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Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Geckos in Obscure Light" by William Logan, Poetry Daily, 2/6/13

from Madame X (Viking)
poem found here

first lines:
     Tentatively, greedy, by night they came,
     Drawn to the insects drawn to the light


close reading

-- reformatted, minor edits 12/10/2013

(A nice opening couplet, that, what with the playful iambic quadrameter and the doubling up within the second line.)

I read the blurb about Madame X before I read the poem; and I want to like this poem, and gave it every benefit of the doubt to that end. But by the third -- and closest reading . . . well . . . 

I'll start in the general: there is great fault to be held against English departments these days in their unwillingness and inability to teach close reading. Which is odd -- which is unbelievably odd -- since it is the pit and pith of literature and language. (Though, if students were taught close reading, then they might pull pull back the curtain on the academic handwaving necessary to most of cultural criticism; so I see the careerist impetus behind the act of self-preservation.) This especially so with creative writing departments: how can they write literature if they can't read literature? I'm not saying is applies directly to Mr. Logan, here; what I am saying that the poem does not hold up to close reading, and it should.

Argument by example alone: 

"Shadow organs pulsed"? First guess was throat sacs, but geckos don't have them. Second guess is the actual organs inside the geckos, somehow visible through the skin . . . at night. (Perhaps that is possible, but the word "shadows" rather betrays the possibility. And then the title does say, "Obscure Light," a phrase in itself that finds no justification in the poem.) But then it is "beneath" bellies: so I'm back to shadows. And the throats of most lizards (that I've seen) do expand a touch, even if they are not a sac per se. But, still, under the bellies? I can't get those lines to make sense.

"Armor" with "disease": even in its most metaphorical (and the idea here does not dip terribly far into the metaphorical) it wouldn't ever work unless the moment in the poem was about armor, and the giving the armor the idea of disease was a means to impart a more complex idea to the wearer of the armor. But is there any intent to create any such metaphorical ideation here? No. It comes off merely as a surface description, each idea not permitted to extend beyond the two or three words that create it.

The insects are simultaneously "Welsh" "cannon fodder" and "F-16s": an obvious and glaring -- and more glaringly unresolved, and thus sloppy -- contradiction.

The geckos are "great officers and kings," when, earlier, they are given "bellies distended as Falstaff's" (who was neither, and thus its applicability to fat bellies, and thus the contrast between Falstaff and Prince Hal).

And of course, a punchline on the last line: which in itself is a dead giveaway of an unsophisticated and/or ill-executed work. (Another situation where the exceptions so invariably and starkly prove the rule.) 

So, despite hopes, and as is so often the case an intriguing opening, little more here than an uncontrolled, inattentive poem.

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