Sunday, October 12, 2008

My Daughter Considers Her Body

Recently, I said I wanted to get myself a collection of poems by Floyd Skloot. Then I ordered three of his books (two collections of poems and a memoir). This is from his Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2007):


She examines her hand, fingers spread wide.
Seated, she bends over her crossed legs
to search for specks or scars and cannot hide
her awe when any mark is found. She begs
me to look, twisting before her mirror,
at some tiny bruise on her hucklebone.
Barely awake, she studies creases her
arm developed as she slept. She has grown
entranced with blemish, begun to know
her body's facility for being
flawed. She does not trust its will to grow
whole again, but may learn that too, freeing
herself to accept the body's deep thirst
for risk. Learning to touch her wounds comes first.

Two things struck me about this poem. First, it reminded me of my daughter Luisa. And when I showed it to my wife she just now, she said, "That's Luisa."

Secondly, only after I read and enjoyed the poem did I notice that it is a sonnet. According to some understandings of how rhyme and meter should work, that makes this an excellent sonnet: the claim is that one should not notice rhyme and meter while reading a rhymed, metrical poem; one should not notice the artifice. So my not noticing that this is a sonnet until I looked at it a second time would be great praise.

Now I do think this is a wonderful poem, and in particular a wonderful sonnet. But why is the idea so prevalent that one should not notice a poem's artifice?


I wondered about posting Skloot's poem without asking him for permission, but the poem was already online (here, among other places), so I figured it would not be a problem to quote it in full again.


Mark Granier said...

Thanks for that Andrew. I had heard of Floyd Skoot before (the name is hard to forget), though I don't know if I have ever come across his work. Like yourself, I didn't realise it was a sonnet immediately. I want to use it for the beginners' poetry workshops I run, where we consider that form in some detail.

Andrew Shields said...

While Googling the poem, I discovered that it has been anthologized: in the Strong Measures collection, and apparently in the Penguin Book of the Sonnet ("apparently" because that book came up when I googled the title, but I could not find a table of contents, as I could with the Strong Measures book).

("Strong Measures": published by Longman in 1997, "contemporary American poetry in traditional form")

Joannie Stangeland said...

Mr. Skloot seems to be a master at writing poems that rhyme (or sonnets!) in which the rhymes do not call attention to themselves--they are there, but they are subservient to the poem as a whole. I love that!

Andrew Shields said...

I've been spinning back and forth between noticing and not-noticing the form as I continue with the book, enjoying the dizzying pleasure of slowly noticing all the rhymes and repetitions.

It's the interaction between noticing and not-noticing that is a huge part of the experience in reading Skloot, even (or especially) in painfully sad poems.

swiss said...

oh, i do like this. and not just because ut's better than anything i managed to write about my daughter! in the penguin book of the sonnet? i really should know but can't check due to my copy being sneaked away!

artifice in poetry? (for the record i didn't notice it was a sonnet either) maybe it was the way i was (or wasn't) taught but i can't abide poems that rhyme, never have. and meter! show me the day i speak in meter! lol

not that i'm against them (not now anyway) but i like poems that are about what they say, not how they say it. i feel that rhythm etc should be suggested, not foregrounded, which, to me, is kind of what this one does.

or maybe it's just the way we're made. for the record i don't much like representational art either