Tuesday, July 15, 2008


So, as I've said, I have a complex relationship with poetry.

Of those that I love, Jim Carroll is especially close to my heart. Take a look at this, one of my all time favorites as well as my favorite by him:

Little Ode on St. Anne's Day

You're growing up
and rain sort of remains
on the branches of a tree
that will someday rule the earth.
and that's good
that there's rain
it clears the month
of your sorry rainbow expressions
and clears the streets
of the silent armies...

so we can dance

If you don't know (and you probably already do), Jim Carroll is the subject of the movie The Basketball Diaries, based on his memoir of the same name .

I won't claim to be an expert on Carroll. Here's what I like about his early work, though; it has that level of cognitive slippery-ness that I like. When I went through years and years of poetry workshops I was told again and again to get more specific, get more specific. I think that works for prose, but poetry? I like poetry that's somewhat indeterminate. That's where the magic is to me; the indeterminant and yet somehow familiar web of interconnected metaphoric images.

Take this poem, from his first collection that puts together almost all of his early, published work (from the period of time he was quite young).

Notice how a reader could bring almost anything to the blend space of these metaphors and create a textworld/blendspace in their head that no other person could have. The poem becomes theirs in that way, the same as lyrics that do this (notice how songs with this same slippery-ness often become the poeple's all time favorites...I'm thinking of something like "Hotel California" or "Stairway to Heaven" where the metaphors are open and can mean whatever the reader/listener wants them to).

But this is not lazy indeterminacy: you know that Carroll means us to see the poem as a metaphoric system describing survived trauma as rite of passage--the cleansing power of pain to give people permission, in a sense, to move forward with their own evolution. Still, though, he leaves the sense of what that pain is up to you, allowing you to bring the poem into your own blended mindspace.

This is why the Confessionals don't always work, and something the Beats tended to miss--art isn't just about the art itself, but about the openness of the art to being brought "in." Kenneth Burke says that literature at its best is "equipment for living." I think he's right. I think this poem is part of the furniture in my favorite room inside.

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