Thursday, October 13, 2005

regarding "as" in Annie Zaidi's "Celebration"

about this matter of shallow silence....

Rereading this poem, it occurs to me how pitifully impoverished is my vocabulary for zeroing in on certain interesting techniques of language. There should be words for many things that either don't have technical words, or anyway I don't know 'em.
Here's an example:
Often, I go looking
for a silence as shallow as ambition
Talk about complex. Presto! the utterance insinuates itself into a crucial position between expected & unexpected, conventional & novel, unintuitive & its opposite. In one micro-leap, it's performed a macro-astonishment -- but so stealthily we might scarcely notice what curious thing it's accomplished, how it's rewired or reprogrammed expectation.

Conventionally, "silence" is "deep"; who's heard of (or much thought to mention) a shallow silence? Ambition, presumably, can be deep or shallow. If shallow, perchance it's shallow due to the shallowness of its objectives. Alternatively, it might be shallow if it's just not very strong. So ambition apparently can be shallow in those differing ways. The shallowness of ambition might furthermore reflect back (in several ways) on the assumed shallowness or depth of those who entertain it.

But silence. Well, cannot silence have shallowness?
Such a silence (a shallow silence), what would be its characteristics?

These are among the questions drawn into the ambit of the poem by the poet's quick phrase a silence as shallow as ambition.

The desirability of this sort of silence (that it's an object of search) undoubtedly gives us clues to its qualities and character. That line takes us to other destinations, but I'd like to linger on the prestidigitation of Zaidi's "as."

That rapid operation -- the swift invocation of an extensive (metaphysical / ontological / poetical) scenery-change -- serves to remind how powerful & complicated a tool is this trope of the simile: how large can be the linkage of the tiny word as:

like a connecting wire that suddenly joins people on different continents, as connects far-distant meanings. Sometimes with electric consequence.


Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...


You are bringing up an issue that I am dealing with in my poetry. Yesterday I wrote the first terza rima in many years, and all I thought was: God, I have no vocabulary! This is a cliche! This rhyme is forced! I am stupid!

Now, I find that sometimes it all flows and sometimes it stops up like a bad drain. And I am always at my best in the morning. But I like your discussion on all these ambiguities we face as we strain for the perfect word.

Fri Oct 14, 08:05:00 AM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Hi En,

have fun w/ the terza rima. Such a beautiful form (from Dante) -- I don't think I've seen it used much in English. It's a nice idea, I'd never really considered it. But it should be workable for longer narratives -- so much more courtly in feel than the rhyming couplet. The rhyming couplet was nicely handled by Chaucer, but so many poets fall back on it in a kind of pedestrian way. But I digress.

In my blogo-crit about the Zaidi line, absurdly I focus on the word "as" -- a word that in fact appears in myriad poems. But the exact "technique" of how it's used (in this case, especially in relation to what's expectable at the 2 ends of the simile equation (where A is "as X as" B) -- this is where I'm unaware of an adequate "technical vocabulary" to pinpoint the nuances and values involved. One can/could develop one; (and this little doodle of pseudo-lit-crit is a small vague jab in that direction for me).

The need for a (more nuanced) critical vocabulary is one thing; the need for vocabulary (per se) in writing poetry may be a differing question, but an important one.

In my "self-training" in poetry, I learned a tremendous lot (I'd hazard saying) thru translating poetry (in my case, mainly from Chinese). When you set out to translate something, you're thrown into considering every possible way of putting it, every possibly suitable word. You become a friend of the Thesaurus. In general, the Thesaurus is a friend of mine, -- though after a time, one comes to know much of what it's apt to contain. For rhymed forms of poetry, I'd never until fairly recently considered using a rhyming dictionary. But then I found one online and found it actually quite likeable to glance at now & then (particularly if I'm writing in ghazal form, where one wants to use many rhyme words for the same sound, couplet after couplet). Don't by any means always use it, but in a pinch, it's handy:
Note also the Merriam-Webster online dictionary among my blog's "References" links, btw.

Glad to know you're venturing into terza territory.


Fri Oct 14, 08:37:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

Wow, David, are you a disciple of the Muse or what? Very cool!

Fri Oct 14, 02:23:00 PM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

mein En--


I'm not messems a floozie of the Muse
(the Muse methinks is dazzling & choosy)
her methods might resemble talking blues
(I'm crying all the way to the jacuzzy)
but say again what was your question? scusi
does "poetry" mean nothing left to lose?

(In short, your remark makes me blush; the rejoinder is in lieu of reply.) thx & cheers,

Fri Oct 14, 02:47:00 PM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

also En --
<< ...Now, I find that sometimes it all flows and sometimes it stops up like a bad drain. >>

nice simile!

The feeling of flow is certainly important, and inshallah (as our Qoranic friends are wont to say), the habit & practice of writing tends to encourage & develop that feeling.

good wishes,

Fri Oct 14, 02:52:00 PM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

[& now, stanza 2 of this
whatever-it-is -- I think
a kind of ballade]

Some babble with a bottle full of booze
while others more abstemious refusie
one pays in many ways the varied dues:
one doesn't get a waiver -- if you're choosy
you might perchance perfect poetic doozie
you might as well: there's little left to lose

Fri Oct 14, 03:48:00 PM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

stanza 3
of this
Muse Ballade Improptu

The lawyer with the perfect client sues
the golden-throated singer grows enthusie
the lover in a thousand manners woos
the patient gets impatient when he's woosie
antiquity returns! & you're its newsie?
read all about what wasn't left to lose


Fri Oct 14, 03:58:00 PM PDT  

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