Sunday, July 09, 2006


I actually understand those who say that "Fragment," the winner of my Daily Poem Project, is a boring poem. Its initial effect is one that is often not very productive: one reads it and nods. Okay, next poem.

What drew me back to it, then? Two things, one about the poet, one about the poem: first, even if I had not become friends with A.E. Stallings, I would still be a fan of her work (in fact, we became friends because I invited her to read in Basel, hence because I am a fan), and it has been my experience, over and over again, that her work deserves multiple readings, even or especially when it does not seem to deserve them at first glance.

Secondly, the poem itself drew me in with its patterning. As is often the case with Stallings's work, the surface is delightful and full of suggestive phrasing.

That said (to use that phrase again), I had to keep returning to the poem before it really opened up for me, because, I think, its surface is so glossy (or glassy?) that it actually resists interpretation (one way of putting this is: it's boring). Only when I began to notice how distinct the various moments that cause the glass to be dropped are did I began to get at what the poem says to me: how it is not the material that objects are made of that causes them to break but the fact that we use them. To put it boldly: matter is not in itself mortal; it is the use of matter that makes it transient.


mrjumbo said...

I don't know the full genesis of the Daily Poem project, but it reminds me of Robert Pirsig's quality polls in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

He tries an experiment with his class, asking them to vote on which papers they individually believe are good, as a way of demonstrating that most of us have a consensus on what constitutes quality, although it can be hard to put into words.

Likewise interesting to see where a somewhat self-selecting audience finds consensus on which poems (of a set already selected for quality) make us want more.

Andrew Shields said...

Thanks for the question about the background of the project. I probably unconsciously stole it from Pirsig, but it was just an idea I had when preparing a course on the topic of "Quality" in the summer of 2005. In fact, considering the importance of that word to Pirsig, and the project of his that you mentioned, and the fact that I read that book a lot in the early eighties (and even used Phaedrus as my air name on the radio at first, before switching to the less dramatic Andrew)—I surely stole it from him without realizing it.