Dec 26, 2012

"Elegance" by Linda Gregg

Here is “Elegance,” another Linda Gregg poem. At first I liked it more than “Winter Love” (last post), thought it had more to say; now I’m not so sure.

Elegance by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation

The whole issue of elegance interests me—what is it and who or what has it?  Also, I like Gregg’s finding it in nature and in things worn down by natural processes. “All that is uncared for,” that’s what’s elegant. Having a thesis sentence in a poem might seem odd or simply wrong; ditto for arriving at a conclusion about elegance in the first line. But I like the way the immediacy and challenge of the line give us something to bounce off of right away.

I hope the comparison between manmade art and natural beauty never goes away as a topic for discussion; there can be no winner, but we’ll understand both art and nature better by seeing them in the light of each other—as foils, I suppose.

Gregg narrows all this even further to the question of what’s elegant, and her choice of nature, which decays and causes decay, creates a compelling strategy. I’m also fascinated by her choice of accuracy as a factor in perceiving what’s beautiful, especially as a companion to “unexpected,” which might seem too spontaneous to go with the exactness of accuracy. It helps that she follows up with “rattling/and singing.”  “Rattling” is a bit raggedy and out of control, like “unexpected,” while "singing" conjures the mathematical precision of music and seems a natural partner to “Accurate.”  Then again, it also calls to mind the song of wild birds.

We are having our first significant snow in southern Michigan today. The photos show a cardinal whom the wind and snow might turn into “a door off its hinges” or a thing “Raw where/the tin roof rusted through.”  But is he elegant nevertheless? I wouldn’t argue against it, especially if the alternative is my probably comic arrangement of fruit for an asymmetrical still life.  

Elegance by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation


WAS said...

The poem is about the desert, dude. Granted it's the work of a prototypical desert dilettante acting as if they're the first person to discover such things, who wouldn't be caught dead playing a mandolin in a gulch for fear of exciting the buzzards with the sound of flies, much less risking life and limb to capture the all-important details like Machado or even Cormac McCarthy. Still, there's a certain purity at work in expressing the divine neglect unimaginable in colder, wetter climes, the way rust never decays there (and ghost towns never die), the way weeds are permanent and more identifiable than clouds, the way rattling and singing always seems to go together, the utter control of the sun over everything. The word "accurate" to describe the beauty is to me perfect, for there is something so orderly and precise about the beauty of the desert. A postcard perhaps for people who don't want to visit, but for me like a sad love letter discovered 20 years too late.


Anonymous said...

I'm a trespasser of lost and forgotten properties. Accurate beauty is the care and attention to strong beams, sound walls. Someone thought this foundation would last for another generation or two. Maybe, probably, he didn't even time the whole thing and just assumed it would go on forever.
Sometimes when you break inside a deserted house, you find a kitchen cupboard with a shopping list. Or something else almost equally important.

Banjo52 said...

Bill, such passion! So you would like to, or did, live in the desert? (btw, I'm not sure the poem clarifies that the locale is a desert. It's only clear to me in Gregg's comment before her reading; for me, the other details could occur in a wetter, colder climate).

I've driven through deserts a couple of times, including the West Texas panhandle. I have nothing like the knowledge Gregg and Bill have, but I can see how its enormity and complexity could inspire strong feelings.

Stickup Artist has had some great photos of the desert.

AH, I kind of knew about you and empty buildings from your blog. With old, abandoned structures, how does one avoid such questions? Maybe it's time to post Shelley's "Ozymandias" again. I think too of Frost's "The Wood-Pile," just a couple of posts ago, here, but I didn't see the connection to Gregg's poem till just now--one more little testament to the value of blogging.

WAS said...

Thanks, John, for keeping me real. Yeah I guess I got passionate because, well, I’ve actually tried to understand the desert. Your argument for winter is profound, I didn't intend to send you cowtowing to the dry lands (although a drive through West Texas puts you up a notch in my book). Since you asked I would advise to pay attention to the signs of your snowbirds, and foller all those Michiganers into Arizona – hell half the people you talk to down there (of any interest at least) have that adorable Moder Ciddy accent.

Anonymous said...

Although I don't comment often, one of my favorite places to visit.
Happy, Happy Happy 2013!

-K- said...

I don't know if I have much to add about the question of elegance but the first thing that comes to mind is, believe it or not, the NY Times interview with Jerry Seinfeld.

He spoke of his desire to craft, I'm sure that's the word he used, the perfect joke. He likened the process to the Japanese "hobby" of making cricket cages. Very delicate with endless revisions and all for something transitory if not perfectly useless.

And yet the desire to create the perfect, the most elegant cricket cage remains.

It's sort of a self-inflicted cosmic joke, which brings us back to Jerry Seinfeld.

Banjo52 said...

Bill, thanks. I'll find some warm somehow. For awhile been leaning toward ocean more than mountains or desert.

Mark, thanks! Happy New Year to you.

K, believe it or not, I caught that interview, thanks to a friend, and you're absolutely right about the similarities when it comes to creating the perfect X. It's uncanny how Seinfeld could have been talking about poetry, word for word, for most of that interview--such as counting syllables to help in arriving at the perfect joke!

I say, again, poets and stand-ups, naked and alone, looking for a response. Look what I saw. Do you see it too?

One quibble: Seinfeld said all that work was spent on something--a subject--inappropriate or unworthy. I question that when it comes to the best humor.

RuneE said...

We have (and still has) a busy Christmas "week", so no time for reading poetry :-)

Just for saying Happy New Year!

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, RuneE. 'Tis the season--have a good one.

Stickup Artist said...

I'm glad I didn't miss this post, both for the photography and Linda Gregg's poem. Equally elegant. The desert is highly personal. An inner experience more than a separate outer place. A lot of people can't deal with it at all. (I give L.G. props for going 4 months without speaking). I don't know if it's the enormity of space or what defines the space; the features or the isolation and desolation those features outline. I do know that once it grabs you, you are forever changed.

Banjo52 said...

STickup, I believe you. I'm gonna have to revisit the desert one of these days.

RuneE said...

I wrote a thesis myself many years ago, but it was very far from poetry :-)

On the other hand, as a hobby photographer I have a feeling for the description of what must a photographic subject indeed. Derelict houses, stray rays of light, dropping water; the whole lot: a perfect place for poetry in photography. Only she used words.

Banjo52 said...

Rune, interesting. Thanks. Maybe someone ought to write a thesis about how similar, or not, the subjects of poetry and photography are. I'd think it would be a fairly strong connection, but who knows. Maybe someone's already done it.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I had to laugh at the first comment because I was thinking the same thing. The desert has a specific kind of decay - no mold. It's where those that are touched hang out on a pole for a hundred years

Elegance isn't a question for me but I do like the quote "beauty is embarrassing" maybe there's an intersection between the two.

And I like your green kitchen with the cain back chair, citrus and stoneware

Anonymous said...

Oh blast, did you scamper into the woods with Bambi and Thumper and disappear forever? Eventually their charms will wear thin, I hope your realize that. And you'll spend endless hours clipping their hooves and toenails, and so forth.

Lovers' Lane