Monday, September 05, 2005


Hi everyone, and I want to say thank you to all those who've posted comments or emailed me about poems posted here. You've been more help than you can possibly know, and I've been revising some of the poems that seem worth keeping in my to-do pile, with an eye to your comments. For instance, in "Icarus, from the Breakfast Nook" the phrase "envious mothers" has become the more neutral and universal "earthbound mothers" which is a major improvement. I've struggled with the clichéd "bright eyes" in that same poem, and have altered it to "dim eyes," which produces an alliteration with "distant." I'm not quite as happy with the second change, but once more, it has helped.

This time I'm posting two poems, both of them dealing with Hurrican Katrina and its horrendous aftermath. The first is an impressionistic reaction to the first picture I saw of any of the refugees: a boy was running across the turf at the Superdome. looking very much like he was pretending to be a football player going in for a touchdown. Here it is:

The Runback
(New Orleans, August 29, 2005)

Spotlit in the Superdome,
the boy catches a punt
at the thirty yard line
and breaks upfield.
He evades the first wave
of tacklers, breaks
a rough grip with a move
like a fish slipping free
of a shark’s harsh resolve.
Staggered by his own
sudden escape,
he spins, and drifts past
the fifty, skips
on crouching tiptoe,
imagines a wedge
of blockers in front of him,
skirts their bursting
barricades, saves
his bare feet from the surge
of a last-ditch, diving
rescuer. He dances
to freedom in dark surf,
a gale of cheers
in the end zone,
then he runs away
from the jealous hands
dragging him to sit among
crowds which will engulf
him with thirst
as they drown.

I guess I wanted to capture some of the innocent excitement of a boy trying to maintain some sense of freedom and individuality in the midst of catastrophe; I'm pretty sure the tragic tone comes in strongly at the end.

The next poem I'm not quite so sure of, since it begins in a bitter, ironic tone and ends with what I think is a more balanced, affirmative statement. Both might seem inappropriate to many readers; after a tragedy like this one, simplistic pieties are usually the only acceptable commentary, especially from a mere observer. Still, the media's amazing blindness to (or wilful disregard of) the obvious socio-economic inequalities exposed by the disaster, and the Bush regime's criminally negligent response to it, makes me feel like poetry has an obigation to be as scathing as possible. I can't pretend it's a masterpieces, but it was satisfying to write (and I hope will be satisfying to read as well).


The victims of the tragedy
were disproportionately
hopeless in the face of their loss,
inarticulate when asked to describe
what happened. Statistics suggested that they
ought to have been more composed, more prepared,
more affluent, more fearing of God,
more trusting in last-minute warnings, more varied
in their education. This lack of proportion
suggests errors in our data collection
or natural bias against those among us
who seem most defenseless, most deperate to fit in,
who will not abandon the places they've learned
to call home, even for terrible hurricanes
that happen, predictably, and remind
us of each other, and what we've come
through together as humans, though only some
unknown percentage of those left behind
will be lucky enough to remain unchanged.

...Well, what say you?


Blogger Atasi Jaan said...

What say we? Well, first I have no comment on the structure/form of the poem. But just a comment on the commentary. It's one of those shoulda-coulda-woulda situations. My mom said she would just stay at home, if that happened here. So while the title is "disproportionately", we are always trying to sway it in our favor.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

Regime? As in regime change? That's a word that is often used to describe other countries' more despotic political leaders, not our own. But, all in all, it works for me.

On to the poems. "The Runback" for me does not rise to the level of Buchanian language compression that I've come to expect. It seems like this depiction is still relatively straight reportage and hasn't gone through the grist of reexamination where you tend to discover more exotic language to the frame of what you are examining. The shark's harsh resolve is an example of what I'm talking about. The rest of the piece doesn't bring on that kind of surprising language.

My second objection is the end, the last two lines. It seems rather hopeless, especially with the last note of death sounded in invoking "drown." A bit of question here. Didn't the ones who made it to the Superdome basically make it to sanctuary. The drowners were still en route to there, no? Though, I must admit that perhaps my attitude towards those two lines is a remnant of the cheery little "end of the world" scenarios at our last meeting. Why bother with poetry if the end of the world is coming? Christ, then build barricades and secure needed supplies. I acknowledge tone is so difficult after a major catastrophe. The white uakari tried humor and it came off sounding out of touch, inappropriate. Of course, this area of inappropriate tone is exactly what I wanted to encroach upon. It seemed in some way fitting for those in New Orleans who throw a big party with lots of music at a wake instead of offering grim and solemn pronouncements at the funeral home. alas, levity in the eye of the storm will never be fully appreciated. I can't imagine how the early animists get to the concept of "religion" without a little bit of the absurd mixing with awe in the face of natural cataclysms. [I suppose I'll have to call my friend the white uakari to see if that is actually true.] Of course, it is entirely possible that my inclination to embrace lightheartedness in the face of imminent death and destruction marks me as a fool. I'm willing, though, to take up a coat of arms with a jester's hat as part of the insignia.

The second piece "Disproportionately" seems even more "rhetorical." There is even less turning of phrase here than in "The Rundown." I suppose this is because, as a political piece, it seems off-the-mark to be anything other than direct. Using loose metaphors or applying figurative language is a frill, a trick to be employed for less urgent situations. I am constantly in disagreement with myself about this tendency in poems that attempt to be overtly political. On the one hand, I agree it seems disingenuousness to make a reader endure some sleight-of-hand movement in order to get the political point of the poem. On the other hand, I'm not sure that any direct statement can be handled better in poems than it can on, say, the news or in political commentary (by the way, I'm calling for a nationwide boycott here of The New York Times Select model of charging for access to their regular Op-Ed columnists. If this model succeeds, then the rest of the online paper will most likely be subject to an admission charge as well. This ploy can NOT succeed. Remember when all this used to be free?).

"Disproportionately" does indignation, but I'm not sure that such indignation can stand alone in a poem. Again, because I am freak for movement as aesthetic trope ("undercutting"myself, as I think you also put it—though I might point out that advancement is also part of the slurry effect as well) I wonder if a political stance can be backed off to get at something larger, more human. The purpose and tradition of the political in poetry would be a good standard for discussion. Everyone bring in a poem (from whatever tradition) to see what "works."My pick? Aime Cesaire's "Notebook for a Return To the Native Land"

A question though, who, among those who remained, will NOT have been changed? This is a rhetorical question then? A strongly stated ("scathing" is the way I think you characterized it) political poem seems to need more oomph at the end, something more declarative.

9:59 AM  
Blogger eddgibson05818871 said...

i thought your blog was cool and i think you may like this cool Website. now just Click Here

10:48 AM  
Anonymous graham said...

disappointed i'll miss your reading tonight at the sacramento poetry center!

find me at:

2:25 PM  
Anonymous graham said...

i love your poems, especially "gretsky". canadians must know their hockey.

contrary to your comments and self-deprecating humor, i'd be interested in reading your dissertation (as i'm sure many others would as well); although, i don't know where i could find it. online, perhaps?

could/would you post a link or directions to the nearest source to read your disseration?

i'd like to take a class!

2:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home