Friday, May 18, 2007

Two views from the supermarket

1. I was saying to somebody yesterday that though I haven't the fiction-writing gene, there is one plot I would spin out if I could.

The poet Randall Jarrell died in 1965. One night about dusk, he was hit by a car on the 15-501 bypass near where we live. The official finding called it an accident. However, he had walked out of N.C. Memorial Hospital, where he was in treatment for a hand injury following a suicide attempt. There's great debate about what his intentions were, but that's not what the story would be about, or not mainly. The story would be about the person whose fate it was to hit him. I would make it a woman, a housewife, perhaps a lawyer's wife, perhaps she was on her way in to town to deliver some papers to her husband, or to have dinner with him. Till this sad encounter she had never heard of Randall Jarrell or given much thought to poetry. Now she is compelled to read his work, in which she finds resonances that are true and unsettling, especially in this poem--and the story goes (but where?) from there.

Next Day

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

[read the rest]


2. Wednesday was Adrienne Rich's birthday. Over many years of writing and activism, Rich helped create the feminist revolution that allows her to stand in a very different position, relative to the detergent aisle, from Jarrell's character. "Address," a poem she wrote in the aftermath of September 11, moves from supermarket to the incomprehensibility of the world--

I who came just for milk am speaking it : though
wanting to stand somewhere beyond
this civic nausea

: desiring not to stand apart
like Jeffers giving up on his kind loving only inhuman creatures
because they transcend ideology in eternity as he thought

[read the rest]

-- to the baffling incommunicability of how we feel, what we think, what to do.

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