What I love about this poem is its perfect combination of wit and poignancy. Cleverness is often called out as a weakness in poems, either because it detracts from the communication of feeling or because the critic derides it as a matter of course. I don’t know what to say to the critic who will stomach no wit whatsoever, but I can say that, in the case of this poem, wit and sentiment perform a breathtaking balancing act. Phrases like “Your firsts were first” might be too clever without the balance provided by “We bit our lips if you were ever slow/to reach some milestone….” Conversely, if all the poem had to offer was this lip-biting, without the biblical allusions of “In the beginning” and “Your alphas are omegas”–it would perhaps descend into mawkishness. I’ve been a fan of Stallings since her debut collection, Archaic Smile, and this sonnet is a beautiful addition to her work.
I would like to launch this blog by sharing a poem about the launching of ships. Several of my friends on Facebook shared this poem yesterday, and I have been reading it over and over. I love how it takes a little fragment of the linguistic whirlwind that is our current cultural climate (an entry from Urban Dictionary!) and expounds upon it, expanding it from clever shard of language into a whole world all its own. On top of that, Olzmann manages to employ Achilles, Odysseus, and the gang without resorting to a tired repetition of the same old stories. My favorite moment in the poem: “it sails/straight out of history into a night so unknowable,/not even the blind eyes of Homer can guess where it will land.” That, to me, is pure ars poetica. Sailing into the unknown.