Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Absolutely subjective

And possibly rambling.

A few days ago, someone asked what I thought of A Village Life, the new book of poems by Louis Gluck. I had taken it with me on my trip, saving it until I had time to stretch out in the sun and immerse myself in it.

After a first reading, I felt a little disappointed. Like when you eat a really good meal, but it wasn't what you were hoping for. J.W. Marshall once said that a book of poems is like a record album—you might buy an album and if one or two songs are fabulous, you're happy—even if you skip most of the rest of them. That makes sense. Still, I felt something was missing.

I figured maybe I wasn't being fair. Maybe I read it through to quickly. So I started through again.

And I realized that some of the poems really took me with them. And others didn't. I took a closer look.

To me, the poems that feel strongest, the most satisfying, speak from the strongest voices. When Gluck is writing in a persona, as in "At the River," "Walking at Night," and "A Slip of Paper," the poems feel genuine, and I can feel a part of the poem.

The poems that are written more generally, such as "Pastoral," "Tributaries," and "Earthworm," first struck me as kind of detached but without any reference to the detachment, to why the poem is written in the voice of an outsider, often with an outsider's syntax. Even those poems are fierce, but the discord between their ferocity and their detachment wasn't working for me. As the speaker is outside, it put me outside of the poem.

Yes, I'm making a hell of a lot of assumptions here. Like I said, it's subjective.

And as I'm reading them over and over, they are growing on me. I'm starting to wonder whether my initial reaction was based on just a few words.

I'll keep backpedaling: It probably isn't fair for me to expect a poet, even a favorite poet, to write the poems I want him or her to. And that might be what I'm asking for—as though I hoped for the voice from Averno and the milieu of this village. Who do I think I am?

And maybe those are the poems that I need to write.

I'll keep reading through it, and I've learned a lot more about voice—or, at least, what I'm looking for in voice. Maybe even
more about the you.

Have you read it? What do you think (about the book, about voice, about expectations, about life)?

1 comment:

T. Clear said...

Haven't read it, but it's on my Christmas list. Peter (Pereira) also had the same reaction as you. Hmm. Perhaps I should get out my eraser.