Small Demon
Mar 192011
 

Rick asks in a comment to the previous post what I think of this poem by Kimberly Johnson. When I read it yesterday I hadn’t seen any of the comments appended since then by readers at Slate. I have to say that the commentary is some of the best and most intelligent about poetry I’ve run across recently on the internet. Not that I spend that much time reading about poetry online–lots of reasons for that, but mostly I got burned out on special pleading (including my own) in the early days of poetry on the web.

I like Kimberly Johnson’s poem because it does with economy & grace one of the things that lyric poetry is especially good at: turning the world inside out for a moment, perceptually, sometimes morally. Lyric moments in longer works such as novels and movies can also do this. One of the people commenting at Slate mentions the movie Patton, which certainly has such moment; so does Apocalypse Now, which makes war look beautiful and exciting, only to then turn the world inside out on the viewer, turning the beauty back into horror. Johnson’s poem does something similar on a small scale.

The problem with the lyric form — and with this poem — is that an ending is required. I don’t think “Catapult” ends very satisfactorily, what with it’s gesture toward the sacred. The beautiful is not always sacred, though lyric poets often pretend it is. I think I would have put a period after “earth” and let it go at that.

 Posted by at 7:03 pm

  2 Responses to “Certain Things Lyric Poetry Can Do”

  1. Thanks for taking a moment to look in on Slate. There certainly is an established depth of consideration regarding the poems. I wondered why the poem used “catapult” for the choice of weapon? The regard concerned the beauty and mechanics of the trebuchet, especially when used dichotomously with the horrors.

  2. I suspect the poet conflates the two weapons, catapult & trebuchet. Though different in fact, the two terms are pretty often used a synonyms for a weapon that flings stuff long distances through the air.

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