LYRIC PERFORMANCES Andrew Wynn Owen “Sand Grains”

Almost not anything at all, this particle // Of disconnected shell, /yet squirreling and shot / Through with a chutzpah fit for Frank Lloyd Wright.// Sheer angled mell, // A plankton’s cot, / It chuckles mischief, challenging the light. //A mineature motel, / Where some deceptive plot // Might stumble, after rambling on an article

Of lace, to solve its long-pursued conundrum. // Eureka. Awe. A crux / Hounded between the trees // For donkey’s years, corroborated. Truly, / Eternal flux / (Whatever wheeze // We try to pull), although it seem unruly, / Yields reverence redux. / As everybody sees // Sooner or later, nothing here is humdrum.

from New Poetries 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

NB Double // signifies a flush left return. Sorry. The poem is beautifully self-conscious in the respect of line action as in all others. Buy the book and see.

FIELD OF REFERENCE Such a practice of philosophy asks a porosity of mindful thought to what exceeds complete determination in terms of finite immanence alone. It is a participant in this middle, does not overreach it from the outside, and if it is, as it were, lifted up from within, it too is always defined by passages in the between. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (Columbia University Press 2016), 167.

Desmond’s phrase ”lifted up from within” suggests the dynamic of Owen’s poetry. The armchair physicist contemplating the quantum paradigm will feel the pull of this dynamic, as will the lover of lyric saturated with English poems from Thomas Traherne to Auden to now. Owen is excessively charged with the givens and gifts of a tradition too easily categorized as mystical. (The reconsideration of the mystical after William James and the experiential hypothesis is one of the more massive eruptions/disruptions of the post-post symbolic era.)

Reconfiguring Blake’s grain of sand might be considered the daydream of a fictive country parson but following Owen’s syntax draws on intellectual and emotional competences rooted in the performative practice of lyric.

Shaping the lines — an aspect not well served by my format — is a mindfulness in excess of Marianne Moore’s laconic style. Swerving in its references from obscure etymologies — mell as in honey— to narrative exempla on the scale of Frank Lloyd Wright— Owen’s oceanic flux of verbal energy follows what we refer to as the lyric chiasm, the inside/ outside vortex that grounds the poem in the honesty of “whatever wheeze / we try to pull.”

Owen’s voice includes the outside skepticism of the inside wonder. Teetering on the edge of inanity is one of his specialties and lifts his poems up from within while acknowledging the frailty of the flesh of the chiasm.

The poem’s essential lyric argument opens at last on not the self-serving wholistic self but on the syntax of “sooner or later, nothing here.” The otherness of the finite other beyond thinking is well within sight. Owen is among the few poet’s today who know how to reach that pitch without self-conscious (and self-defeating) irony. We recall perhaps with a mixture of chagrin and gratitude how, in the words of the author’s preface, “wrong it would be to forget how to be loving.”

In a word, at our best, we are all “passages in the between” as envisioned here.

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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