I watch the sunlight drip behind the straight
high chunk of office block. The avenue tenses,
like a face. It’s the blurred half-hour of non-alibis
when no one’s claim to be any place
might stick. Lobbies roll the sped-up film reels
of people through revolving doors, and collector
lanes circulate like lazy pin-wheels.
It’s the blurred half-hour of possibility, when
work’s the scapegoat we’ve stuffed away, like a gagged
and groaning body in a trunk, and the stranger who waits
there with a spade, in suspense, might be the life
we’re rooting for. Both are angry, and afraid.
David O’Meara is a poet I’ve read before, and with much enthusiasm. Last year I blogged briefly about him along with Shane Rhodes. O’Meara has published two books, Storm Still and The Vicinity, to quiet acclaim, and I am happy to say he has a new book coming out with Brick in 2008. O’Meara works in a tradition that a whole posse of young Canadian poets are working in. It’s fruitful territory, and one that is often championed with an unfortunately combative and myopic vision. It’s a field that sees the offspring of a kind of McKay/Lilburn/Zwicky engaging with the more formal, canonical poetry world, one-eye on either mid-century America, or England (which for all anyone gets to see of British poetry might as well still be in mid-century England), and one eye on Canada’s version of new formalism.
What I like about O’Meara is that while he is clearly working in and responding to certain traditions, he also has something to say. Something to say that is of interest, that even if it is focused on the quotidian, has emotional and formal weight:
Silence is not tonelessnes; listen.
Untie yourself from straight lines
He doesn’t rely on linguistic prowess, the lithe turning of a corner in a poem, as many poets do. And while I can’t say all of the poems in here are excellent, or have a sense of polish (and this is a poetry that is going for polish), I can say that there is more honesty here, and more striving, something real, grittier than much of the poetry of this school.
Political poetry is something that we are admonished not to do. One of the saddest poetry moments I witnessed was Paul Hoover warning a group of students at Rutgers post 9/11 off of political poetry. Innovative poetry is also something we are warned off of. In an interview with O’Meara Michael Ondaatje expresses his doubts, saying that Neruda’s poem about “Salt” is more political than his most earnest political tracts…that is probably true. But clearly, emphatically, on the whole, I disagree. If our poets don’t take risks who will?
But I digress…or do I? Maybe this connects to a more important question, and that is the engaged “I.” Here’s a snippet from O’Meara’s “Letter to Auden” in The Vicinity:
Well then, sir, I thought of you again just recently:
New Year’s ticked in with scant fuss,
The so-called millennium, hyped
To bring disaster—not quite the end of us
But certainly an indisputable wholesale mess.
A political poem? Or are we talking about a conscious self in the poem? Certainly this “I” isn’t overly concerned only with beauty and self-flaunting. Nor is it necessarily concerned with the tidy “tucking in,” we find in so much of this school of quietude poetry. Though it is concerned with poetry itself, and in addressing Auden, also addresses the reader. The poem ends:
Perhaps I need forced rhyme, or idle chit-chat entre nous
To guess what Dante knew
Justifies champagne: something about love,
Interest, praise, and gratitude,
Or all of the above.
Like the poets of this particular school O’Meara is concerned with sound too. Here from, “Glass:”
Whatever it is you see, you see. But see,
it’s not like that. That is what’s beyond here, and here
is this. And whatever lies between is glass.
All you can see is what’s perfectly clear, though clear
to say it’s never quite there, like air or innuendo. Like
speaking in the past tense…