Monday 17 November 2008

See, there she is in her natural habitat

The MS took shape, the strong anti-terrorist poem came first, blasting the door wide open (!), then poems about WWII and violence, followed by a slow movement to a more personal space, more intimacy and then the Black Lake poem. The whole thing entitled One Red Sofa, because the sofa marks the turning point.

Since then have read - am still busy reading - Lynn Davidson's journal, of a similar one-year long journey into poetry during her MA work at Vic (I surmise that, it does not actually say so.) Deep and thoughtful. I feel chastened, I should have tried harder.

I have also read Mona Van Duyn's book of poems Near Changes (1990, Alfred A Knopf), after my own heart. She was quoted by Maxine Kumin, whose essays I am still reading.

My favourite poem of the moment is this one by Mona van Duyn. The title seems mysterious at first:

The insight lady of St.Louis on zoos
(a found oral poem)

The other day I had an insight.

I suddenly realised why I hate zoos.
You know how they build those enclosures
for an
animal or two, and if the animal
is the kind that lives in a rocky country
they put one rock with it, and then they say,
see, there it is in its natural habitat?
And if the animal is a forest animal
they plant one tree with it and then they say,
see, there it is in its natural habitat?
Well, the handyman had put up the new bookshelf
on the only wall of the house
that isn't already covered with bookshelves,
and I organised all the books I had used
to write my book on Svevo, and then
all the books I had used for my book on Kierkegaard,
and then I saw myself as a zoo animal.
They would build a bare room with three bare walls
and put me and one book in it and then they would say,
see, there she is in her natural habitat!

And that evening I went to a party
and when we left I went upstairs to get my own coat,
and you should have seen that upstairs-
how can people live in a mess like that?-
it looked as the drugbusters had made a raid
and left every drawer half open
with the clothes and stuff dumped out on the floor,
and there was one book lying on the floor
and I picked it up to see what it was,
and then I had another terrible insight.
I knew what book they would put in my zoo pen.
It would be that book, Building Bicycles.

The tone of indignation, the and then they say, See, there she is..." the feeling, nay the fear of being taken over by an institution, where other people know what is best, it is all familiar.

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