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“On ‘Overproduced Poetry'”

Some things I just like, and I can’t explain why. It’s the same with hip-hop. People are always thinking I’m too white, or that I’m going to pick up a Gat from listening to one rap song. I just connect with it though, it takes me away from a certain place.

It’s the same with poetry, maybe, sometimes, I just connect with it. It started with this James Tate book in college that must have been for a class I dropped or somethin’, it just ended up sitting around our apartment… and there were like NO wasted words… my best description of what the poetry did, in effect, would be that it zoomed in and out, magnanimously and with the greatest of ease, like those Google Maps things can do with the showing of actual digital pictures of a street or intersection, but it did it all with words, and a certain weight that made me know the poet was actually feeling everything he was saying.
But, it seems, rarely do poems actually have good endings. This is definitely one symptom of “overproduced poetry,” which is a term I just kind of coined.
There is such thing, definitely, as thinking too much about the poem you write. I mean, take just a funny statement someone makes. Oftentimes it’s funny for what he or she emits, leaves out, whether this omission be an extraneous exclamation, phrase or sentence, or an affected tone or tinge — sometimes the most memorable moments in life, in interaction, are the barest.
So when I come across a poem like “Leonine, Lovely” by Leah Stetson, I’m torn as to what to think. On the one hand, the poetess clearly has talent, and a penchant for juxtaposing closely a barrage of pertinent images, that even act in rhythm; the motifs of light enter and exit the piece with compelling cadence: “But it took a leonine face, lovely crooning / In my head to revive that destined fire / Even as great spiralling sirens sing in a local bar / I had a strangely beautiful realness he desired.” At the risk of approaching the excessively self-laudatory, Stetson does remind us that in certain minds, or in certain states of mind, the perception is of warm, gushing light from a plethora of sources, and that when expressed on paper can really rejuvenate the reader, get him or her seeking these powerful light sources without as much fear, anxiety or misgiving as before.
The problem with her piece, as you probably guessed, is that it’s generally too long and doesn’t have a great ending — basically, it’s overproduced. In setting out to make an “opus” of sorts, in which she arguably succeeded by margin, she seems to have come to an ending that she rushed — it’s anticlimactic, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the piece, doesn’t hark back or explain any of the trappings that went along to make her prior narrative so compelling. Basically, “Leonine, Lovely” (a reference to the poetess’ name, maybe?) acts well as a sequence of divinatory images that we do seek in life — it’s like a good TV drama that just fades out — it might be inspiring in part for its beckoning us to seek things like a “destined fire” and “spiralling sirens… in a local bar,” magnetic things, things of a certain dangerous transcendence, but by the end, I don’t even get the sense that the speaker is the same person who earlier voiced these sagacious visions.
Stetson writes in meter and rhyme, and ironically, for the most of the poem, it works well for the very reason that you don’t notice it — the metric qualities are like something purely competent, like the drone of a furnace in the background that keeps you warm to no recognition. But the culmination of her poem, about “saving hide & seek,” not to mention being an inappropriately juvenile image given the graphically sexual subject matter of the rest of the poem, is more like a furnace saying goodbye, not very human — the whole thing does a good job of PRODUCING, putting forward a high quantity of images and interpersonal manifestations, but does the speaker really care about what’s at hand, and what’s she left to do, and think, when the poem’s over, what did it mean to her? These are things that are missing from “Leonine, Lovely” — an opus that can take you around the world, on a tour of grandiose, shimmering surfaces, but to what inner foray?

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