Sacred & Strange
Shelley Wong's poem "The Winter Forecast" from New England Review 42.4 is a tough nut to crack. So tough that I've put off blogging about it for just about as long as I dare. It's a remarkable piece of work that quite possibly slashes at some uncut underbrush and points a thorny way forward for those of us interested in following poetry to inspiring terrains. By this I don't necessarily mean new forms or even themes, but simply a fascinating way of looking at how language unveils our world and ourselves.
Read the poem in full by clicking the picture above and be patient with me as I try to distill this wine into gadfly brandy. Actually, absinthe might make a better analogy, a fact that's evident from the first line:
this open interval: when nightgowns glow & stalk the field
Stunning use of muted surrealism with a bit of a Gothic flare. But the "interval" is "open" -- so this sip of spookiness is, indeed, just a pawn push. The true takeoff comes next.
Go on, read the next lines...but imagine they're prose! That's right. I want you to mash up Wong's poetry and spit it back out in prose. I won't do it. I'm a gentleman. But I want you to see something spectacular.
It won't work. No matter what you do to these words, they won't make decent prose. They only make poetry. That's an incredible achievement and it means something.
It means: when you read this poem, you're reading pure poetry. There's nothing in this piece that isn't built out of poetry. Well, shouldn't that, alone, be enough to blow W.S. back to Stratford-upon-Avon to polish up Cleopatra's death scene?
Nope. But it does tell us something about the nature of poetry and language. What it tells us is that language is a key that opens up the hidden (sacred) nature of our world. Let's look at a couple of examples.
we can hear tree rings rendered as sound
diamonds shine in icicles, in a spidering necklace
aboard the single swan boat,
This is beautiful poetry. It shows us the connectivity of all things, and the promise of continued (endless?) growth and exploration. Synesthesia is objective reality. Even the banal words you're reading now are neither sound, nor sight, but touch on soul-sensations that glitter... like well, spiderwebs and diamonds! But it doesn't sound as good in bloggy prose!
Wong's mastery of poetic language is notably sophisticated; so much that it'd be easy to write a proper essay on this poem. Perhaps I will, but for now let's skip to the closing line, something I rarely do in these posts.
women in black embroider orchids in the orchestra pit
Poets: this is a call to action. Music's starting. Do you hear it?
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