LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Phoebe Power “Clarsach”

They lift the girl-harp in a hammock/ of silver wire not to touch the ground or snap // a clavicle. Her feet are blades / not pedals. They change the key In naturals // and sharps. On the lawn she tingles / her clitoris, and notes sprinkle with the grass-seed in the air.

from NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet, 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE. The ecstasy of time is time’s own ecstasy, but as given from the origin, it is also a rejoicing with the origin which leaps with its leaping: in loving itself it loves eternity, though it may not know it; it loves eternity because in its ownness it is loved by eternity. William Desmond, God and the Between, p. 297.

Phoebe Power draws on Baudelaire, Mallarme, and Joyce among others, her lyrics revive metaphysical powers latent in the equivocity of language. As the FRAME suggests, her readers may access latencies mothballed by dogmatic materialism. I say “dogmatic” because materialism is now open to metaphysical sources, enriching the foundations of lyric, as this lyric shows.

The conceit entertained in Clarsach is an analogy between the Scottish harp and the female body. So to begin with there’s a complex configuration of senses made visible by “understandings” which, once accepted, move the reader forward deeper into the poem. Start with “girl-harp” and “hammock.” Let that become a thing in your imagination. Taken together as the line gives them requires of the reader an energy that should come from the images themselves and devoted to the movement forward.

I put it that way because the poem makes it if not easier harder and harder to go forward. It depends on the capacities of the reader. The semantic suspension of “lift… not to touch…” enacts its meaning. Then “her feet…they” evokes the literal bodily playing of the harp, in a less figural way, and THAT gives way with a splendid bump to the supersensuous imagery worthy of Joyce or even beyond his limited character- bound mode enriched with lyric.

No apologies here! Definitely lyric!

In undervaluing lyric we enfeeble our own resources of understanding. The conclusion of this poem is moved by energies of “time’s own ecstasy.” The poem’s space is the metaxu or between of mortals and hyperboles of plurivocal being. Which is to say there’s a metaphysics at work in Power’s work that can be celebrated once we’ve done the work to understood the moves.

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 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 and other sites.

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