One week, a poem up for discussion described a bucolic riverside setting and the doings of villagers who lived nearby.
The all-too-familiar motif of incessantly-nagging women raised a few questions with me: Why are they chiding? Who are they chiding? Is their disapproval warranted, or are they scolding simply because they are women and it is to be expected? When I called attention to this, someone else in the group countered that to change this line would be to sacrifice the alliteration of the initial consonants and the chiasmus suggesting a contradiction or parallel between the children wading and the women chiding.
What good is aesthetic beauty in a poem if it fails to tell the truth about human beings? And yet, it was undeniable that the sound play was skillful, and that the poem would lose something without it. I put the quandary out of my mind, taking comfort in the fact that in any case, the poem would never make it beyond the confines of our modest circle — in spite of one well-wrought line, it was a mediocre poem, written by an unknown poet, that in all likelihood would never see the light of day. But upon reading New Impressions of Africa , lo and behold, the same question resurfaced, with vastly more at stake.
How do we weigh the benefits that can be reaped when reading a master of the form against the great damage that can be done through his images that fail to tell the whole truth — about human beings on the whole; about certain groups in particular? Presumably the form of a poem — rhyme scheme, meter, structure — is its skin, while content runs deeper.
But any reader of poetry knows that the relationship between form and content is symbiotic, that the two are interlinked. In the same vein, it cannot be true that Roussel expresses a skin-deep bigotry as a vehicle for carrying the poem forward while simultaneously respecting humanity on a deeper level: one inevitably leads to the other. New Impressions of Africa is made up of four cantos, each of which begins by establishing the setting in Egypt and then interrupting itself with a parenthetical thought. This thought is in turn interrupted by another, until we are faced with layer upon layer of parentheses.
Mark Ford explains in his introduction:. The poem, in its original French, is written in rhyming alexandrine twelve-syllable couplets alternating between masculine and feminine rhymes. Ford does not keep the original rhyme or the meter in his translation — to do so would probably be impossible — but the non-francophone reader must trust that these are done magnificently well. The genius at work: the rhymes are inventive, the alexandrines flawless, the couplets neatly packaged. The poem is written as if the reader were in a moving vehicle and the characters flitting in and out of view were trees and lampposts.
Each person, infatuated with self-love, when he proudly has Someone take his photograph, keeping as still as he can, —Wondering, even if he moves only by breathing, Whether on the gelatin photographic plate, in the red light, In the developing fluid he will appear blurred, —. Roussel does not draw a convincing similarity between the man sitting still for his photograph and the people who follow. A new mother wonders about her child with hope and expectation, while a struggling writer wonders about his lack of commercial success with frustration and despair.
The people portrayed in New Impressions of Africa do not behave like people, do not think like people. The function of the people in the poem is to be looked at, not to shed light on human experience, not to inspire emotion on the part of the reader. They are mere devices, employed for the purpose of drawing out a larger concept — in this instance, that of wondering and what is wondered about.
The problems presented by shallow portrayals of human beings are compounded when we encounter such portrayals of certain types of human beings. Here, then, is an example of the anti-Semitism Ferry says is only skin-deep. The trouble is that such an expression can, and inevitably does, undergo a seamless transformation from a skin-deep sketch to something more problematic. Once a person has been rendered as an object on display, he no longer has a voice with which to explain himself, and the author has the space to judge him in his stead, correctly or not.
Both this and the previous statement describe physical features, but in the latter, unlike the former, the feature in question is not only described but interpreted to have a deeper meaning. Though the latter passage actually precedes the former in the poem, the relation is clear: once we have set a group apart for their physical characteristics, it is then permissible to attribute to them moral and emotional qualities.
In light of the twentieth century, this feels as if it need not be said at all — but it does, often, anywhere we see such objectification. I am John Galliano! Galliano slid effortlessly to a condemnation of her very flesh, and a wish for her death. Every poem, of course, need not be a call for social justice.
However, I would argue that a poem does have a responsibility to do justice to its own subject matter, the people portrayed therein, and that its integrity is as important as its structure. The aging woman is reduced to a product of decreased value, a faded flower, a grotesque caricature — a symbol without emotion or personality. One asks oneself, resentfully, if this overused stereotype is worth the wait of 30 pages.
The trouble with all this is that when a poem limits the emotional range, scope, and abilities of its characters, it also places such limits on the readers themselves. Would-be writers — given a steady dose of literature that assumes limits on their capacity because they are members of a particular group — become the collateral damage. The day turns to black, The moon drowns in the fallen leaves, And my soul rests beneath the seas.
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Policar rated it liked it. I received this book from Bayou Brew Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Where to start? I guess I should start with, I'm not big on books filled with poetry. Regardless of the type of poetry it is. Ash X'Connor has laid her heart on every page of this book. The poetry is raw and uncensored and will stir up quite a few memories in the reader who undoubtedly has gone through similar things that this author has.
Even if I'm not a fan or poetry, I am a huge fan of truth. There's nothing truer I received this book from Bayou Brew Publishing in exchange for an honest review. There's nothing truer than a heart that's been used, battered and bruised. The poems are a far cry from the normal sonnets and odes that sing of love's true touch, these dark pieces speak of the aftermath that consumes the human heart and soul after the sun fades and the clouds move in. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes real poetry, to anyone who's gone through heartbreak, and to all who have survived it.
I did spot a handful of errors. They aren't major barely noticeable but most already know I have a hawk-eye for errors. I give this book 3 of 5 paws May 09, Melissa Weeks rated it it was amazing.
Feb 25, Casse NaRome rated it it was amazing. There is something therapeutic on these pages. This is one of the truest and most honest poetry books I've read in a while. Each line pulls a powerful emotion from you. I believe we can all relate to an emotion from one of these poems. I was impressed and blown away by the feelings in Ash's words.
Feb 25, Sandra Bischoff rated it really liked it. Skin Deep is a collection of dark emotional poetry. She infuses every verse with powerful feeling. I did.