An Exemplary Lyric by Jane Cooper

The poet Jane Cooper died in October of this year after a long life in poetry. Her first book came out the year I graduated from high school, I think, but I didn't become aware of her work until about ten years ago. She was a "poet's poet," one supposes, who won prizes but didn't have nearly so high a public profile -- if American poets can be said to have a public profile at all -- as many of her male teachers & contemporaries. She strikes me as a consummate artist. In my own work & as a teacher I love physical detail & plain speaking that "blossom" into emotion. Cooper's poem "Rent" is exemplary:
If you want my apartment, sleep in it but let's have a clear understanding: the books are still free agents. If the rocking chair's arms surround you they can also let you go, they can shape the air like a body. I don't want your rent, I want a radiance of attention like the candle's flame when we eat, I mean a kind of awe attending the spaces between us-- Not a roof but a field of stars.
Both the James Wright poem I wrote about earlier (linked above) & Cooper's poem have similar structures. Though genre boundaries are notoriously complex & contested, I think it's fair to say that each poem employs a lyric structure, gathering details toward an insight delivered as a punchline. What I admire about Cooper's poem is its lack of special pleading: it is dry, while Wright's poem is unpleasantly moist.

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.

3 thoughts on “An Exemplary Lyric by Jane Cooper”

  1. You may have set a new metric in poetry: the moisture scale. Is the poem pleasantly moist like, say, San Diego — or do you find yourself swim-walking through it like an Orlando summer?

    Enjoying the recent flurry of poetics posts.


    He had one of those lets-get-rich-
    while-we-pay-the-workers-shit jobs
    counting objects in stores
    in the middle of the night

    just back from Iraq he craved
    amnesia and the solitude of rows
    cans and boxes piled like stones
    to be labeled and accounted for

    the life of a hang-nail itching
    to be bitten off and the whole
    point so he could be trapped

    inside the changes he can’t control
    dreadfully renegotiating the route
    back to childhood’s abandoned no.

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