Tuesday, June 7, 2016

With the passing of the last 9-11 rescue dog I'm reminded of Stephen Dunn's "The Insistence of Beauty"

RIP Bretagne, last remaining 9-11 rescue dog.


I happened to have a subscription to American Poetry Review when Stephen Dunn's "The Insistence of Beauty" appeared there. I was immersed in what was a vibrant writing scene for a community college and showed it to everyone who stumbled into my apartment for a drink with me or one of my roommates whether they were a writer or a skater or one of Matt's girlfriend's friends that was waiting for them to get dressed. Seeing the news of Bretagne's passing and the video of her going into the vet for the last time my mind jumped back to that poem and the resonant image so I decided to type it up and post it because I love the exercise of typing pieces that you enjoy and admire. I hope you enjoy it as well.



               The Insistence of Beauty
                    by Stephen Dunn
               

               The day before those silver planes
               came out of the perfect blue, I was struck
               by the beauty of pollution rising
               from smokestacks near Newark,
               gray and white ribbons of it
               on their way to evanescence.


               And at impact, no doubt, certain beholders
               and believers from another part of the world
               must have seen what appeared gorgeous—
               the flames of something theirs being born.

               I watched for hours—mesmerized—
               that willful collision replayed,
               the better man in me not yielding,
               then yielding to revenge's sweet surge.

               The next day there was a photograph
               of dust and smoke ghosting a street,
               and another of a man you couldn't be sure
               was fear-frozen or dead or made of stone,

               and for a while I was pleased
               to admire the intensity—or was it the coldness?—
               of each photographer's good eye.
               For years I'd taken pride in resisting

               the obvious—sunsets. snowy peaks,
               a starlet's face—yet had come to realize
               even those, seen just right, can have
               their edgy place. And the sentimental, 

               beauty's sloppy cousin, that enemy,
               can't it have it's place too?
               Doesn't a tear deserve a close-up?
               When word came of a fireman

               who hid in the rubble
               so his dispirited search dog
               could have someone to find, I repeated it
               to everyone I knew. I did this for myself,
               not for community or beauty's sake,
               yet soon it had a rhythm and a frame.


And as a palatte cleanser, here is a video of a spaghetti eating contest between a Golden Retriever and a German Shepard having a spaghetti eating contest. 



The Golden reminds me of my experiences with the lovely and loyal, gluttonous dogs. It also reminds me of Karl Pilkington's van driver eating noodles in the program An Idiot Abroad. And also here's a picture of Bretagne on her 16th birthday.



Anyway, just a a little something about the poem. 

Aside from the resonating last image and the idea of a storyteller's selfish tales told more for the self-satisfaction of the telling than for any communal betterment, I am drawn to the turn in the poem beginning in stanza six. Stanzas six and seven address the concept of poetic stigmas: sunsets, tears... subjects universally recognized as poignant are far too obvious for contemporary poets, cliches, too easy—or at least we're told. This of course plays off of the earlier image of the smokestacks, an image conventionally thought of as ugly or at least 'non-poetic' in the traditional sense. Dunn uses the questioning of stigmas as a lead or a sort of conditional for the image of the fireman hiding in the rubble for his dog to find, ecstatic to finally discover someone alive. The movement of the poem allows him to expand upon the potential embrace of the overly-poetic for selfish as opposed to artistic reasons. Also, I have to note the expert line break in line two really emphasizing the wordplay in the choice of "struck".

Possible Writing Exercise:

I also used this poem for an exercise what feels like ages ago that you might try as well. Pick a poem you really really like. Go through it and pick a few phrases, not full lines but unique turns of phrase or little bits that stick out to you. Now pick one or two of your favorites and use them as poem titles for an original work. I used "On Their Way to Evanescence" for my poem which ended up being a meditation on mortality, surprise surprise. Others that might work from this poem would be "That Willful Collision" "Beauty's Sloppy Cousin" "Gray and White Ribbons" (while not expressly unique, it is tactile) "A Rhythm and a Frame" or possibly even "The Better Man in Me" thought that could get a little too Fight Club on you. 

If you need more than just a title, for form make it roughly an unrhymed, syllabic (as opposed to metric) sonnet, ie a 14 lined poem with each line being about 10 syllables and the volta (or turn from storyline/metaphor A to how it affects storyline/metaphor B which you have hopefully set up in at least a subtle way within the first 8 lines) appearing after line 8.

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