Monday, January 23, 2006

Reading Stephen Dunn

I finally got around this morning to reading some of the Stephen Dunn collection (New and Collected Poems: 1974-1994) I bought in October. My first foray into it back then left me lukewarm. But reading in the morning is always a good thing – the clear mindedness of it. Anyway, I read about six or seven poems and all but one (“Insomnia”) touched me in one way or another.

The first poem I opened to, “As It Moves” took the poetic leap from the ordinary into the strange, making a connection that seems unlikely but soon makes perfect sense. These are some of my favorite kinds of poems. You have to read the whole poem to appreciate where he takes you, but here are the first lines to give you an idea:

Last week I saw a child
riding an escalator, terrified
when the steps disappeared
and I thought once again
about primitives and the next moment,

the chasm that exists….

I also read two list-like poems, “Checklist” and “Corners,” both of which took interesting turns. I think “Checklist,” from a series of poems about work, was the more interesting, though “Corners” also comes to a satisfying end.

The poem “To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again” uses humor (very dry) to spin a metaphor with a tarantula and digger wasp. Dunn says one would expect the tarantula to be the villain, while the digger wasp seems “honest” and “hard-working,” but it’s people who gave these creatures those evocative names, and there is no villain, only nature. A sweet one, and true.

Two of the poems I read were for/about his mother. One, “That Saturday without a Car,” is about having to run 5 miles to his mother’s house the day she dies. I love this bit –

“I think she’s dead”
my brother said, and hung up

as if with death
language should be mercifully approximate…

The other poem about his mother, “The Routine Things Around the House,” is wonderful and my favorite of those I read. It starts out with him saying how he’ll have to write a death poem for his mother and ends up recounting an anecdote about asking her when he was twelve to see her breasts. It's a sweet tribute, but not sentimental. This is the poem that’s been with me all morning, thinking of my own son and his fascination with my breasts, an extremely modest affair, and still .... !


Bob Hoeppner said...

I also have Dunn's New and Selected, as well as Different Hours. Don't remember much about them, but on flipping through them they seem kinda prosey. Engaging content, though. I'll take a second look at the ones you noted.

SarahJane said...

hi bob,
interesting you found them prosey - i quite like them and his style, what I've read so far anyway.

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