Friday, December 03, 2004

New: Barbara Guest's "LEICA"

Yes, it's back to blogging about poetry, which I have missed immensely. Fortunately, I have two essays due next week, which gives me motivation for exploring two new poems of my choice (as long as they are contemporary American poems).

I'm going to examine Linda Hogan's poem "Nothing" for one essay--a beautiful poem; see the "Linda Hogan" post to read it--and for the second, I've chosen the following poem by Barbara Guest (of the New York School, like john Ashbery):


Others about the embarking
have reasons.

I holding shreds
carpenter leavings.

Motions in the wind,
wave rolling

disturb sad plots,
disturbing sad plots.

Desolate places
on the grass
where the birds are a light,

Gather in midsummer,
wood shingles,
visionary house.

Taking glances
from tree to eave,

bicyclist, car,
dark green spots

for the movement
of window.

Mowing bitter edges, too.

It passes,
whatever it is.

Day divided by night.
Corn ears.

Whichever decides.

Constructed of film
Day or night.

-Barbara Guest

All right. The first step for me in doing a close reading of this poem was to look up the meaning of the title. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, that the LEICA was the first practical 35 mm camera (Leitz Camera). Now that I know that, it is impossible for me to read this poem without focusing on imagery, particularly the still imagery provided by a camera shot. "Embarking"--on a journey--at first I think of getting on a boat, especially with "Motions in the wind / wave rolling." But I think of this as a metaphor for a life journey (sounds flakey, but there it is); the speaker believes other people "have reasons" for living, as if the have found meaning or purpose, but the speaker has only "carpenter leavings" to go by--bits or shards of meaning that she has collected, that don't seem to fit together, or are only the bits left over from artists who really create something original. Maybe the speaker believes she has nothing original to create, only the "leavings' of other artists.

"Desolate places on the grass / where birds are a light." Now this sounds like a picture--the nature kind, where the birds are not "alight," the are the light-colored specs in an otherwise gray, perhaps black and white photo. These "desolate places" "Gather in midsummer, / wood shingles, / visionary house." Imagine a photographer going out in the nice weather to do nature photography, "taking glances" with her camera "from tree to eave / bicyclist, car," "for the movement of window"--the release of the shutter? "It passes"--these moments caught with the camera are always just a temporary moment that moves on.

"Sums. / Day divided by night:" implies the dark/light of a film negative. "Constructed of film / splices. / Day or night." My feeling is that the speaker views her life as a series of delineated moments which continually pass, but do not seem to connect. They are "divided," despite adding up to the "sum" of a life." Instead of finding some unifying meaning to these moments, these experiences, she feels she has only a collection of of scenes that she does not even truly experience, but rather feels she is viewing through a lense, perhaps the inescapable filter we all, as humans, strain our experiences through. The speaker, however, does seem to think that there are others who do "have reasons," who do seem some unifying meaning to their lives, who do not need or have the LEICA lense, or at least are not disturbed or distracted by it.

I can't get over the imagery of the speaker standing, holding shards of "carpenter leavings" in her hand, bits of life that cannot be molded into any one thing, and in fact did not originate with her. Sad and fascinating.

1 comment:

Lorianne said...

Greetings from another NH blogger. (Okay, you live in Mass, but you're going to school in the Granite State!) I found you on BlogExplosion...congrats on your NaNo novel! Have you shared anything about the plot/writing process on your blog? Although I'd die before sharing my so-called novel with anyone, I did post bits & pieces & talked a little about the process.