Monday, November 12, 2007

Basic Poetic(s) Question(s)--The Visual Ear

In a review of Mary Jo Bang's The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, Donna Stonecipher raises the/a key poetic(s) question for ekphrastic poetry: "Must I know the work of art to “get” the poem? How much am I missing if I don’t know it?" In other terms, can/does the poem stand on its own and does that matter. Stonecipher rightly describes ekphrasis as "a wonderfully elastic process" and suggests that "Only an art fiend (and Bang herself) would know all the artworks in question, but Bang is so meticulous that this fact doesn’t detract from the pleasures of the poems. Reading her work is such an intensely visual experience, in fact, that trying to keep one picture in mind while being presented with picture after picture in the poems would be pretty much impossible. "

So the spinning and confusion and pleasures of visual discovery in language make the poems, at least for Stonecipher. She
traces the means of discovery in Bang's work and concludes "that the poems proceed as much by sound as by sight. One uses one’s 'visual ear' to read her poems. Puns and double entendres turn into images. Images cede themselves to sonic grandeur. It is this high-stakes game of the visual and the aural, and their interplay as in a whirling two-butterfly mating dance, that give Bang’s poems their particular charge."

Here's the book's title poem, based on a piece by Odilon Redon.

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity--Mary Jo Bang

We were going toward nothing
all along. Honing the acoustics,
heralding the instant
shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle

to plexus, morning to late,
lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done
to overdone. And all against
a pet store cacophony, the roof withstanding

its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still,
ambition to otherwise and a forest of wishes.
Meager the music floating over.
The car in the driveway. In the P-lot, or curbside.

A building overlooking an estuary,
inspired by a lighthouse.
Always asking, Has this this been built?
Or is it all process?

Molecular coherence, a dramatic canopy,
cafeteria din, audacious design. Or humble.
Saying, We ask only to be compared to the ant-
erior cruciate ligament. So simple. So elegant.

Animated detail, data from digital.
But of course there is also longstanding evil.
The spider speaking
to the fly, Come in, come in.

Overcoming timidity. Overlooking consequence.
Finally ending
with the future. Take comfort.
You were going nowhere. You were not alone.

You were one
of a body curled on a beach. Near sleep
on a balcony. The negative night in a small town or part
of an urban abstraction.

Looking up
at the billboard hummingbird,
its enormous beak. There’s a song that goes . . .
And then the curtain drops.

Odilon Redon, The Eye Like a Strange Balloon
Mounts Toward Infinity, charcoal on paper, 1882

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