Today is a poetry kind of Friday and I just so happen to have some poetry to talk about. How very convenient! I finished This Sharpening by Ellen Doré Watson last night. I mentioned this book before not long after I began reading it. I wasn’t very keen on it then and I finished it thinking a little better of it, but not able to say that I really liked it.
Watson is the Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College. She writes a fine poem. Her poems tend toward what one might call an academic style. This is not bad, just not the style of poetry I prefer. Still there were several poems I liked. Here is the last half of “Petals in the Dirt:”
When you bring me
tenderness, it looks like one more thing
I don’t have time for. Maybe when it comes
to love, the happily long-married are the biggest
fools. I’m fervent but off-and-on about my roses
–how many of us are delirious when the twenty-sixth
blossom does its gorgeous thing? I wonder
if when I get home those petals will still be
luminous and melting in the dirt. I’m thinking
maybe I need them. I’m saying what would I do
without your mouth?
I like how in this poem there seem to be two things going on but they all revolve around bitterness and desire so the roses are themselves but say something about the relationship too.
A good many of the poems in the book center around the end of a long marriage. There are many that speak of bitterness and desire, but also there is anger and betrayal and sorrow. There are lines like these from “Ghost Disc:”
Sometimes my name must fall from your lips
I think I will change it
I am changing it
Will she keep you? What bears keeping?
Other poems are to her daughter. An example from “Daughter: an Apology:”
I’m sorry not to be every moment tongue
in groove, boot and lace, all you ever need.
As personal as these poems are, there are some that look out onto a broader landscape and address the war in Iraq or human flaws. The poem I liked best in the whole book is among these less personal ones and is called “Our Species Alone.” It is short so I will give you the whole thing:
I swipe a rag across each leaf thick with gray,
thinking dirty house/bad person, thinking how
we tame everything, or try to, and wonder at our
success with dogs–how few, relatively speaking,
bite the hand that leashes them, how they’re no
relation when they do, our species alone possessing
fire and euphemism, putting that dog “down”
or “to sleep,” since of course our teeth don’t flash
like that, but how many of us have watched a kid
poke a toad with a stick, watched a boy ride
his dog, a woman humiliate her child, and done
nothing, thinking glass houses, thinking stones.
The poem is certainly still personal, but it goes beyond the singularly personal. I also like how she plays on cliches, changes them just a little, “leashes” instead of “feeds.” But they also serve to say more beyond the poem itself, adding depth and richness.
While Watson does not make it onto my favorite poets list, she is far from bad. I can appreciate her style of poetry and even like some of them, but overall, she is not my cup of tea.