Okay, we're back to it here at the EWN. Thanks to the many of you that offered thoughts, condolences, prayers, well wishes, etc. regarding the previous post--they were all greatly appreciated.
The following comes from Hesh Kestin:
by Linda Rodriguez
(Tia Chucha Press, 2009)
If poetry is to prose what dance is to commuting, why are poets marginalized as petty egotists who publish their precious lines in photo-less magazines with semi-precious names and circulations so limited the poet might be better advised to declaim his verses in the street? Parts of the answer: Poetry isn’t always easy on the reader, not least because in our time it does not have story on which to hang its art. In fact, most modern poets eschew not only plot –The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner written today would be sixteen lines of watery impressions—but accessibility.
I said most. Meet Linda Rodriguez, whose Heart’s Migration I keep re-reading. You should too.
This is poetry in the tradition of Homer, Auden and Dario: lines that take the reader on a wild ride. But rarely to the same destination. Though a great poem is clarity, it is also a monument to inconsistency, presenting such intensity that even the most faithful reader comes away as much bathed in ignorance as enlightened. When I was a foreign correspondent I could be deposited into the middle of Strangestan with total comprehension of the social and political vectors that had brought on the crisis I was supposed to cover: hell, I had been reading up on same since I’d boarded the Air Strangestan flight from London. A month later I was not so sure. What I thought was true couldn’t be: the facts were the same but reality was unsettlingly evolved. Similarly, read these poems by Rodriguez just once and you’re impressed; come back after Christmas and you’re frightened; again at Easter and you’re involved in an appreciation that can not be expressed in any words other than those of Rodriguez herself
Try this experiment. Read the following three times with weeks between each visit:
We set up an assembly line.
I heat the tortillas in manteca
after Crystal dips them in chile ancho
and drains them. Niles carries full plates
of hot tortillas to his father,
who rolls them around spoonfuls of filling.
When we’ve finished the hot, greasy work,
I pour the last of the sauce over neat rows
of stuffed tortillas, sprinkle them with cheese,
clean the stove and counters.
The kids help their father rinse plates and pans.
They don’t know this is the last time.
The cheese melts. Crystal
dances to “No More Lonely Nights” on the radio.
Niles and his dad joke and wrestle.
After grace, we sit before steaming plates.
The kids stuff their mouths, insult each other,
and laugh. We can’t avoid their eyes
forever. Their father and I stare
at each other across the table.
Of course recommending one poem is straightforward, uncomplicated and more or less free of risk: hell, a poem is maybe twenty lines, digestible in minutes, and anyway your friend –would you send a poem to anyone else?– is likely to feel about this particular slice of soul pretty much as you do. That’s practically the recipe for friendship. But recommending a collection of poems is something else. It’s not like recommending a visit to some romantic hotel in a foreign country –it’s recommending, in all of its complex inconsistencies, the entire foreign country.
One poem and we know our poet; a book and we’re dazed, tentative, confused.
That is why humans of our time are more likely to recommend novels. A novel is a self-contained world, but a collection of poems by the same poet can [and should] lead us to irresolution, not least because the poet has likely written these poems over years, in different situations, even in different stages of life. Typically the critic’s reaction to such a collection is “inconsistent.” And not in a good way.
So yeah, the same charge can be leveled about Heart’s Migration: it is inconsistent in its beauty, unresolved in its brilliance, and unsettling in its complexity. That is to say, it is beautiful, brilliant and unsettling. Going from poem to poem in this wildly diverse collection will undermine all certitude, not least because certitude is the enemy of all art. Questions will be left unanswered, and the closer you get to understanding who Linda Rodriguez is the further you will go on a Heart’s Migration of your own. So that in the end you will learn more about yourself than about the poet, which is why great poetry is dance, and all the rest just going about your business: Their father and I stare at each other across the table is not merely the heart-wrenching concluding line of a brilliant poem, but for the reader the beginning of a quiet journey of discovery –not of the poem, not of the poet, but of himself.
Hesh Kestin is the author of two titles: Based On a True Story, a trio of novellas, and The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, perhaps the best novel you didn't read in 2009 (yes, both published by Dzanc). This bio is written by Dan and was not supplied by Hesh. He's an incredible writer that you should be reading, per the above, is a great reader, and is truly a great guy as well. Look for his work as well as Linda's.