By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Poetry's refrains and introspections, its way of repeating itself in sound or idea, with each recurrence varying, link the art to a certain kind of thought. The word "reflection" can be a synonym for thought and also for a close resemblance. The way thought beholds itself is an important subject: Self-awareness, painful or ecstatic, is a central human experience.
Mary Kinzie's new book reflects on itself and on poetry in a spirit that is engaging, expansive, venturesome, sometimes comic or surreal. In a sequence about T.S. Eliot in California with his love interest Emily Hale, the couple visits the In-N-Out hamburger chain, as do other poets, including Emily Dickinson and Henry Thoreau.
Kinzie includes many prose sections. In one of these, she uses the phrase "windless, bony dusk" then reflects that the phrase is too showy and "pleased with itself" for prose, though it might be appropriately "chastened" in a poem she has not written. A few pages later, the phrase comes back (without its comma), in a poem with a prose afterword:LOST POEMS LIKE
those streets down which
sun never falls
stories cloud up
with a god onlooking
twisting about the sky
The poems to burn through into code
like an opera in silver
When death begins
the muscles under the teeth and jaw
disintegrate down to the chest
That is death that
the flame goes on rotting
in the windless bony dusk
The last phrase is no longer a bas relief standing out, polished, "rather good," above the smooth ground. It is desolate. Anger watches it. Fear drains it. Spirit is already gone from it. It is an afterwards, not an apex. Nothing follows.
This exquisite self-consciousness rises far beyond the merely literary. The poem considers the resemblances among various kinds of absence: sunless streets, lost ideas, unwritten poems, death itself. The tone is not melodramatic. The feeling of "It is an afterwards, not an apex" and "Nothing follows" is analytical though not dispassionate. There is even a hint of satisfaction, a suggestion of the aesthetic principle that "nothing follows" because nothing needs to be added. The word for that tone of voice, weighing its own formulations along with their object, is "reflective." Mary Kinzie's achievement is to make the reflective into something lyrical, as well.
Robert Pinsky's most recent book of poetry is "Gulf Music."
(Mary Kinzie's poem "Lost Poems Like" is from her book "California Sorrow: Poems." Knopf. Copyright ¿ 2007 by Mary Kinzie.)