LYRIC TRANSFORMATIONS [New Series] Michael Longley “Starlings”

Sitting up against a sea wall, / Eating fish and chips, we count / The starlings, a dozen or so / Swaggering opportunists / Unexpected on the shingle. / Shall we throw them leftovers, dear brother? Greasy fingers. / Spangled iridescences. / Is this Bangor or Ballyholme? / A blink and they attract thousands / And thousand more starlings, a shape- / Shifting bird-cloud, shitlegs / Sky-dancing. No collisions. / Wherever you are, Peter, / Can you spot on your radar / Angels? There’re starlings, really / Heavenly riffraff flocking / Before they flap down to roost.

From Angel Hill (Cape, 2017)

FRAME of REFERENCE Returning more directly to the erotics, what is at issue is the self-surpassing energy of the human being. We must connect this with the porosity of being. Recall, once again, that ‘poros’ is one of the parents of Eros in the account of Diotima-Socrates in Plato’s ‘Symposium.’ ‘Poros’ sometimes is connected with ‘resource,’ but one could stress it as offering a way, a way across. If ‘penia’ or lack couples with it, there is a paradoxical mixture of poverty and plenitude, and one could see in both the ‘poros’ and the ‘penia’ an alternate opening. For just as ‘poros’ is not this or not that, it seems to be like a nothing—and yet it is the opening of the possibility of passage. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 315 f.

Like many, I trust the lyric to help me out of everyday depression. Lyric takes my world and opens it up. If I read a lyric carefully my sense of hope will be restored, my energies refreshed. Why?

Not because the lyric offers an escape from human limitations. Often read to shore up a predisposition to pure ideas over the world of flesh and bones, the lyric will fail. Lyric returns us to reality. But reality that requires transformations of key cultural assumptions. Reality happens between our neediness and the supernatural abundance of creation. If you read this poem in the modernist way of resentment at religious imagery (angels) you will not experience transformation but microwaved nihilism.

Technically, Michael Longley’s “Starlings” is full of lyric transformations. Readers of this column may expect shoptalk here but this is a New Series. Suffice it to say, the upshot of lyric is not idealistic. The transformations serve an intenser awareness of what Desmond calls the paradox of poverty and plentitude. It guides me through these transformations to a rejuvenated appreciation of the promiscuous mix that constitutes human reality.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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