Saturday, January 31, 2009

Greg Wrenn on "Centaur"

“Centaur” is by far the longest poem that I’ve ever written, beginning as a five-page poem whose dimeter and trimeter lines were inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Moose” and Marianne Moore’s “Marriage.” But it wasn’t just the shortness and neatness of the lines that drew me to those poems. Although my speaker, Mark (“Marquoose”), in being surgically joined to the lower half of a horse, does not just simply cross paths with an animal as Bishop’s speaker does, I was still fascinated by what insights, joyful or dreadful, are precipitated by a highly charged encounter with an animal. For me, such an intersection is a wonderful chance to examine the less rational, more primal, self-destructive aspects of the self. And although he’s not interested in dissecting or satirizing heterosexual institutions like marriage, Mark is keen on feeling his way through (or around) the sort of ambivalence about union and companionship that Moore lays out for us:

"I should like to be alone;"
to which the visitor replies,
"I should like to be alone;
why not be alone together?"

Over time, I began to feel that the form of my draft was entirely too staid, that a formal restlessness was needed to amplify the sexual, spiritual, and intellectual restlessness that leads Mark to take such a drastic measure “[t]o reawaken waist to feet.” He suffers greatly from sexual addiction, particularly through the Internet, and he feels that he has exhausted all possibilities for healing, for even managing his acting-out so that he can live a productive life of integrity; the trip to Bishop’s Brazil for centaur-surgery is perhaps the product of a desperate imagination still unable to admit its powerlessness. Martha’s Collins’ book-length poem Blue Front, with its sonnets, historical documents, and unpunctuated free verse that alternate between narrative and more lyrical modes, inspired me to move toward greater formal fluidity—in other words, the agitation of a mind unable to solve a problem that threatens the body’s long-term health: “Once, only once, / I let him ride me / bareback.” Dante’s tercets, whose grandness is deflated by a prose poem in the first section, seem appropriate for a (pseudo-?)spiritual journey—elsewhere there’s a double sonnet, laterally oscillating stanzas haunted by the Dantean tercet, and prose poetry that compulsively reverts to lineation. Like Collins, I’m interested in reinventing the ways in which the lyric can be reconciled with storytelling, without being antagonistically post-modern.

I want to end with one of my favorite stanzas from “The Moose,” when the approaching creature triggers a burst of compassion:

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

I think what propels Mark on his journey, however misguided and ridiculous, is the deep sense that it is compassion, “this sweet / sensation of joy,” not the momentary bliss of orgasm, that ought to be valued and cultivated. What are your thoughts?