Friday, March 26, 2010

The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi

Rakosi, Carl. The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi. Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986.

Unlike most collected volumes, Rakosi organized his poems into conceptual units, instead of chronologically. In the author’s own words, he thought it would be “more creative and interesting to organize the poems as if [they] were making up a book for the first time” (17); the poet cares little for the “reader who is bothered by this” (18), particularly academics. But far from being a tangential or trivial detail, this aspect of the collection speaks to some of the overriding concerns of the content. Frequently, the speaker of a poem will address critics and scholars in a highly satirical fashion, such as: “Critic/ remember/ that when/ I was neither/ prophet/ nor mad/ I was only/ a minor bard”; in such instances, Rakosi chastises critics for playing both sides of the fence with regard to scholarship. The poet writes with sincerity as well, but this tone most often occurs when he addresses the economically depressed (demonstrating, no doubt, his Marxist affiliations) and the intimate relations he shares with friends and family. The poems in the “Americana” section, particularly “Welfare,” “Coca Cola Sign,” and “Longshoreman,” exemplify his aforementioned interest in matters relating to class struggle, while the poems in the “L’Chayim,” such as “The Father,” “To My Granddaughter’s House,” and “Evening with My Granddaughters,” function in a similar manner with regard to his intimate relationships. Concerning modes of poetic presentation, Rakosi evinces a Williams-esque sense of imagery, writing short poems such as “How quickly the dandelions/ come up/ after the rain./ I picked/ them all/ only yesterday,” but he differs from his predecessor by incorporating both dialogue and regional dialect within the fabric of his texts. The poet believes that poems are “a small model/ into the world” (185) that should be presented clearly and without adornment. To this extent, he is skeptical of metaphors because, when employed, a material object’s “origin has been deleted” (192). Moreover, Rakosi contends the poems need to create an “inner/space” (198) that “penetrate[s] the particular” (204) with “hard,/ inevitable/ …language” (227). Finally, while his poems tend not to be as aesthetically daring as some of his Objectivist comrades, he does implement radical usage of the half-line break that provides a visually staggering of the text and forces the reader into an inherently staccato rhythm while reading the pieces.

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