The Absent Ghost

Because I tend to ramble, I actually forgot why I brought out Dark from my old room and brought it up in my previous entry: to mention the unusual but somewhat appropriate inclusion of Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” in its pages.

Apart from being the only poem in an anthology of prose, “Home Burial” is hardly about murder or the supernatural. Calling it madness is a stretch. As a dramatization of mourning, it’s unparalleled, at least in my opinion.

Randall Jarrell’s reading of the poem is considered definitive and may be read here, along with several others, and a more recent exhaustive per-line exploration is found in this threepart annotation. All of which isn’t to say that the poem itself isn’t worth reading. It’s emotionally grueling.

I’m not always attuned to Frost’s poetry and poetics, but sometimes, when I find myself wishing I had the ability to write a dramatic situation in verse, it’s “Home Burial” I hold up as a model.

Nick Laird

Nick Laird was born the same year I was, and he’s had two novels and two collections of poetry published. In a move to vary my habit of adding books willy-nilly to my Amazon Wish List, I went ahead and ordered the newer collection.

He first caught my eye when I saw that one of his poems anthologized in The New North, an anthology of contemporary Northern Irish poetry edited by Chris Agee*, was entitled “The Use of Spies,” which interested me for several reasons:

  1. My mental Echelon sounds an alert whenever “spies” and other espionage-related words pop up in what I read, especially in poetry.
  2. I recognized the reference he was making with the title, mostly because of a childhood spent with this, rather than a deeper cultural connection with my roots.
  3. Laird apparently wrote a series of poems connected not only by titles taken from Sun Tzu but also being about married life. I want to write more love poetry, but one which dealt with marriage from rather odd perspectives (so far, I’ve written one that started with Anne Bradstreet and became an extended conceit on love as a giant robot of the mecha variety).

You can click here to listen to Laird read “The Use of Spies” and other poems, including “Wolves” and “Time for a Smoke” by Louis MacNeice (both of which I like a great deal). You may even “transcribe” his reading of that poem–which is beautiful–the way I did, because I can’t wait to get my copy of his book.

Two of Laird’s poems from the same book are also available here. Both “Holiday of a Lifetime” and “Estimates” are love poems, too, wonderful ones that capture an ache without coming across maudlin. Same with “Light Pollution.”

I’m also reading Laird’s columns for the Guardian. Even when he writes about a topic I don’t really think about, say, science and poetry, I’m tickled pink with his references to Robert Frost’s “Desert Places” and to “Hart Crane in ‘Voyages’ mode.” Three that I’d especially like to highlight are:

  1. “Like a prayer” (metaphor as agent of transformation)
  2. “Difficult ease” (which touches on my fixation with poetic difficulty)
  3. “The Slow Language Movement” (which touches on my admiration of John Olson’s “extreme reading” approach)

I love these moments of discovery.

* The death of Agee’s daughter led him to write a collection called Next to Nothing. Its  title poem references Heidegger, who I’ve been reading lately while I write a short story for the fiction workshop I don’t really talk about here: “…the human // Barnacled to the great right whale of Heidegger’s Being.”

Also of personal interest, the poem is followed by one called “Attic Grace,” which alludes to what got me interested in Ezra Pound in the first place, which brings me back to Salt Publishing, as I first came across their books when I wanted to know more about Tony Lopez‘s Covers, a collection of reworkings and “found poetry” that includes “Sequel Lines”:

We catch glimpses and echoes of Ezra Pound’s impossible fascist epic The Cantos (of which the author himself famously wrote ‘I cannot make it cohere’) in the Raworth-style self-replicating minimalist stanzas of ‘Sequel Lines’, an anti-epic freighted with unscalable detail of modernist catch-phrases, contemporary theory and non-sequiturs. ‘The unified subject / was out of a job’.