FAMILY POEMTIME WITH CARINA FINN: “INNITIATION” BY JOYELLE MCSWEENEY

by on Sep.12, 2012

Lately I have been reading a lot of poems, at least compared to the number of poems I read immediately after graduating from MFA, which was zero, almost. I felt nauseous from poems in the way that it took me six years to be able to drink Chambord again after losing a drinking game in college involving Chambord, Godiva Liquor, Aristocrat Vodka, and Natty Light.

When I started reading poems again I had to go very close but very far away. I read The Good Morrow several times a day. Donne is important to me because for a long time I was very devoted to his work, and in the midst of this long period of my life was the first summer I ever fell in love, I was living in Oxford and studying metaphysical poetry and spent two hours every morning in the cinematic vintage tub in my hall reading Joyce and smoking miniature cuban cigars out the bathroom window. That same summer I met for the first time a poet my own age outside of the context of a classroom workshop and we spent a lot of time at pubs drinking too many drinks and arguing, and that is the summer I learned how to read poems.

For a long time this summer I didn’t have any books at all except the third Hunger Games book which I lost before I finished. When I got my books back the first book I decided to read was The Commandrine and Other Poems because I have it but I had never read it. I have actually been reading it very slowly for most of the summer because I read it on the bus and now the train to or from work, or sometimes when I am outside smoking a cigarette and not writing a poem.

The lyrics in this book are odd and otherly precisely because they are lyrics; they present themselves as just other poems, just little pieces of form. Like topographic maps, what they do is illusory; if it cannot be intuited it can only be glossed.

What I learned from both Donne and drinking-about-poetry is that for argument to be productive it must first begin and then progress; progress should stop only at the point of surprise, which should exist for the sake of further initiation.

“Innitiation” has an immediate fault – the double-“n,” probably invisible to some readers, the obvious and purposeful error that is not, actually, an error at all, but a sign. The poem assumes immediate intimacy, “strolling on the petite meadow of your ass”. The frat-boy’s coupling of violence and admiration ease the reader into the factory, which makes form. Form sees its own beauty and makes more of itself and gets stuck in its own iterations. It drives itself crazy on purpose with thirst. The lovers that emerge mid-poem are awkward and dour because they are faulty; doubles.

Eventually they realize they’re just doing strange math, making infinite fractals that consume themselves to make more of themselves; it’s bulimic; it’s the way smoke rises in a swirling column from a lit cigarette, cancer; narcissus.

By the time one learns a lesson one is generally just this side of too jaded and reckless to benefit from it.

 

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