and the state of mind we call imagination. They were undoubtedly about ideas and states but were so light on their feet that the very lightness constituted a poetic condition. There are devices here, such as the repeated phrase of 'It was like' that seem to be almost anti-poetic, a clear invitation to do something that poetry will generally do - to compare - without invitation. Few poems can use direct simile with confidence. Here they have an insistent but dreamlike effect. The sentences start much like prose sentences - indeed they are in prose - but are vehicles for registering something that is both thought and reverie. The words are selected with great delicacy and precision, so the idea of a series of thoughts driving towards an argument is relieved of its burden. One floats in them while sensing that something true and demanding is being said about the world.

My own experiments with reiterated phrases and the use of prose as a counterpoint to the essentially poetic sense ofperception draws me to her work. And that isn't just because of Drunkininskai. She has a book coming in England with Shearsman. One to get.

1 comment:

Tom D'Evelyn said...

These are stunning poems. For all the reasons you put so well and this: they move us through a process of understanding, realizing something which demands and gets our full attention: these poems transform their words into an urgent voice which may well be our own. Exemplary!