I have spent the last few days in bed, feverish, with a sore throat, barely able to think or move, nodding off watching old episodes of MST3K, hoping each day that this would be the last day of this nonsense.
I have not been reading much poetry.
But today I dragged myself to the clinic to make sure this is something I have to suffer through (viral infection, mono) rather than take antibiotics for (strep, tonsillitis), and I brought with me a book of poetry I was halfway through when I fell sick: Fred Wah's Waiting For Saskatchewan. This book won Canada's Governor's General Award for poetry back in 1984. I wouldn't expect a government award to go to a book of poetry that I'd find interesting, but things must work crazy up in Canada.
So I am out of it and I am reading poetry. And I am rolling along with the poetry nicely. And I think once again that poetry is not, as some would claim, language at its most difficult. It is the opposite, it is language at its easiest. I was reading this book, and sometimes half-reading it, and sometimes my eye would just fall down the page and not take in the text at all, but it was all right, because I was getting something out of it. I was taking pleasure in the text. I didn't need to worry about the complete architecture of the text, I didn't need to concern myself that there were things going on that I wasn't following, because that's not how you play poetry. I mean, you can if you enjoy that. It's there for you. But you, the reader, get to decide whether the pleasures of the text reside. And that is easy, isn't it?
Maybe if I weren't so feverish I wouldn't feel the need to say something so obvious.
What I was enjoying was the syntax, Wah's sense of how you can put a sentence together, which -- I mean I'm sure there are precedents, but it wasn't quite like any other approach to sentences I have read in a while. I enjoyed the Saskatchewan name-dropping as well, sure, but it was largely the sentences. From a section about a journey to China, where he looks for traces of his late father, a "prose" introduction setting the scene followed by a "prose poem" piece:
Aug 4100.8°F, says my unreliable thermometer. It's not strep, and I just have to wait for it to take its course. Time to lie back down.
Get from Tokyo to Narita airport then to Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong. Now wait in airport transit lounge in Taiwan for flight to continue. In Cantonese language territory I feel more comfortable with an exhibit of beautiful mainland calligraphy, painting and ceramics brought over by Chiang. Western piano music. I watch a bald-headed nun or monk and dark ethnic Chinese, maybe Tibetan. P reads a novel by Patrick White, goof plot she says. Eyes tired from what, body just tired.
Is that Chopin with the waxed evening light people me looking so hard for something to connect with sounds or faces an image out of all my images story unknown building blocks from then to now tangent to hearing a rhythm without having to pay attention to the melody?