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Tony Hoagland on Layering

toniclark
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Joined: May 5th, 2006, 6:47 pm

November 4th, 2016, 10:52 am #1

Layering: Anne Carson
from Five Powers Poetry with Tony HoaglandPosted on Facebook, December 17, 2012
We expect poets to deliver us peculiar perspectives and intensities of perception, but we don't always see the intricate skillfulness with which such poems operate. Here's a nine-line poem by Ann Carson — typical, for her, which means it is full of small oddities of craft as well as perspective. "Strange Hour" has something in common with haiku, but it also has an element of the Confessionalist pitiable grimace, and it also has a moment of postmodernist meta-commentary. See if you can identify all three stylistic moments.
Strange Hour
3 a.m. cool palace roar of Oakland night.
Not even a siren then a siren far off.
Train passed a while ago now nothing.
Bare lightbulb in garage across the street who left it on.
Every sentence should contain a fact at least.
No one but myself ever seems to set foot on this balcony
strange to say.

Undertone of hatred I cannot eliminate
From my feelings of friendship for most people.

Clear at this hour.
Somehow Carson always makes the oddest things fit together, like ancient Greek philosophy and sadomasochism in a marriage (as she does in her book The Beauty of the Husband.)

In "Strange Hour" you can see a very haiku-like unit in the poem's first three lines. (You might also identify line four, standing independently, as a marvelously Basho kind of poem in itself.

Secondly, you can find the excitingly detached curtsey to postmodernist technique in line five, "Every sentence should contain a fact at least.", wherein the poet lectures herself about the rules of how to make a proper poem.
Thirdly, of course, the penultimate sentence, though it is spoken in a rather stoical manner, is a moment of rough, ruthless Confessionalist self-inspection.
When different angles and types of sensibility are layered together like this, it can produce, in the hands of a master like Carson, something which is larger than expected; a rich, odd resonant portrait of the quirky actuality of a human consciousness. The cumulative effect has a scale, nobility and honesty which derive from the recklessness of technique. This is a sad, crisp poem, with great simplicity, and complexities we could think about for a long while.
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TerryO
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Joined: November 28th, 2014, 9:40 am

November 4th, 2016, 1:45 pm #2

Oh, I love Tony Hoagland. Thanks for this!
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November 5th, 2016, 9:48 am #3

Thanks for this, Toni. I might try it tomorrow. This morning I read a poem by Robert Pinsky that has something of this layering in it. I especially thought of it with your mention of time in your poem. I couldn't find a link online so here is the poem itself:

Newspaper            by Robert Pinsky
They make the paper with an invisible grain,So you can tear straight down a vertical column.But if you try to tear it crosswise, it ripsOut of control in jagged scallops and slashes.Here amid columns is a man who handlesSearch dogs. He says the dogs depend on rewards.But not like the dogs I know, not dog treats: the LabBalancing one on his muzzle, trembling and gazingUp at you till you say “okay” then he whipsThe thing up into the air and snaps it  and bolts it.No, what the handler says is that his dogsAre trained to find survivors—that’s their reward,Finding somebody alive is what they want.And when they try and try and never get it,They get depressed, he says: “These dogs are depressed.”Yes, what an animal thing depression is,The craving for some redemption is like a thirst.It’s in us as we open the morning paper:Fresh, fallible, plausible. It says the smokeIs mostly not flesh or paper. First white, the drywall,Then darker pulverized steel and granite and marble,And then, long-smoldering toxic plastic and fiber.How toxic, they don’t know or it doesn’t say.In the old days, the printing plant and “the paper”(Meaning the Globe or Herald or Journal or Times)Were in one building, and the tremendous rollsOf newsprint rumbled off the trucks each day.When I was small one crushed a newsboy’s legs.There was a fund for him, I remember his pictureAccepting a powered wheelchair, in the paper—Paper, the bread of Chronos, titanic TimeThat eats its children: the one-way grain of downwardIrrevocable channels, the crosswise jumble,Darkness innate in things. In the weather. In the boyWho beams up at the camera or down at his stumps.In the prisoner who speaks an unknown languageSo that his captors guess and call him “the Chechen.”The errant, granular pulp. In some old stories,The servant rises early and reads the paper,Then gets the iron and presses it flat and smoothTo place by the master’s breakfast—the skin of days.
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TerryO
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Joined: November 28th, 2014, 9:40 am

November 7th, 2016, 6:10 am #4

That is one amazing layering, Judy. Thanks for sharing it.
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toniclark
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Joined: May 5th, 2006, 6:47 pm

November 9th, 2016, 1:12 pm #5

Yes, this is really amazing. Thanks, Judy!

The craving for some redemption is like a thirst.
It’s in us as we open the morning paper:

But I can't bear to read the news. . . .

Darkness innate in things.
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