What We Allow

Began reading Richard Powers' Operation Wandering Soul, finding the style a little excessive, a little faux-Pynchon & tedious, overwrought. And yet, I also feel a sense of regard for an artist letting it fly, rolling it out, playing language like a cheap guitar. And, self-consciously, I can't help wondering as I read where my own verbal profligacy went.* I had it as a young man, though even as an undergraduate student of poetry, I was both drawn to & suspicious of the booming rhetoric of Yeats & Roethke, preferring Auden's ironic reverb versions of the standard changes. And yet I love a good rhetorical turn, a fine punchline nailed down by a rhyme. I just don't trust myself to employ these tools I love to see others using. Which has perhaps led me to write more dryly than I might have. To trust the intellect's refinement & reduction over the heart's extravagances. My own feelings are unruly & I have tended to use language to get them into order. Besides, emotion has gotten something of a bad name in American poetry after the abuses of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, & even my master James Wright. Still, those are great poets whose language, at its best, was adequate to terrible experience. (It may be, yes, that these writers made the moral error of confusing life & art, of ramping up anxiety as if it were an aesthetic requirement.) In any case, we are all a little embarrassed by experience these days, aren't we? As if it were not quite worthy of our language. ____________________________ *The connection between Powers' prose & my concerns with my own style are probably entirely subjective, simply a prompt for a meditation.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “What We Allow”

  1. MEMORIAL DAY 2007

    At the center of this democracy
    we have placed the two men
    most capable of destroying it
    all under the guise of democracy
    only call it terror’s bitch
    those who fetch the stick
    of fear each time it’s thrown
    a word is something owned or
    sold what is the purpose of no
    clean water that music fought over
    we were buried in of stones
    walked on by the river’s rushing end
    at the center of democracy
    was an open field I thought.

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