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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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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Augenblick" by Mark Irwin -- Verse Daily, 3/19/13

from Large White House Speaking (New Issues Poetry and Prose)
poem found here

First lines:
By the drainpipe beneath the viburnum, just
giving way to small white flowers, the open eye


unity and energy

— reformatted 4/23/14

Let's do a little exploration of lines 7-8:

glances: mine, and its—gone, though a tiny gong
of light still lingers, one I must squint to see,

Primarily line 7; specifically, "tiny gong." Here's the question: does it work?

Obviously, there is the aural effect of the rhyme between "gone" and "gong." Plus, you have the repetition of the hard g thrice (extended even onto the next line's "lingers"), and of the terse i twice. You also have the homonymic pun working in "its": that coupling "its — gone" and "it's gone." All in all, it is a poetically lively line, with a lot of goodness going on.

Except for the conflict between "tiny" and "gong." Generally, perhaps even overwhelmingly, the word gong carries with it a connotation of bigness. Even if a person does not naturally associate the word with a physically large instrument — as with the huge, temple gongs of the orient — then they at least will think of the large sound of a gong (even a small gong will overwhelm a room with its sound). Gong's are large. Very large. When you go with "gong" rather than "bell" it is because you want to bring into your text largeness.

Now, above, in line 3, you have "wherein the sun, minuscule": a very large thing brought down to tininess. Except that the ideation of "sun" is rarely to the purpose of largeness: it is either simply in identification of the circle in the sky, or to present the idea of light, or warmth (or other weather concepts), or other such as that. Unlike with "gong" and "bell," there is no natural and common comparative that attaches to "sun" an unavoidable or immediate connotation of largeness. If you want to ue "sun" to carry in the idea of largeness, you generally have to establish that intent through the text. Also, in this poem, "sun" is being used literally: the sun is visible in the dead bird's eye. But "gong" is being used metaphorically. There is no gong.

But, now that we say that, if gong is metaphoric, what is its purpose? What is it carrying into the poem?

First, notice that in line 8 you have "squint": the only word or phrase I see in the poem that is connected to "tiny gong." And yet it is about tininess, not largeness. Nor about sound. After line 8 you have the confusing "while the red arm of a wound, its wing will / not veer, never, except into a closer far." I have no problem with "closer far"; the "while" phrase, however, creates all kind of problems. Looking beyond the semantic issues, I read the lines as being about the deadness of the bird. Then there is the jump to remembering Katherine, which concludes — which is pulled into the ideation of the poem — with "Some things you can never hold," which I read as tying back into the deadness — or, more accurately, the absence and or brevity of life — of the bird.

So what about "gong"? It is a metaphoric insertion into the poem. But does it feed the poem? Does its energies enter into a unity with the energies of the rest of the poem? If it doesn't, then it is disrupting that unity and those energies. And that is the point, here. With literature, and especially with poetry, you have to pay attention to how your words interact with the rest of the poem. If it is not part of the poem, if it is not creating energies in unity with the rest of the poem, it is not merely empty calories (so to speak): it is creating conflict. A good reader will see "gong" and want to do something with it, something that will increase the aesthetic energies of the poem-as-a-whole. If there are no energies to create, the reader has a dead spot — dead pixels on the screen, as it were, which does effect the viewing of the image on the screen. Yes, "gong" helps to create the nice sound-play in the line. But, this is not Dada, nor is this poem solely for the purpose of sound: ideation is central to the poem. And gong is generally used twith the intent of either bringing in a cultural reference or bringing in the idea of largeness, and to no trivial degree.

For example, what if "gob" was used instead?

glances: mine, and its—gone, though a tiny gob
of light still lingers, one I must squint to see,

There is no entrance of any largeness, the g sounds are preserved, and the b of "gob" is as aurally innocuous to the line as is the ng of "gong" (if not more benficial, with ending the line with a solid but unintrusive b). Plus, "gob" brings in the idea of being unformed, or, in context, of a thing having lost its form, which would fit well with the coming remembrance of what once was but no longer is.

So I leave it to you: is "gong" successful or detrimental?

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