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Thursday, April 21, 2016


I'm stubbornly insisting that I will someday "get" poetry. It's my blind spot as a lover of literature. I can read a poem and it is as if I don't understand the language. Therefore, I tend to like writers of light verse, or poets like Billy Collins, who write in conversational style.

To keep trying, I picked up Gregory Pardlo's volume, Digest, which won the Pulitzer Prize last year. It is somewhat reminiscent of Billy Collins, in that it has that droll conversational tone and also has mnay pop culture references. Some of the poems I didn't understand at all, but over all I liked it.

I knew I was going to like this when early on I came across this passage from "Problemata":

"I finally friended my brother.
It may be will never
speak again. Why speak
when we have this crystal ball
through which
to judge one another's lives?
I imagine this is what
the afterlife will be like.
I'm ghost, we say
instead of goodbye."

Also fantastic are "The Conatus Improvisations," which are mostly about cars and driving, though each poem has the name of a classical author, which I don't understand but I don't let it worry me. From "Heraclitus":

"Overheating cannot be blamed on a faulty idiot light.
The car in crisis, beached on the roadside and pouring
steam from its blowhole as you watch the rain melt
the windshield, the perfect screen for projecting a fantasy
dissolve that begins with your jalopy dropped from a barge
to be eaten by the reef like a dive site."

From Boethius:

"Used to be the battle of getting there was indeed a tortoise and
hare proposition full of K-turns in strangers' driveways."

Pardlo also has a long poem called "Alienation," in which the narrator has murdered his wife. It's a poem that is written in prose style, so I wonder if it really can be called a poem.

Other nuggets in the collection is "Raisin," about going to see a production of Raisin in the Sun starring Diddy, "Zoso," the name generally given Led Zeppelin IV, and a reference to a "Sherman Helmsley hairline," surely the only time that actor has ever been mentioned in a published poem. I also loved Pardlo's comparing quotation marks to "fingers flensing air like Thriller zombies."

As for what it all means, well, I'm just happy that I understood most of it. I'm afraid when it comes to poetry, that's a major step for me.

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