Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Thoughts on “Winter Mix” and “Chaos Theory,” from Carol Ann Davis’ Psalm

Lately, I’ve been reading Carol Ann Davis' Psalm, a collection of poems which explores, among other things, the speaker’s grief at the death of her father.

These poems are at once intensely violent and beautifully restrained. One of my favorites from the collection is "Winter Mix," which begins, "This is a day with ghosts in it, / with husks and some kind of confession at its heart." These lines serve to introduce the poem, as well as the scene. The reader is lead to the next couplet expecting these ghosts, expecting a confession. The ghosts, it seems are represented in the speaker’s meditation on her dead father's photograph: "One day I won't wake up to my father's portrait. / I'll take it and put it / in the sitting room / and it will become small to me." The speaker's prediction that she will overcome her grief is followed by the confession that this will not happen for some time. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker describes the power of the photograph, and the power of her father to transport and transform her "into cumulus and cirrus, / into ganglia and spine, / into zephyrs and waves." This seems to be the most powerful moment of the poem. By contemplating her father's death, the speaker envisions her own "death," her metamorphosis into something utterly non-human. But it is a metamorphosis she admits she is unprepared for when she confesses in the final two lines: "I'm sorry / to come with empty hands."

Another favorite is "Chaos Theory." Highly abstract and experimental, "Chaos Theory" consists of a number of anaphoric, one-line stanzas gathered together under the unified banner of "Chaos Theory," a highly complex mathematical theory, which attempts to explain the random behavior of systems which are defined as having deterministic properties. The theory is confusing, to say the least, but its complexity is indicative of the intricacy of the levels of narrative or non-narrative at work in the collection as a whole. I say narrative OR non-narrative to emphasize the irregular forces of voice, structure and meaning at work in the collection- all of which contribute to the total dissolution of narration taking place in Psalm. "Chaos Theory," while it is a beautiful and random poem in and of itself, acquires its meaning from the poems in the collection which surround it. It emphasizes the notion that the grief of a physical loss is also a metaphysical loss, a loss of meaning, a loss of language.

Hope everyone is well.


1 comment:

jilmeka said...

Matt, thank you for your lovely introduction to Carol Ann Davis's work. I am not familiar with her, but I would like to read more. Hope you are well!