Apr 17, 2012

Anne Sexton and Deborah Digges See Things

Cardinal Singing

Song Sparrow Singing
    Humans have been asking forever just what imagination is, what it brings to the table, perhaps compared to the measurements of logic, math, and science. Why must we be bothered with that intuitive, irrational glove box in our Great Jeep of Life, which is our brain—the Jeep with a glove box that spills forgotten items all over the vehicle as we try to move through a day of tasks with as little rejection, defeat, and nightmare as possible.

    But we also know, or sense, the bright side of imagination: it’s not just escape or insanity, but also the tool or vehicle for seeing things anew, for making us think that for the first time we understand something, or at least some important aspect of it.   
 
Cardinal Pretty Sure of Himself
                                                              If we can consider birds things, we’ve just seen how the imagination of Deborah Digges has transformed them. As if finches weren’t already charming enough, she connects them to paradise and Darwin’s sailors. Here again is “Darwin’s Finches” (this time with a single click!):


    In a very different vein, here for comparison is Anne Sexton as she transforms the ordinary items in one room of a life. 


Yves Tanguy, Shadow Country (D.I.A.)
Is it just me, or is there a comical undertone in Sexton’s exaggerations in the first half or more of the poem? Even when we consider her tragic end, musn’t we hear her winking as well as worrying when she gives us a brother of wood, typewriter keys that are non-stop eyeballs, a Naugahyde dog coffin, a desk that might eat a puppy biscuit? And to me, a rug that’s a conversation of heels and toes feels downright homey. Maybe Sexton has hit on the possibility of Gothic Comedy.

In the end of course, the poem resolves itself on an ominous note. Or is that thunder? And maybe that drama is louder because she’s lulled us—yes, tricked us—with playful, yet not entirely light, stuff leading up to this.
 
Eastern Bluebird

Whatever lightness or darkness one feels in Sexton’s building individual images, surely we can agree that each reveals imagination at work. Whether comic or grave, our perception of typewriter keys and gold rugs and such has been changed forever—and I’d say enlarged. The next time the details of our own rooms turn scary, we can take some comfort in knowing we’re not the only ones living in a state where “nothing is just what it seems to be.” 

By the way, we mustn’t jump to conclusions about the final outcomes for Digges or Sexton. Digges’ finches of love and paradise don’t predict her death any more than Sexton’s humor foresees hers. Instead of focusing on those poets’ darkness, I hope everyone will set out on the next stroll determined to see familiar details in new, surprising ways. If it happens, I’m all ears. If it doesn’t, take another walk. “Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

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11 comments:

RuneE said...

I have one admission this time too: I had to Google Naugahyde - and then I saw some of the humour.
In a way she was describing my own desktop with all its "archaeological" layers. I can also see her fears, but I'm not sure that I share them. I have probably just missed something deep :-)

And my usual compliments about concerning the birds!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I connected more strongly with Digges then I did last reading. Maybe my imagination has slowed. Maybe because after the first reading/post I saw a mockingbird in the process of building a nest. Outside my living room window I have a couple of Queen palms. The bird was picking through the fibrous mesh that connects the palm frond to the stalk. I thought of you.

altadenahiker said...

Nothing says anxiety like:

the forty-eight keys of the typewriter/each an eyeball that is never shut

Jean Spitzer said...

Sexton poem is beautiful. I love the photo of the sparrow.

Banjo52 said...

Rune, once again, thanks. I bet my desk is messier than yours.

No Naugahyde in Norway? How do you get by? What in the world do you sit on over there?

Sexton's fears show themselves differently from mine, but hers are surely vivid.

PA, thank you! I'll take an association with birds any day. And yes, slowing down and watching them for awhile ought to convert anybody. Mockingbirds are special, I think, and it has nothing to do with Harper Lee.

AH, of all her images, that one might be my favorite--maybe because you and I type a lot? Or nag ourselves when we don't.

Jean, thanks. The bluebird is so fuzzy I probably shouldn't have posted it. I got a few, and they're all fuzzy, but they're my first and only bluebird photos.

Mention his sparrow, he gives you a bluebird . . . . Point is, I don't know how the sparrow came out so sharp, and I got several like that. As for catching two fine birds in mid-chirp . . . I'll never understand why some people need to bungee jump!

Banjo52 said...

Actually, I'm being dense. The sparrow was at about 15 feet, the bluebird maybe thirty yards. Duh.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Your first paragraphs remind me of "Chris in the Morning" of Northern Exposure. Just saying...

Digges poem describes a morning ritual at our house. Pull the hair out of the brush, view it as material for a bird's nest, and offer it to the air.

Sexton's poem - I feel like I must go take inventory of our living room/study. Instead of 'looking for something on the desk', one must 'see something on the desk - and acknowledge it'.
The photos are the best, always!

Banjo52 said...

Northern Exposure! I'm really flattered--yes, by that zoned out philosopher. What ever happened to that actor?

It would seem you and Digges have a nice ritual, but our neighbors are just a few feet away and might think it weird.

Speaking of weird, just when I get ready to say I'm not as crazy as Sexton and that's why the details of my house behave themselves, things start to get bizarre. Haven't typed any eyeballs yet, but I'm taking nothing for granted.

Ken Mac said...

spring springing

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I think the sparrows that nested last year on my patio are back. They produced three litters of birds; the last one overwhelmed by ants that took over the nest. Those eggs were left behind. Mean nature.

Do they always come back to the same spot?

Banjo52 said...

Ken, indeed, earlier than ever.

PA, Ants??? Ants!!! That sucks.

I don't know about always coming back, or one species vs. another, but I was glad to see a white-crowned sparrow couple yesterday, back again for at least the second year. I'm assuming they and the cardinal couple and finch nation are the same folks each year. Probably some others two. Had a brown-headed cowbird couple this year, and they've already produced a chick.

Lovers' Lane