Thursday, May 1, 2008


The May issue of Poetry came in the mail yesterday. As has been the case in recent months, I find myself more excited to receive the magazine then I am when I'm reading it. There just hasn't been much in it lately to make me glad I'm a subscriber. The poetry all seems to... well, I guess "boring" is the only word for it. It's filled with the sort of self-possessed drivel that makes it easy to understand why most people we meet can't name any living poets.

The only real exception to this is "Infidelity," by Philip White, whom I've never heard of:

by Philip White

“Talking only makes me feel more alone,”
you said once in the car outside the clinic.
Two years later, you spoke the same sentence
word for word one night after friends had gone.
Within a month, you’d erased yourself…
Erased? “To absent oneself,” I found scribbled on
a wrapper a year later…

Now sunlight and tree
shadow rush over the windshield of the car:
I’m talking with my new wife—then gone, absented.
“Sometimes I feel almost too much joy,”
you wrote from the balcony of your cheap
hotel in Paris. “What are you thinking?” she asks.
Light shutters across us. Wherever you are
in me I’m there, though it’s not what you wanted.

I read this three times and was, every time, deeply impacted. The way in which he describes the moving on process, the pain, the self-doubt... heart-breaking stuff. And the word "absented" is just different enough yet understandable enough to be the perfect word, which is something that I love to see. When a poet finds that one word, the only word, that can truly capture the meaning, it makes a huge difference.

What I love most about this poem is the fact that I can really put in that rarest of the rare classes: the poem that I can't relate to but makes me feel something emotionally anyway. Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" is the best example of this (it's a religious poem in which the speaker addresses his own afterlife and hopes that he'll meet God upon his death- most days, I don't believe in God at all). Bruce Springsteen's "Racing in the Street" is another (a song about car racing, a subject that has absolutely no meaning to me whatsoever). This poem is about moving on after a divorce, something I hope never to know. But the way that the speaker is so obviously haunted is very compelling to me.


Anonymous said...

this made me think of dominick and dessa. i like it a lot...

Joe said...

What's "dominick and dessa"?

Anonymous said...

oh i'm sorry. i forgot that men have the memory span of a goldfish. =)

they're main characters of your favorite book, silly.