Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paul Gibbons on "Fugue: In Medias Res"

“Fugue: In Medias Res” is my attempt at hearing hope as much as seeing it. There are the two Isabellas’ hopes and the man whose hope is presumably to quit his pain. The poem even begins with the “wish” of crickets.

This poem’s title promises “lyric” and even asks – no, rather it commands – its reader to pay attention, that its speaker knows the things introduced in the beginning may seem disparate but that they will all turn out with some meaning; nothing’s been let go to simple whimsy.

Perhaps this opening gambit is its strength, that hope is always in process, always engaged with something having gone before, concerned as it is with goats’ breeding history and a name getting a rebirth, among other things.

Although I am constantly on the alert for clichés, clichés constantly alert me – I put my back into them until they turn fresh and interesting to me.

Since clichés are a risk, always, I think the best solutions, or the solutions I’ve been most satisfied with, have always centered on going right into the cliché – pull its expectations apart. I don’t mean to pull it apart linguistically so much as to understand its possible meanings (explication!) and keep weaving until there is another context in which to put the cliché.

This poem’s genesis was a series of sessions in which I listened to its elements. Each time, as I read the poem aloud, another stanza or two emerged. But I constantly had to go back and read it through aloud and then work on the next lines. In this way, writing the poem was like chopping down a tree with an axe – with each stroke I heard and saw, I could make corrections toward a general result.

After three and a half pages of typewritten tercets, and still listening, I began trimming.

The moments I was listening for were those where the thematic lines intersected or harmonized. Places where I could write, “put its back into it,” or, “was not a drill.” Places where, right out in the open, distinct meanings emerged by repetition.

I took a little advice from E.M. Forster: “Only connect.” I think Bach followed this advice before him, and lyrically, I found it useful. In many of its meanings.

As for the title, a fugue is what this poem is, voices or plot lines or stories that weave together in passing harmonies. I kept listening for that harmony on a meaningful (and somewhat musical) level.