LYRIC PERFORMANCE Vala Thorodds “Naked Except for the Jewellery”

You sketched a shelf / for all your imaginary things. Plants and records. /outlines of books that exist only in your future, best life.// Offered to add something of mine, whatever I liked.// But I couldn’t think / of what I cared for. So I said, ‘Jewellry.’/ Sweaters and shoes.’// When I meant, ‘My bike lock./ Procrastination./ The lies I told.’

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

FIELD OF REFERENCE In ordinary language there are reserves to the language of “doing justice” that are helpful for our reflections. WILLIAM DESMOND, THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL (2016)

Vala Thorrods was born in Iceland. She says her first great love was disco. She lists her current activities as poet, publisher, editor, translator, and literary curator. I mention this because the poem I’ve chosen exhibits the qualities essential to what gives me hope about the short poem in our time. These qualities are often overlooked. They involve performing conceptual capacities more associated with ‘doing justice’ and ‘telling the truth.’ Thorrods’ conception of lyric as dance enfleshes the scheme. It’s deceptively minimal-looking.

Anyway….It’s good to have such a distinguished person on our side.

Our side? Really? How gauche! But “Naked except for the Jewellery” (a line borrowed from Jack Gilbert) is exactly that, a revelation of a hidden side of, or perspective on, lyric. The poem begins in a situation defined as an aspect of “you.” The equivocity, indeed plurivocalism, of pronouns is exploited without apology: this is perfected performance of one aspect of lyric. I/you.

We naturally think this refers to an other. Exactly. And here that other is defined by its favorite things.

As we noted, Thorrod’s imagination is rooted in dance, and the movements of the lyric have a disco-like clarity. The second section “performs” this dialectic of selfhood with bright energy.

That movement is consolidated as the poem follows its pattern by opening to the murk of the inner self. This movement is executed by a random list of ordinary things. The list descends ‘kenotically’— this is spiritual striptease—in value. Thus the verbal moves reveal a naked self. That self can’t say what it means. It is frustrated in its efforts at free expression.

It can’t help itself.

So the self turns toward another list starting at even a lower level of conventional self-expression. But no, we might say, now we are getting somewhere! Confession!

Perform it! Perform the singularity of your most true imaginary things. Bike lock— perform the velar stops. The lanky, self-indulgent Latinate syllables — they always lie— of “procrastination.” And finally the self-exculpatory admission that, yes, in the past, I’ve told some lies and they cost me dearly.

Oh please!

What a poem!

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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