Wednesday, June 20, 2007

David Yezzi, "The Good News"

This is my favorite poem from the June 2007 issue of Poetry. (The first and last lines of each stanza are supposed to be indented a bit, but I can't be bothered to learn how to override HTML's efforts to standardize all formatting.) It makes me want to have a whisky—always a good sign in a poem or novel, if it makes you want to drink what the characters are drinking. But I'm on antibiotics, so no Laphroaig for me. (And I can hear that latch clicking at the end.)


A friend calls, so I ask him to stop by.
We sip old Scotch, the good stuff, order in,
some Indian—no frills too fine for him
or me, particularly since it's been
ages since we made the time.

Two drinks in, we've caught up on our plans.
I've sleepwalked through the past few years by rote;
he's had a nasty rough patch, quote unquote,
on the home front. So, we commiserate,
cupping our lowballs in our hands.

It's great to see him, good to have a friend
who feels the same as you about his lot—
that, while some grass is greener, your small plot
is crudely arable, and though you're not
so young, it's still not quite the end.

As if remembering then, he spills his news.
Though I was pretty lit, I swear it's true,
it was as if a gold glow filled the room
and shone on him, a sun-shaft piercing through
dense clouds, behind which swept long views.

In that rich light, he looked not like my friend
but some acquaintance brushed by on the train.
Had his good fortune kept me from the same,
I had to wonder, a zero-sum game
that gave the night its early end?

Nothing strange. Our drinks were done, that's all.
We haven't spoken since. By morning, I
couldn't remember half of what the guy
had said, just his good news, my slurred goodbye,
the click of the latch, the quiet hall.


Rob said...

I hadn't ever considered drinking what characters in poems are drinking, but now that you've mentioned it, it sounds like a good idea. I have a Macallan malt in the cupboard.

If you know any poems about drinking 1995 Barolo, let me know and I'll read them as well.

I thought the Yezzi poem was quite enjoyable in its understated way. It's not quite my normal kind of thing, but it works.

Andrew Shields said...

Some Googling located a Barolo poem:

Natasha Sajé, "Reading the Menu," Beloit Poetry Journal, Summer 2002

Also in her book "Bend" apparently. I don't know whether she goes on a bender in it. :-)

Probably not, the poem is not about drinking the Barolo, but about anticipating doing so!

Ms Baroque said...

I like David Yezzi - this poem I also enjoyuyed, but I do feel there's a little too much formal suaveness going on. Those perfect rhymes - that Wilbur-esuqe IP - sort of have an effect of rendering things invisible, to my eye. To my ear. This is 2007: so where are the rough edges?

Did like it though and am all for a good whisky.

Andrew Shields said...

I could defend Wilbur, whose surface seamlessness is often deceptive (see, for example, the unbelievably tricky "The Mind Reader").

And here, as the poem is, in a way, about "rendering things invisible," I could also defend the formal smoothness by arguing that the form re-enacts the narrator's desire to "paper over" both the disruptions in his life and his friend's and his jealousy of the friend's "good news."

I could do that (and I like the rhetoric of saying I could and then saying "but"), but I won't, because I just love that kind of surface smoothness. Like good whisky. :-)

Anonymous said...

Just a little nit to pick here:
Perhaps the whiskey is what dulled
the poet's mind into thinking that
good fortune may be a zero-sum
That quibble notwithstanding,
I do very much like that the phrase
"zero-sum game" has found its way
into the rhetoric/vocabulary of at
least one poet. It's such a deliciously
brief summing up of something that
is (I think) fairly complicated, some-
thing that would take a LOT more
words to say, if the short phrase
wasn't already readily available!

-- dhsh

Tony Williams said...

I like the smoothness too - as you say, it suits (enables?) the material.

Andrew Shields said...

"Enables" is a very precise word here, Ed.

As for the whisky dulling the poet's mind, why is that nitpicking? Of course it did; doesn't he even say it did?

"I was pretty lit."