Friday, May 3, 2013

"Language as an Escape from the Discrete"

Yesterday was the first examination paper for the International  Baccalaureate English exam. It requires writing a commentary on a previously-unseen selection of prose or poetry, and since more than 24 hours have passed, I can share the material with those outside my school. I chose the poem, entitled "Language as an Escape from the Discrete" by Josephine Jacobsen. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 1971.
I came upon two wasps 
with intricate legs all occupied. 
If it was news communicated, 
or if they mated or fought, 
it was difficult to say of that clasp. 

And a cold fear because I did not know 
struck me apart from them, who moved, 
whose wasp-blood circulated, 
who, loveless, mated, who moved; 
who moved and were not loved. 

When the cat puts its furred illiterate 
paw on my page and makes a starfish, 
the space between us drains my marrow 
like a roof’s edge. It drinks milk, 
as I do; one of its breaths is final. 

And even the young child, whose eyes 
follow what it speaks, to see in yours 
what it will mean, is running away 
from what it sent its secret out to prove. 
And the illiterate body says hush, 

in love, says hush; says, whatever 
word can serve, it is not here. 
All the terrible silences listen always; and hear 
between breaths a gulf we know is evil. 
It is the silence that built the tower of Babel.
I think this is beautiful with a very spiritual dimension. I mean, I did use the word 'eucatastrophe' in my essay.  The IB makes me laugh. This is the second recent American poet to be featured on the exam; they prefer to pick obscure poets who write bad poetry. Google 'Grace Chua (a love song, with two goldfish)' to see what I mean. That's just corny!

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