Feb 17, 2010

John Ciardi, "For Instance"






If you’re bumper-sticker friendly, I hope you’ll look into this little company in Minnesota. http://www.northernsun.com/. My car is sticker-free, but some have called me a sucker for tee-shirts and coffee mugs, which I buy to remind me of pleasant places, almost all of which are college campuses.

I wanted something bright or flippant for a photo because today’s poem today is so negative, maybe downright nihilistic. It was a long time ago when I discovered John Ciardi’s “For Instance,” so I wasn’t sure it would have held up for me. It’s almost all generalization and conversational style, which, if you’ve been here much, you know is not my aesthetic of choice. However, if more conversations in poems moved with the brutal efficiency of this one, I might reconsider.

For Instance by John Ciardi : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I wonder too if “For Instance” might be self-indulgent in a way that only dire teens and 20-somethings find appealing or valid. That would be ironic since the poem’s perspective is clearly that of a speaker with some hard years notched on his bedpost.

People who are serious about poetry seem ready to accept its often grim outlooks. Pessimism can seem a more supportable view than its opposite, whatever that might be. In any case, I find that “For Instance” still packs a wallop. Surely we all have moments—if not entire philosophies—like this, and surely it’s true that misery loves company, especially the company of someone who can just nail that brooding, bitter mood, as Ciardi does here.

And it's only an outline, really. We know almost none of the particulars; the poem asks us to accept that the details don't matter, and I'm astonished to find myself inclined to agree--never mind how often I've screamed at students, "The devil's in the details!" Whatever our own experiences or interpretations, however jolly we may wish to be, we have to accept Ciardi’s sketch here as one plausible review of a life. Don't we?

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6 comments:

Barbaro said...

A bit offhand for me. And though this it's prob. not Ciardi's intent, I can't help but take umbrage at his suggestion that "imagination" can be a bad thing.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I read the poem and said 'OUCH'.
I read the bumper sticker and said 'Grow up'.
I think my thoughts are interchangeable.

altadenahiker said...

I came to the table fully intending to dislike this poem. I used to listen to an ancient Ciardi on NPR as he blew hard on etymology.

But I love this poem. And I don't see it as necessarily bitter. Resigned. Clear-eyed. And tender.

BANJO52 said...

You three haven't been this far apart on other poems, have you? I hope you'll keep talking here.

I think Brenda's got her own poem going here . . .

BANJO52 said...

How about a response to AH's "resigned, clear-eyed, tender"? I must say, I like that better than my word, "bitter," though I'm still on the fence.

Barbaro, are you saying everything we imagine is good because we've imagined it?

altadenahiker said...

That kind of simplicity is genius. It reminds me of Camus.

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