Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Prose Path

In the middle of my final semester toward the MFA. I've veered off track, preferring prose. Reading poetry, writing about poetry without interruption for over two years is affecting my cognition in some subtle way. So I indulge in a bit of prose just to recapture the fully developed line and the complete arc of writing, what might be called the dullness of prose. By that I mean the scale of steady fact, the slow upward trek toward an ultimate goal. Even now, I resort to metaphor: poetry is tearing away with the incisors; prose is chewing with the molars.

So I'm satisfying the need for slowness, the pyramid climb of nonfiction, trudging through paragraphs to find the point.

I've got a couple of books underway to feed that need:

Back from the Far Field: American Nature Poetry in the Late Twentieth Century by Bernard Quetchenbach - so it doesn't include Mary Oliver or Pattiann Rogers but it does give distinctions between Modern and Contemporary, and helps to clarify the blur of that literary evolution. (I can recall a time several years back when the term "Contemporary" meant "current" to me.) Here's an example of Quetchenbach's labeling: "In general, ... contemporary poetry locates its central authority in the self and experience." And, "The significance of the contemporary poem depends on the ability of the reader to identify the experience of the poem's speaker as somehow representative." That opens the gate to the confessional, of course. Back from the Far Field studies Jeffers, Roethke, Bly, Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry.

Not Man Apart is my take-it-easy book, an old Sierra Club edition, and tribute to the poet Robinson Jeffers and the California coast. Its pages are illustrated with photos by Edward Weston, Cole Weston, Ansel Adams and others, and doubly graced with many of Jeffers poems. One of my favorites, in addition to "Oh Lovely Rock" is this:


It is true that, older than man
and ages to outlast him, the Pacific surf
still cheerfully pounds the worn granite drum;
but there's no storm; and the birds are still,
no song; no kind of excess;
nothing that shines, nothing is dark;
there is neither joy nor grief nor a person,
the sun's tooth sheathed in cloud,
and life has no more desires than a stone.
The stormy conditions of time and change
are all abrogated, the essential
violences of survival, pleasure,
love, wrath and pain, and the curious desire
of knowing, all perfectly suspended.
In the cloudy light, in the timeless quietness,
one explores deeper than the nerves
or heart of nature, the womb or soul,
to the bone, the careless white bone, the excellence.

I can hear the slow, cavernous voice of Jeffers, a sonorousness akin to the "granite drum" but rich with a human timbre. And if you haven't heard Jeffers' voice, do so. Here's a recording of him reciting "Beaks of Eagles."

I have just opened another book by
Californian, Katherine Haake, and am immediately caught in her swirl of associations. That Water, Those Rocks is described as a "brilliant novel that interlaces autobiographical writing, natural history, and reflections on the craft of writing itself." I look forward to the slow travels with Haake's novel.

At some point, I will return to Kinzie and Wendy Bishop and Rukeyeser, to First Books and Dickinson and Oliver and Rich. But I can't say it will be soon. I like the prose path.

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