Saturday, December 6, 2008
"A Wicker Basket"
In all seriousness folks, if I promise too many times to write about poetry & music, I’ll actually end up doing just that. I recall making that promise (threat?) back in the late summer/early fall when posting poems like “Not Waving, But Drowning” & “The Song of the Wandering Aengus.” I’m reminded of it because the poet I chose for this week’s poem was one of the best lyricists in the American poebiz scene from the 1950s until he passed away just a few years ago.
That poet is Robert Creeley, & I’ve been a long time admirer of his work, especially the finely honed lyric poems of his For Love: Poems 1950-1960. Seeing a poet pare his subject down to its essence, not in a minimalist fashion, but in the sense of all details being “just so,” & also create a consistent voice over the small space of a lyric poem is satisfying indeed. Its what gives Classical scholars satisfaction when they read the Greek lyric poets, & what makes Renaissance scholars love Thomas Campion. To a great extent, these lyricists were writing words for music, & in that sense their craft had as much in common with Johnny Mercer as with Ezra Pound (just to mention a big poebiz name who actually wrote about the poetry-music connection in his Treatise on Metre).
Of course “lyricism” in poetry means more than “singability,” even if that concept is somewhere in the background. It also suggests a coherent subjectivity doing the singing or lyricizing as the case may be—a “lyric I” as someone (I forget now who) put it. In practical terms for the writing poet this is less simple than it appears, since one’s actual consciousness isn’t necessarily coherent (or doesn’t translate in words into what we understand as coherence) & the development of that persona is a “writerly” task.
Creeley accomplished this very well in his poetry; he could adopt a persona that was hip & funny (as in “A Wicker Basket,”) or passionate, or detached, or philosophical. His poems are generally concise both in terms of image & line length—the long “apple pie” line in the next-to-last full stanza of this poem is an exception—& at their best they really open up a world captured at a given moment in time. At their best, (to return to the real subject) Creeley's poems seem “lyric” in the old sense of the word—I can certainly imagine someone like Tom Waits talk-singing “A Wicker Basket” with a nice jazz groove behind him. If you want to hear Creeley read (not sing) this poem & a number of others, check out the fine collection of recordings here at PennSound.
Hope you enjoy!
A Wicker Basket
Comes the time when it's later
and onto your table the headwaiter
puts the bill, and very soon after
rings out the sound of lively laughter—
Picking up change, hands like a walrus,
and a face like a barndoor's,
and a head without any apparent size,
nothing but two eyes—
So that's you, man,
or me. I make it as I can,
I pick up, I go
faster than they know—
Out the door, the street like a night,
any night, and no one in sight,
but then, well, there she is,
old friend Liz—
And she opens the door of her cadillac,
I step in back,
and we're gone.
She turns me on—
There are very huge stars, man, in the sky,
and from somewhere very far off someone hands
me a slice of apple pie,
with a gob of white, white ice cream on top of it,
and I eat it—
Slowly. And while certainly
they are laughing at me, and all around me is racket
of these cats not making it, I make it
in my wicker basket.
© Robert Creeley 1962