Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, February 10, 2008

A strong tradition in poetry concentrates on the precisely detailed description of the natural world, with emotion seeming to come from the narrated, visual experience itself, rather than from the words that report it. That illusion of a feeling that emerges directly from the facts depends upon seemingly objective or cool terms and comparisons -- for example, in this poem from Elise Partridge's new book, Chameleon Hours, an argyle sock, a bubble, a drowsy magistrate:


One morning, on the mud floor of the barn,

we found a snake glittering in the sun --

ten inches patterned like an argyle sock,

black diamonds on gray. Puffing beside his neck

was a red bubble. No--wait--then we saw

he had a frog clamped in his propped jaw.

The bubble was blood. The frog sat elbows-out,

inscrutable, a drowsy magistrate

hearing a plea. His skin was mottled brown,

dark mud splattered on light. His eyes were open,

gold-rimmed, fixed. He blinked; the eyes looked moist.

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