November 17, 2011

We finished reading John Hodgen, the last 8 poems in GRACE. Very funny, excellent stuff, though we noted in class that the last poem about slaves had perhaps the small undercurrent of New England moral superiority that only manumission can give them (at least until the great liberal abortionist--which made him an honorary New Englander--, Bill Clinton, declared his war on cigarettes).

It was a fine poem, and finally I don't think it fails on any level. I loved Hodgen's work very much, heartily recommend it. However, the Holy Spirit works in strange ways--because the next book we picked up was Levertov's THIS GREAT UNKNOWING. There the moral high ground routine reaches fitting proportions. (Great Northwest version . . . The Holy Spirit, It would have us know, swings with ease from coast to coast, from one false high ground to the next.)

But before that let me say that I found the poem "Patience" a work of genius. Brilliant use of metaphor, stunning, surprising, and deep as the earth itself. But the first seven poems fail for the same reason that her poem about hand-holding around a nuclear power plant in an earlier volume fails: a real lack of humility. Gnosis rules here: those who know just a little better, those who can only be so because of their large and very generous green hearts. Now I love plants as much as anyone; heck I used to talk to trees as a kid. But they are not as valuable as people. They cannot think or love. Her perspective made me grieve. She is a brilliant poet, but a fool.

Are we all fools? Yes, and that's largely the point. Jesus alone is good, is God; we cannot claim any higher ground. We can only claim Him, what He has given, who He is. Hodgen doesn't fall into that trap in GRACE, at least as far as I can remember. (And I think he's a pretty liberal guy--don't know him.)


We were reading Frost this morning in my Poetic Forms class. (The above were in Contemporary Christian Poetry.) And boy, is he a great poet. Such a wit, a comedian, but darker too. He can turn on a dime as far as tone goes, and you don't mind because you so trust the voice. (You go, man.) A master, no question. In "Birches" he break in with obtrusive metaphor, colloquial asides, metaphysical concerns, meta-poetry, absolutely stunning imagery, and yet the thing has such unity, that comic mastery.

Poetry! A place where you can breathe.