Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Return of Riddles of Form

It seems something of a ritual that during each summer holiday I return to the work of Ray DiPalma. Track back in the Blog & you'll see the pattern. Thus it's no surprise that since returning from Greece I've been rereading The Ancient Use of Stone which then, in turn, has sent me back to other volumes.

I'm aware that there haven't been many poetry-related posts of late - the reasons for which I might go into later this week (reading continues & writing - it's more the tricky questions of why blog about it?).  Nevertheless, here's a tentative reading (for want of a better word) of a short poem that appears on page 97 of Number and Tempers his selected early poems published by Sun & Moon. 

Here's the entire poem:


Boober, he's the one
Tub and shay
Barnboard hay and hammer
Bale my foot
Boober, he's the one


It's not too difficult to get a general context for the poem - farmyard, US backwoods, etc.. Boober sounds to me one of those kind of hillbillyish names ("Boober, go take a look ..."). The majority of  nouns reinforce the farming location - tub, barn board, hay, hammer, bale. Not being an expert on US English, I'd be prepared to allow for "tub and shay" and "bale my foot" being accepted local expressions. So we know where we are - sort of. 

The difficulty comes in deciding well ... so what? Or and? DiPalma doesn't seem to be the kind of poet simply recording regional American English or celebrating rural customs. 

Once again I find myself paying an unusual amount of scrutiny to the very words on the page. I've written before on what seems to me to be DiPalma's way of writing (or one among many) - an extraordinary attention to motivations within words: syllables, sounds, letters themselves. So what about 'Kinfolk'?

The title is worth weighing with its suggestion of relatives, family ties and perhaps even too-close ties leading to incest. (I suppose this might go to reinforce the more general context given stereotypes of closed off rural communities). 

So a poem about incest? Or, rather, what happens when language starts to breed within itself? Maybe.  Sameness and difference.

Symmetry 1: the line structure: 5 lines with line 1 duplicated as line 5. However, it is accepted that when line 1 returns it will have acquired all sorts of other resonances due to lines 1-5. Same but different. (& there's the irony that in stating exemplary singularity - "he's the one" - the poem will contradict by doubling - he's the one (twice)). 

Symmetry 2: lines 1,3 & 5 - 4 words; lines 2 & 4 - 3 words. Then the 'and' structure of line 2 is repeated (but varied) in line 3. 

Symmetry 3: The name Boober: the doubled consonant 'b' and with contrasting vowels (the long 'o', the 'er'). The double consonant pattern is then seen in "Barnboard" with additional 'b's occurring in "Bale" and - interestingly - in a reversed position in "tub". "Barnboard" itself sets adjacent vowel sounds with 'ar' and 'or'. Pushing the reading further we have the 'h' consonant duplication in "hay and hammer" which, in turn, starts to signal another level of doubling - words with double letters (Boober ... hammer ... foot). 

Symmetry 4: "he's" seems to trigger a set of doublings with variation - "shay" shifts the vowel sound and the 's' + 'h' positions. "hay" draws from them in line three. "Bale" then fuses the long 'a' sound with the Boober-b pattern. There's also something going on in at the level of stress in the sequence: Boober - Barnboard - hammer. 

For a while I kept wondering about "Tub" at the beginning of line 2. Why was this here? Then it occurred to me that it inverts "foot" in line 4 - a very subtle modulation of the vowel sounds plus the adjacency of 'b' to 'f'. (Another thought: is DiPalma also playing with Dogberry-like mispronunciations - "shay" a comical thick-tongued yokel "say"?) 

And one more thing ... should line 1 be read as but part of the phrase unit that extends to line 2? (= Boober is the one who is tub and shay?) Or as a line separate to itself.* Once more we're back to relations - does the sense marry or not? 

Well, I'm off for a bike ride with the girls. It's good to exercise the leg muscles, too. If you have any thoughts on the poem &/or my reading please post in Comments or via e-mail (belgianwaffle@hotmail.com). At its very inception, this blog was intended to be a two-way street - something that has been rather lacking of late. More's the pity. 


* & it's worth noting that Sun & Moon print the poem with discernible space between each line which calls in question their relations. 

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