Having been impressed by the simplicity and polish of Poetry Foundation’s electronic application for iPhone, and also the compendium of poems they fix to most authors in their full database, I’d been haunting the .org for a good part of the morning. Malachi Black’s name has, of course, the Fellow connection for me, so, seeing a piece from him in Poetry’s May issue, I surfed past my stack of Hopkins correspondence (and past the thump of TV on the Radio’s recent Nine Types of Light) to two pieces from “Quarantine,” LAUDS and PRIME.
These poems, bros, do not disappoint.
An ear is so pleased by the sonorous openness of LAUDS’ first stanza: all the melody caught up in ‘shore’ and ‘door’ and ‘morning’ and ‘architecture’—’rub,’ ‘hum,’ ‘warmth,’ and ‘summer’ are not far behind. How effective the ‘I can forget’ refrain (strange! feels like pyrrhic & iamb to me, so quiet is the announcement of self) becomes, too, mostly as a result of its sincerity. This isn’t one of those pieces with a mop of black hair in front of its face, underfed, and therefore undermeaning: Black’s gambit is to write ‘Lord’ because he’s engaging some Lord, and, yes, can forget—what—to acknowledge, it seems. To engage what that acknowledgment might mean. Consider the profundity of
You give me morning, Lord, as you
give earthquake to all architecture
—as I unpack it, the speaker is just a bit of foundation before the (potentially) blasting light—he’s got to live by housing that potential blast. Isn’t this deeply sorrowful? And isn’t this difficult to acknowledge?
Beside the music, then (did I mention these are sonnets?), is Black’s very clear voice—I daresay vision, that standby impossibility in umpteen POEM-OF-THE-WEEK glossies—that, even if I question, I can’t help but appreciate. Maybe it’s for the sinking of the Pequod and M-D himself that I don’t believe the sea is a ‘machine without memory’—still, thanks, Black: bless the assertion of a poetic. And the unerringly lavish ‘You put that sugar/in the melon’s breath.’
In PRIME, everything (the ‘flat-footed dance,’ the skin’s drapery, even the bird between ribs, whatever shimmer) seems to point towards the tenuous, tender ‘stand’ in line nine—the earlier ‘gleam of sickness’ has found feet, and, as reader, I see the impasto of LAUDS spreading out against the sky of where this section is going. Really, then, this speaker’s is a mind like most of ours—with methods of forgetting, or at least displacement (the poem acts as a marker against forgetting, after all); an exteriority that realizes how much existence would have to shift to admit ‘Lord,’ the wind one sights, that ‘simple warmth of summer from afar.’
This poet’s mind is not like most of ours, however. And for the time I’ve spent with this, and will continue to spend with it, there is a celebration of (our own) inimitable voice, after which we should be striving.