“I, too, dislike it.” I’ve probably quoted that line before—it’s the opening of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry”—but it comes back to me whenever I hit one of those stretches where every poem I read bores me, where bad poems are still bad but accomplished poems seem no more than workmanlike exercises. There are the ostentatious line-breaks, the daring punctuation, the careful surrealistic images, or maybe the familiar lefty politics. Not that I’m asking for right-wing poetry, it’s just that sometimes the sense of fun and adventure and pathos seems a million miles away.
And then I run across something like this:
“The Oldest Animal Writes a Letter Home” by Sabrina Orah Mark
I had never heard of Sabrina Orah Mark; I’ve certainly never read anything like this. Perhaps there is some cultural background I’m missing, maybe some readers know what the “oldest animal” is or who Abigail and WB are, but I don’t really care. The dialect, if that is the word, doesn’t resemble any version of English that I know, and this is surely intentional, since using a real dialect would likely get the writer in trouble and deprive the weirdness of its purity.
To be sure, some of the grammar is rather childlike, e.g., the use of overgeneralized verb forms and reduplications that are reminiscent of familiar words like “drownded” and “hurted.”
Perhaps my favorite bit is this segment, with its fugal repetition (I am incongruously reminded of Celan’s “Todesfuge”), its crazily literal interpretation of the idiom “What I wouldn’t give…” and its sneaky pathos:
Once I looks up and That Mutter and That Fodder is floating bye in the green baskyt, and That Fodder is feedling That Mutter the most beautiful pancake the whirld has ever seeped. Why does That Mutter and That Fodder not look done where I exists and giveth me a bite? Once I looks up and That Mutter and That Fodder is floating bye in the green baskyt helded ups by the Strings of the Allmightiest Heavens, and what I would not giveth to be alpso in that baskyt isn’t even my hopes to be in that baskyt. Here. Taketh my hopes. Except for the byrds, and the pancake.
I salute this poem with one hoofs in the airs and one hoofs on my hearpt.