Sunday, June 15, 2008

Light Years

In my post on previous post, on Reginald Shepherd's "With the Wind Blowing Through It," I said that it's not depth but difference that poets find interesting, while the popular conception of poetry is that depth is the point.

"Light Years," the next poem in Shepherd's Fata Morgana (you can find it here if you page down a bit) attributes the search for depth to the you that the poem is addressed to:

You walk ahead as if you know
the way, full of purpose and intent
on seeing what's to be seen
if you look hard enough, look deep
enough, so certain the world is as you find it.

Look at what the search for depth is associated with: a sense of purposeful, intentional direction; a belief that there are depths where meaning can be found; a confident belief in one's perception of the world. The poem's speaker has a different relationship to the world in the poem's final lines:

... You call me back
to the world of things, sometimes
I don't know why I should go there.

The poet, we poets like to think, is someone who "looks hard enough" and, in many strains of contemporary poetry, finds "no ideas / but in things." But this first-person voice seeks to escape from things, not into deeper meanings, not into what is hidden inside the things, but ... where?

I reread the poem now to look for clues as to how to answer that question, and while doing so I thought, "But now I am looking hard enough ..." But my answer is not between the lines; it's on the surface, in the lines themselves, and it's in the lines about surface right before the ones I first quoted above:

... Late afternoon flatters my skin
with pattern, and then the setting sun undoes
the picture. Dark, light, bright
slip through my fingers, color distinctions
fade with the day.

The poet does not look harder or deeper; the poet looks at surface patterns and traces their changes over time. — I'm not sure I really agree with that statement, but I am always tempted by the idea that poetry is not about depth, and I'm enjoying tracing the lines of that idea by thinking about Shepherd's poems.

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