My once weekly series of poetry and poets has become a whole lot less frequent. But having read Dan Chiasson's new volume of poems published this year: Where's the Moon, There's the Moon I couldn't resist. The volume's centerpiece is the 27-stanza title work - full of paradox - at times playful, at times very dark. That work's title suggests a story one might read to a child, but it is not childish or child like. Its events, such as they are, include a child reading an animal book, but its gist is more brooding, existential. Chiasson the father talking to his son about being both a father and son himself. A book for his son, and in that way a children's book. It appears to come from a feeling of having become unmoored.
If I look to the opposite shore and greet myself there,Its lines, in their length and in their song-like declaration of 'I,' have a Whitmanesque feel. Each stanza is a single long sentence. Like many of Chiasson's poems, he seems to be talking to the reader right off the page.
if I call out to myself come here
and watch myself laboriously construct from shore-things
a boat, and watch myself over the waters come rowing,
but, crossing the midpoint between shores,
out in the middle of the colorless lake,
no longer approaching, no longer coming closer,
disappear, where am I now, has my boat capsized?
bear with me while I try to convey what I want to convey:Rare vocabulary and obtuse symbols are not his modus operandi however, these poems flirt, perhaps purposefully or perhaps as a result of where they come from in the poet, with more contradiction, he quotes Yeats, offers passages that are resistant, at first, to any direct explicative translation, they are more enigmatic, more after capturing feeling, more obscure than his previous ones. They require the reader to peer around corners, meaning is not packaged and ready for consumption right off the page. I don't feel comparisons to other writers are always fair, but the title poem had very much the feeling of something by Pablo Neruda, which surprised me given the previous work of Chiasson I have read, but I offer that comparison most appreciatively. I feel like I am continuing to mine new things from these poems as I read them over.
my father's distance and yet the tendency of distant things
to become central...
I am not going to offer the title work in its entirety, as I often have with poems in the past, just that excerpt above. I encourage you instead to buy the book, because I doubt the market for contemporary works of poetry is all that swift. I'll offer instead one of the volumes other works, Thread. Laid out simply on the page, it is a work of straightforward, declarative diction on the one hand, but complex rhythms bury themselves within larger structures, as in his play with the second, third and fourth lines. The second line, for example, could offers either his denial or his declaration of himself as an anchor and yet, if you obey the line-break, then he is frayed, and then he exemplifies this by breaking his line of thought with the parenthetical phrase "and this I feel perpetually," ending with the notion that he ought to make himself clear. Yet somehow, he has. This is a self-reflective poem, but a funny one too, I think. In addition, here is a good recent interview with Chiasson from moreintelligentlife.com. and here is my other post on some of his earlier poems.
I lack the rigor of a lightning bolt,
the weight of an anchor. I am
Frayed where it would be highly useful -
and this I feel perpetually-to make a point.
I think if I can concentrate I might turn sharp.
Only, I don't know how to concentrate -
I know the look of someone concentrating,
indistinguishable from nearsightedness.
It is hard for the others to be near me,
my silly intensity shuffling
a zillion insignia of interiority.
Being near me never made anyone a needle.