Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sometimes a poem works by implying a story, suggesting in a few speakable or singable words what a fictional prose narrative might stretch over dozens or hundreds of pages. That is part of the thrill provided by a classic anonymous quatrain:

Western wind, when will thou blow,

The small rain down can rain?

Christ, if my love were in my arms,

And I in my bed again!

Instead of detailed description of the two characters -- the mission or circumstance that separates the couple, their garments and relatives and dwellings and histories -- we have this rapid movement from the yearned-for wind and rain, leaping from the exclamation or prayer ("Christ") to the even more yearned-for reuniting in bed. The poem skims across the high points of what a novel or movie would build up carefully, at length.

It's not hard to imagine the 12-page short story, thick with characters' names and scenes and dialogue, that would be a comparable alternative to "Cape," by Dana Goodyear, from her first book Honey and Junk . Instead of the streets in Wellfleet or Hyannis, or descriptions of red-nosed drunken uncles in swimming trunks, we receive a flash of essences:

Take me to your sleeping porch!

Cross-breeze. Swiss dot. View.

We'll try for some rude

healthful pure,

do what young people do.

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