Two things came into conjunction recently as I was reading Paul Legault’s excellent new book of poetry, The Other Poems.
First, I was captivated by the voice Legault achieves. It’s as if Beckett was trying to write Berryman’s Dream Songs as reported by Kenneth Koch. It’s antic, therefore, and appears to be evading overt earnestness, even as the content continues to fold in all manner of attitudes and characters. The Other Poems picks at the darkness that surrounds the vaudevillian spectacle, or it simply presents it. Or it talks with it. Or lets it talk.
The second, was that these are formal poems. They have fourteen lines, so there’s a sonnet echo, but further than that, there’s something that they’re doing that seems repeatable, a form. I tried to do a rhetorical analysis of some as I was reading, and came up with a few stabs at the form, but it wasn’t until I got to the end of the book and saw that Legault wrote a version of one of the poems as an illustration of the form, that it became (somewhat) clear. (As you will see it's a rather antic set of rules.) As all good poems do, many of the poems in the collection violate (I think) the form in minor ways, but the form stands, and offers variability within structure.
I’m interested in what would/will happen when and if other poets take up the form, especially someone from a different aesthetic position. I’d really like to see that.
Here’s his illustration of/directions for the form:
[TITLE PRESENTING A SITUATION USED TO MULTIPLY THE LINES OF THOUGHT]
[Prepositional statement opening into the continuationof the second line to the end of the first sentence]
SUBJECT: (descriptor) [Statement of personal action]OBJECT: [Apology]
NEW THOUGHT: [Order
the ambient audience
addressed to perform a new action]IMPLIED SUBJECT: [Agreement]
MEDIATOR: [Question without interrogative punctuation]FUTURE SUBJECT: [Directions
on how to place the verbal processes in relationship to the reader’s final adjustment of the text]
Here’s an example of how he interprets the form in a poem:
Then they made another garden but differently.
FRAGRANCE: There’s always something in color. TEXTURE: There are always bird walks.
SOUND: There are turkeys on these grounds
and José the Beaver
far off in the forest without thoughts.
AUDIO TOUR GUIDE: There is almost always
about two feet high
described on this phone-line.
In the future, or in three months, the plants will change, or else they will be about to have to.
THE FUTURE: Who senses me when I’m not there?
LAVENDER: The bed is knee-high
and lined with a single wall.
WANT: You want to grow your own food,
annihilating all that’s made, and live in Paradise alone.
And here’s another, because I like typing these poems out:
there are a lot of low expectations.
CELIBACY: People are like children. THINGS: We can always go wrong.
SOUTHERN PEOPLE: What I ain’t ain’t much.
A WET STRING: That’s what you sound like.
The landscape is holy if its braids take to water. The foam curls at the sea beast’s feet.
I don’t even know who you are most of the time. BEAR-CHANDRA: You were going to be me.
through the mud’s black speculum.
ORGANS: One thing at a time.
Nothing’s not normal. Never mind how you were thinking about not thinking about it.