Sunday, February 18, 2007

An Observation and a Poem

Last night, I was thinking about something that Hayden Carruth wrote in his 1993 essay The Nature of Art: "A poem is an existent; it has the same status as a pebble or a galaxy. It has no relationship to nature, but only to other existents within nature. And what I think is that any work of art not informed by a bold and determined regard for this equivalency and its effects is deficient intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, and cannot speak to the discerning contemporary sensibility. Let the fundamentalists rage. Poets are quiet seekers unwilling to be deluded."*

Which is not to say, of course, that critical theory has no utility in the real world.

Here's a poem from my second book, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000):


It's the moment semiotics begins
to make sense. A man thinks salmon
in a dimly lit fish house, as a chute feeds
dead king after dead king, which he takes,
one-by-one from the water-wash,
and inserts into a heading machine,
the pneumatic < of the blade thunking
down and through to separate head
from body––a collar cut, just behind
the gills. It isn't his job to sort males,
(plum-red, hook-jawed, thick with
grayish clots of milt), from females,
(evergreen, honey-combed with
golden roe). He simply thinks salmon
and slides the body forward, steps
to trigger the device, then the pneumatic
< drops like a rapid sigh, and the head falls
or is cleared by the women
on the cleaning line, who will take
the headless body, razor the belly, and
if it is female, drop the eggs
into a bucket, then pass the fish
to the gutting crew. The man works on, until
he sees gloved hand and thinks salmon
and the pneumatic < drops and cuts
glove, flesh, and bones an inch above the wrist
in a perfect collar cut, more quickly than
signs arrange vowels and consonants
in his mind, and the hand falls
into a box of salmon heads,
bound for sale as crab bait. He
reaches with what is left, still wearing
the cuff of the yellow glove
like a bracelet, and doesn't think
hand until blood comes in two quick
pumps, splattering into the box of dead
kings, as lights start to spin and
the women look up from their work,
knives gleaming.


*In Selected Essays & Reviews by Hayden Carruth (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)


Blogger Andrew Shields said...

That is a surprising poem. I was just like the man; I did not notice that his hand had been cut off until a few moments after it happened.

2:50 AM  

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