A Spectrum of Aesthetics, Part II: Arda Collins

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Off I 75 in North Georgia

The following passage continues where I left off in the first post about contemporary poetry.

Contemporary poetry, and contemporary art in general, reveals the Zeitgeist of the 21st century–we seem to live in a moment in which we are reevaluating the myths that motivate us; as a culture we question the roles language, poetry (or art), science, and religion play in our lives. This reconsideration of reality has produced eclectic collections from both younger and older poets.

Each of the books we discussed this semester in our contemporary poetry course, in varying degrees, serves as a barometer of our country’s mood as perceived through the feelings and thoughts of the individual poet, although the psychological and emotional landscapes differ in their representation.

I will identify some essential questions that underlie or motivate three of the individual projects, examining poems from It Is Daylight by Arda Collins, Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem, and Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife. My hope is that these sample poems will serve as emblems for the poets’ overarching motivations to write, as well as illustrate the wide spectrum of aesthetics in contemporary American poetry.

Among the books we studied, Arda Colin’s It Is Daylight represents the collection least inclined toward the Romantic ideal of union with nature. Luis Glück, who chose Collins’s collection for the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize, characterizes Collin’s poetry as “savage, desolate, brutally ironic” (vii).

Glück later states that “[a]t the heart of the poems is shame, which results not from something the poet has done, but rather from being” (vii). Even though there is an overt depiction of shame in Collins‘ collection, I would say the heart of her poems also contains a desire to understand what being alive means to a neurotic speaker (whom we shouldn’t confuse with the author). Continue reading

Snake Bit by a Word

It was one of those times when you learn a new word, or rediscover an old one, and then it pops up everywhere. For example, one night you might use an astringent to tone facial tissue, and then you read the word astringent applied to a character in a poem.

While reading It Is Daylight by Arda Collins I came across the word philtrum. Maybe I had learned it when I was studying Spanish. I know a lot of words like that in Spanish, ones you use  twice in a lifetime. But no, that must have been las corvas, the word for the backs of the knees. We don’t have a word for the backs of the knees in English, and Spanish has no specific word for the hollow between the septum and the upper lip.  Even my spellchecker doesn’t recognize philtrum. Of course philtrum comes to English from Latin. Spanish could borrow it too.

Here’s a story I found Wikipedia:

According to the Jewish Talmud (Niddah 30b), God sends an angel to each womb and teaches a baby all the wisdom that can be obtained. Just before the unborn baby comes out, the angel touches it between the upper lip and the nose and all that it has taught the baby is forgotten.

That event, learning the word philtrum, was a few days ago. Today I went to a day spa for a massage and to have my upper lip and eyebrows waxed. (How gauche of me to reveal my tawdry attempts at beauty or to admit to the social injustice that I can afford a trip to a day spa when there are people in the world who don’t even have a cardboard box to call home.)9012

So maybe it served me right when the esthetician ripped a patch of skin from my philtrum as she was waxing the peach fuzz from my face. Why did I submit myself to such torture? I don’t really even have a mustache.

Bloody philtrum

Bloody philtrum, crease on cheek from massage table

She didn’t mean to. She said my skin was probably dry. I bled profusely, and she seemed worried I would sue her. But she’s probably right. It was my fault. My skin needs hydrating. In the US we like to blame people. We expect others to take responsibility. The esthetician had a creamy complexion. She asked me if I used Retin A. I said “no, just soap and water.”