Monday, August 24, 2009

a little Pound for your day's commute

“In a Station of the Metro”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Alas, I’m not in Paris; I’m not in Washington DC. I’m not in a large city or even near one with underground transit for the masses. Or for today’s DC version, the rich (see a recent Harper’s index for the $109K median wage for DC subway riders). I grew up with Philadelphia’s North-South Broad Street Line, its East-West elevated line, and a small web of subway-surface cars (“trolleys”) surfacing in University City and extending into Southwest Philadelphia. So I can’t say I ever lived permanently in a city whose mass transit is dominated by an entire web of underground trains like New York City or Paris. I have visited New York a bunch of times, and I’ve been lucky enough to live for a summer in both Paris and Seoul, South Korea. I’ve experienced the thrill of navigating a complex web of subways in a language extremely foreign to one’s native tongue. I’ve lost my way.

Pound’s poem suggests we do not need to know subways to know our fellow “apparitions” and “petals.” We do not need to stand apart or mingle upon a platform with a group of commuters. We can be connected to the “wet, black bough” even if we cannot skip over the turnstile or pay the local fares. We do not even need the rain.

When I read the poem, I hear the last line fighting the first line while the title cries out, “I am a line of this poem too.” And I hear the famous story of Pound trimming the fat of a much longer poem and ending with these two lines. And I consider Pound’s own sad ending outside DC, his second stay in a city with a Metro. And I wonder what views Pound would express if he were active in radio politics today. Could a man who could write like this sound as superficial as a Rush Limbaugh or Neil Bortz or any of our failed “liberal” radio hosts?

As you were, poetry.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

I've got the page 56, 5th sentence down blues...

It's been a long, hot summer and my anxiety over the facebook page 56, 5th sentence down thing has made me sweat even more. I saw facebook "friends" post their witty sentences and I grew jealous of their reading selections. Each time another posted and recommended the same, I would check not only the closest one but numerous books nearby; the ones that weren't board books (these went to page 24 tops) had nothing to offer. No wit. Nothing literary but pornographic all at once. No tidbit to reveal the soul of me or at least my reading habits.

I fell upon a literary novelist, an import from Europe, and although I'd be posting in translation, I knew there was promise. But his fifth sentence on page 56 included an obvious comma splice; I flipped through another of his novels and found a long-winding snake that was nevertheless a sentence fragment. I am almost certain this non-standard text was the author's attempt to philosophize on time passing or the fragmented nature of our lives, but could I dare reveal to my virtual friends that I was reading novels full of misplaced punctuation and injured prose?

In a flash of genius, I checked my own "work in progress," call it a novel if we must, and I swear upon page 56, my brilliant fifth from the top read, "What's up?" I didn't have the nerve to drag the book to the trash bin or kill myself. I did however yearn for an earlier time when matches and flame would have carried the day.

Later, I found Eva Thury at whenfallsthecoliseum.com intellectualize on "write down sentence 5 on page 56 as your Facebook status" as well as other concerns in her nifty article, "Google my Codex." Well, I like Dr. Thury, but she lost me in the next paragraph when she said she didn't care much for physical books as her "medium." I hate extended reading off the computer screen and with my weak lower back, I am in no position to return to "clay tablets." I don't know where I'd be without crates of favorite books in a storage space I pay ever-increasing monthly rent on to keep nothing else of value. Remainder shelves have never been safe near me, and I'm the kind of instructor who still bothers to peruse and perhaps lift what the others have left in the English Department hallway for undergrads or the poor. If you are someone who can live without the smell of hardcovers and tradepapers--and I don't insist they all require coffee and cookie stains--we are decidedly not on the same page. It was "turn to page 56," not "pagedown to screen 56" or "lift and lug tablet 56," no?

Nevertheless, I persevered. Late in summer, I wandered into a tasty but reckless novel, The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames, and in triumph I flipped to page 56 intent upon seizing a quality fifth sentence and achieving fame with an imposing facebook status. Alas, page 56 was blank in my trade paperback copy.

So where do I go from here?

In my vision as revolutionary, intent upon changing the world of facebook forever, I imagine myself pounding fists at the podium but, "Little slips on which [I] had jotted the announcements kept fluttering from [my] fingers."

Yes. I relent. It is a fifth sentence from a fifty-sixth page from my trusted Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories and Carol Bly's "Talk of Heroes."

I find it makes a fitting finale to this sad affair. Bly's title alone might be enough to illuminate my own tale.

Is it time to keep the lamp lit or cool down in the dark? You tell me.

As you were in the August heat.