Thursday, May 12, 2011

Reprint: In Defence of Poesy

This article first appeared on the blog That Shakespearean Rag. The link is

Elisabeth Harvor is a poet and novelist. Her most recent book of poetry is An Open Door to the Landscape. Below, she shares with TSR some sense impressions about poetry, poetic imagery, and poetry’s lifeblood.

Words on an Abandoned Church, Feral Roses, a Bird Stepping out of a Limousine, and Troubled Eyes

In the liner notes for 1975′s The Best of Leonard Cohen, an album that includes his classic song “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Cohen says that the raincoat actually belonged to him, not to someone else. (And not, as we’ve always suspected, to his brother, his killer.)
I had a good raincoat then, a Burberry I got in London in 1959. Elizabeth thought I looked like a spider in it. That was probably why she wouldn’t go to Greece with me. It hung more heroically when I took out the lining, and achieved glory when the  frayed sleeves were repaired with a little leather. Things were clear. I knew  how to dress in those days. It was stolen from Marianne’s loft in New York sometime during the early seventies. I wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.
The above quote is itself poetry, intimate and declarative and revelatory in an offhand sort of way. When I got into the habit of bringing a tape of “Famous Blue Raincoat” to the poetry workshops I used to lead at York University in the late 1980s and at Concordia University in the 1990s, I wanted my students to particularly listen for the pause between the socially grateful “thanks, for the trouble you took …” and the stunning free fall to the inspired surprise of “from her eyes.” (The lines in their entirety read: “Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good so I never tried.”)

Much later, the swerve of the thrillingly anthropomorhpic poem about a heron walking out of a river through the tall river grasses appeared on a Guardian U.K. website: “Long-legged, she steps out of her limousine of weeds.” I’ve long since lost the name of the writer, and if anyone can supply it, I would be extremely grateful to know it.

Then there’s the opening of Plath’s great “Morning Song”: “One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and  floral.”

And a finally, in the most recent issue of Fiddlehead, a poem by Bruce Taylor called “Left  Behind,” which contains the following lyrical but ominous evocation of  an abandoned church in deep country, “There it stood, at the far end of our  road / in a damp and bosomy luxuriance / of lilacs and feral roses.”

Jolts, swerves, contradictions, anthropomorphisms, riffs on illogic … These – for  me – are the lifeblood of poetry.