Friday, August 8, 2008

Not a lighthearted poem on the patio

Frat boys and bachelor partyers can have their private dances; I'm still talking about a private poetry reading, straight from Jenna Bauer to The New Monks (joined, later, by Jenna's Venus Posse).

Jenna read a real heartstopper in Randall Jarrell's poem "Next Day." This was no feel-good, lighthearted poem on the patio kind of thing. This is the voice of a man (I am guessing, an older man) trying on the clothes of an older woman's imagination as she muses on aging and, ultimately, dying.

It opens with a moment of quiet anguish at the grocery store:

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I'm old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me

And ends with her remembering the corpse of a friend at her funeral the day before:

Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;

I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

I asked Jenna to read back that last line, which I repeated over and over to myself, and wrote down: "Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary." That's poetry.

Speaking of funerals, I see while looking up, quickly, the life of Randall Jarrell, that the poet died the year before I was born, in 1965, not terribly far from where I write now, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, after being run over by a car in Greensboro, a town I intend to drive through tonight or tomorrow to meet Mitch Easter.

Our beloved Leo Connellan often spoke of Jarrell. Randall Jarrell was one of the relatively few poetic insiders who championed Leo, who felt like the perpetual outsider. Allen Ginsberg was another Leo booster. Ginsberg died while we were scoring Leo's poem Crossing America. A letter to Allen in New York, asking for a CD blurb, was one of the many dead letters found in his possessions when the great Beat bard died, because I mailed it to him just days before he passed away.


The image is of the poet during World War II.

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