Friday, August 21, 2020


 At face value, the poem "About My Mother" By Adam Zagajewski appealed to me;I like the idea of the rushing stream of words, breathless and minimally punctuated in their rush to the the last crystallizing image; when it's done well, when the subject catches a little considered incident of experience and riffs on it briskly, quickly, ending, finally, on a surprising note in the run, that nuance you didn't know existed between the words you'd use to objectively outline your emotion, the effect is exhilarating.

When it works , that is.The secret , I think, is creating the feeling that you, the writer, was just as surprised by the ending as you hope the reader will be. When it doesn't work, the effect is a desperate assembling of random clauses, unconsidered, a piling on of things that happen to be in the room of memory one is rummaging through for something to write about. "About My Mother" reads as just that sort of poem, something composed in order to have written something, a short form limning of a problematic relationship with one's mother. The narrator recalls things said, meals made, silent gestures in response to his presence in the same room , presented in a tone that does not quite mute an otherwise undercurrent of anger and regret; you know where this is going, you know the destination this poem has in mind for you--

when she
compared herself to Beethoven going deaf,
and I said, cruelly, but you know he
had talent, and how she forgave everything
and how I remember that, and how I flew from Houston
to her funeral and couldn't say anything
and still can't.

This is meant to take our breath away , to elicit a surprised gasp, to make us feel someone had just walked over the spot we will eventually be buried, but it comes as no surprise. It's unreasonable to think this poem as calculated; the last image was conceived first and everything else was composed afterward, the delivery system for the punch line. The details that come before are a conspicuous set up for this melodramatic ending; the reader who has done the due diligence and read and studied the confessional tendencies of Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath might find this template familiar, like a route to work they take five days a week on public transportation. The poet's mute regret at the funeral is merely the last stop through a scenario that scarcely deserves remarking upon.

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