Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Margaret Christakos' Welling

"Dip down into the cavity
of dreams identify the image

most pendant. Can't, can you,

there's a blend, vacuum

& glut. Too much happens of anything

to report or order. Time

throbs & writhes"

The preceding lines are from Margaret Christakos' "Gulls", from Welling, her 2010 collection of poems. Her concerns, despite their anchoring in postmodern fascination, anguish, or flippant tom- (and jane-) foolery regarding the impossibility of accurately noting our own observations or (at least) of transcribing them to another, are nothing new. W. G. Sebald, in his extraordinary The Rings of Saturn, speaks from the perspective of another in conversation who noted "the scruples which dogged Flaubert's writing, that fear of the false which ... sometimes kept him confined to his couch for weeks or months on end in the dread that he would never be able to write another word without compromising himself in the most grievous of ways. Moreover ... he was convinced that everything he had written hitherto consisted solely in a string of the most abysmal errors and lies." Sebald, later in the same chapter: "The invisibility and intangibility of that which moves us remained an unfathomable mystery for Thomas Browne too, who saw our world as no more than a shadow image of another one far beyond."

I'm sympathetic to this obsession (and though Christakos changes things up by an interesting and ambiguous mix of imagined audience for the speaker, the thematic fixation remains), but I'd take issue with some of the quoted material in "Gulls". I agree that "Too much happens of anything/to report or order", but I don't see why observation has to be comprehensive. Boring into the corner of a Michelangelo is just as important as a distant, global sweep, is it not? Or from the painter's perspective, getting that corner to a place of great clarity (without ever succumbing to the complacent conclusion of perfection) is surely enough? Think of Madame Bovary, and then think of Flaubert agonizing for months about telling the truth.

Though I don't share in the idea of futility and anguish over ever revealing "the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth", I admire Christakos' different approaches to it. Unlike so many other dreary poets who keep the poetics in the realm of the suffocating classroom, she occasionally gets outside and integrates her ideas with spurs from nature, of the landscape and human variety. From the sub-poem "Birch" in the section "Barrel": "I turn & chafe. I misbeget the fruit of the other trees./Turdish shapes, all of you. A filament of sun widows me,".

From "The problem of confessionality":

"I don't think any of
us, even the "best" poets
among us, do more than signal
a portal that would
open on a room full of
squirming words."

To which I hasten to add: But when it's good, what wonderful squirming!

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