4 new poems in Arc, Vallum, The Puritan, and the Word Hoard

This month’s a tiny little mense mirabilis:

  • “The Critique of a Handsome Vacuum,” a double-headed sonnet in the tradition of double-headed sonnets that I’m hoping to make a thing, appears in Arc‘s Art in the End Times issue;
  • “The Megafaun: Fact or Fiction?,” an hilarious commentary on airplane elks, appears in Vallum‘s The Wild issue;
  • “Jesus H. Christ Does Private Dancing,” which is what it sounds like, appears in The Puritan‘s 35th issue;
  • and “There Emigrate Bullets,” a full mondegreen of David Huebert’s poem “The Renegade Poets,” appears in the Word Hoard‘s Scum & Villainy issue, where, in a crazy coincide, David’s poem also appears.

“Mr Crow,” Jack Davis

I’ve come across a few poems in the last weeks that have both prompted me to reconsider academic curricula’s singular esteem for Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and left me wishing there were a global poetry anthology titled Inkbrains: several hundred years of being weirded by corvids. I post this poem because it appears unavailable elsewhere online. It appears availably in Jack Davis’s 1977 collection Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia.

Mr Crow, I have been occupied with the thought,
As to how and what I ought
To write of you for some considerable time.
You are detestably difficult to place into rhyme.
There's no symmetrics in your feathers
Or your white-rimmed eye,
Your croaks are akin to leather,
You are cowardly mean and sly.

But when Nature manufactured creatures,
Wise she thought of all the features.
Now if her realm should all be beauty,
Who then would master meaner duty
So when you cawed far back in time,
First struggled out of primeval slime,
Mother Nature paused and said:
From this moment I declare
You will fly and haunt the air
And help me desiccate the dead.

It reads perhaps too simply. But there’s a sonnetic construction (two quatrains and a sestet, with the addition of a terminal quatrain; the turn at “But”) that intersects nicely with the two stanzas’ parallel movements in rhyme (both transition from rhyming couplets to rhyming quatrains). The result, if you’ll make this leap with me, is two partial sonnets assembled into something more than one sonnet. And these two sonnetic conclusions sit juxtaposed without entering synthesis: Mr Crow, you’re ugly, and I’m trying to write a pretty thing; Mr Crow, you do Nature’s work, in which ugliness is necessary.

And the point? Davis’s collection deals with the legacy of colonialism in Australia (notably the early nineteenth-century British declaration that Australian Aboriginal peoples were ‘wards’ of the colonial state), so putting the ugly into a pretty thing without taking the ugliness out of the ugly would be of key concern to him. The social politics of racial stereotyping aren’t hidden far beneath Davis’s unflattering, essentializing, and dismissive description of the ‘crow’ (a common settlement-era Australian slur against Aboriginals), which is underwritten by the dominantly British medium of poetry and its conventions of beauty.

“Mother Nature,” which for those of us inheriting the British tradition has long been poetic cliche, then recuperates Mr Crow not as beautiful but as necessary. This puts me in a strange position as a critical reader: if Mr Crow is being raced as black, using familiar imperial rhetoric about ‘those natives,’ how content can we be with his relegation to custodianship of “the dead”? Or with the paradox that his recuperation-relegation is achieved through the very poetic medium that the Davis of the first stanza denies (however ironically)?

‘The problem is not that poetry can’t handle ugly things, but that poetry, as a discourse, makes things ugly’? That doesn’t seem far off the mark.

Sonneteering: Billy Collins’s “Sonnet”

Billy Collins

Billy Collins. How you gonna say ‘no’ to that face?

“I’m going to post about Billy Collins today. And I had written out a post, and that took some time, and so I hope you’re going to read it. But I’m going to interrupt your reading to talk about Collins a little bit. And before you actually read the post, I wanted to say a couple of less premeditated things about Collins.”

That’s how Billy Collins might write a post about Billy Collins. But you can be damn sure if he did people would laugh uproariously. Apparently, I don’t particularly care for him or his sonnet “Sonnet.” It’s probably jealousy.

Read the poem below and my grouching on The Town Crier.

Sonnet
All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Sonneteering: Mark Haddon’s “A Rough Guide”

Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon

The Town Crier has officially relaunched with a renewed focus on regular content, and I’ve sneaked in the door with a biweekly (or thereabouts) series on sonnets. I may never amble around to writing on why Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” is the best sonnet in English, but I’ve started with sweeping claims anyway: popular criticism on poetry, especially in Canada, has an acute case of ‘kitchensinkism.’

Read my slightly more specific thoughts on Mark Haddon’s “A Rough Guide” (from his exceptional collection The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea) over at The Town Crier. But first, catch up on the plot:

A Rough Guide
Be polite at the reception desk.
Not all the knives are in the museum.
The waitresses know that a nice boy
is formed in the same way as a deckchair.
Pay for the beer and send flowers.
Introduce yourself as Richard.
Do not refer to what somebody did
at a particular time in the past.
Remember, every Friday we used to go
for a walk. I walked. You walked.
Everything in the past is irregular.
This steak is very good. Sit down.
There is no wine, but there is ice-cream.
Eat slowly. I have many matches.