Sunday, April 08, 2012


Language: A Love Poem
After Neruda

When I say your hair
is the color of a moonless night
in which I’ve often been lost,
I mean approximately that dark.
And the dove outside our window
is no symbol, merely wakes us
at dawn, its mate a grayish creature
that coos quite poorly. Peace
is an entirely different bird.
The rose, to me, signifies the rose,
and the guitar signifies
a musical instrument
called the guitar. At other times
language is a slaughterhouse,
a hammering down, its subjects hanging
from hooks, on the verge
of being delicious. When I say
these things to you it's to watch
how certain words play
themselves out on your face,
as if no one with imagination
can ever escape being a witness.
The whale for example, no matter
its whiteness, is just a mammal
posing as a big fish, except
of course if someone is driven
to pursue it. That changes everything.
Which is not to suggest I don’t love
the depth of your concealments.
When I say your name over and over
it’s because I cannot possess you.

Stephen Dunn

What Goes On
Selected and New Poems 1995-2009


the academe could be a little more forgiving when it comes to "accessible" American poets like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, and Stephen Dunn. diction is hard enough to figure out (and into a poem), given the plethora of synonyms vocabulary and the "diction-ary" offer. this poem, given the ease of its flow and the respective awareness of its wordplay, does not appeal to the mind so much as to the tropes and the surprise of the strophes. the willing reader will always prefer a poem that thrusts its dagger into his/her given vulnerability before his/her intellect. for the untrained, the latter is pure nosebleed. for the former, it's that "awwwwww" factor rearing its head.

the contention here has more to do with immediacy, whichever readers prefer allegiance to. for example, teaching a workshop class is different from teaching an appreciation class. the former assumes an advanced hold of poetic norms (and a requirement to write as well); the latter quasi-validates the popular, and makes it easier for those not necessarily inclined to poetry to at least pay attention and maybe try to write after.

but what is the "hallmark" of good poetry, anyway? where do we draw that line and who do we really want to address, in the end? here, Dunn investigates Language. here, he re-imagines Neruda, re-writes Neruda. but that could only be deemed a cop-out had he not been conscious of a "doubting" audience disengaging from the poem because of that glaring reference, "After Neruda," or the adaptation/ appropriation of Neruda's "familiar," "popular," and translated voice (this poem is then thrice-removed).

i sincerely doubt this poem is Neruda's. but i'm inclined to think it's done. and Dunn's.