Tuesday, January 28, 2014
But that is the power, I discover in the very early hours of this morning, of all the poems in Djanikian's new collection. They override the muck in the reader's mind. They knock, step in, and stay. They assert the familiar in unfamiliar ways without relying on games or smug pretensions. They feel winnowed down, therefore essential, therefore as close to true as language gets. They are as accessible as they are quietly electrifying.
Dear Gravity offers five groupings of poems, each named solely by a roman numeral. They move from stories about violence and impossible yieldings, to the cherished-haunted memories of childhood and adolescence, to confessions about the writing or not writing of poems, to the hard fix and sweet breath of the natural world, to sometimes sparring, sometimes relenting reflections on the passing of time. There are poems here about a mother's old car, about a high school bully, about a pre-induction physical during the height of the Vietnam War. There is the story of a roadside accident, the story of a near accident, the story of loved people dying or perhaps soon dying, the story of first loves and enduring ones, a red-haired wife on a horse. There are lines like these:
The dark was unfolding its many hands. ("Song of Imponderables")
The wind today is a woman with long hair/entangling all she loves. ("Arizona Wind")
I teach memoir. I don't know the vocabulary for poems—the word, for example, for that long rushing comma-less poem that revealed itself so beautifully that I knew precisely where to stop the sounds in my head, where to pause ("The Book of Love"). But it occurred to me, as I read this morning, that I would like my students to know this work, to see what can be done with honest language, and to see for themselves how talented this Greg Djanikian is, this director of the undergraduate creative writing program at my own University of Pennsylvania, this man whose office sits above the room where I teach during second-semester Tuesdays.
In "Writer's Block" Djanikian is both teacher and poet. I leave you with the final two stanzas:
Whatever you choose, the hope is
to begin with something open-ended,
some small parabola of thought
which might suddenly zoom you
in a gust of inspiration
upward on hoof and wing
where you might rarely travel
in your prim and Sunday clothes,
but from under whose sleeves
there might appear
in one epiphanous moment
the utter stranger
you have always been.