from MONICA’S OVERCOAT OF FLESH (Nine Arches Press 2020)
Lyric deserves more critical attention. It is clearly the genre of the moment.
On reflection, a great lyric embodies the experience of threshold, or attention to transitions within an aesthetic (open) whole of poetry. Minor as it presents itself, His Wife in the Corner presents multiple thresholds that comprise the poem’s dynamic. Thresholds include aspects of the poem’s voice— present, past, self and other; temporal frame (then, now, and a narrative past —that vodka bottle); and attitudes or aspects, distinguishable here in terms of the points of view of the poet as prismatic for man, woman, and (inner?) child. Not to mention the fang-dang urgent message.
The concept of threshold helps us with the old idol unity. There’s a heterogeneity to lyric that defeats the expectation, nay hope, of perfectly expressive communication. But the plurivocity of lyric also defeats the cop-out of nihilism. The self or suchness of the poem, however complex, selves, to paraphrase Hopkins, and that movement, as articulated by the thresholds, is a matter not of determinate knowledge of, say, certain modes of self-consciousness, but of finesse, even of desire.
Some readers will detect in the complexity of His Wife in the Corner a blank from which to settle the scores between the parties. For example, confronting the most obvious option, in what sense is this a “feminist” poem? Indeed, ask that question of the whole book. Or try this: does this poem, this book, assume an authorial point of view inseparable from Christianity?
One final point: The concept of Threshold, indebted to the ultimate notion of plurivocal wholeness, seems to keep the given poem open to the reader’s own “selving.” However we frame it, Clarkson’s poem recapitulates the art of lyric as practicable in light of post-Romantic developments. I like to think of it this way: in light of contemporary debates, the lyric has a dog in the fight with nihilism, boredom, anti-intellectualism, and other popular diversions. For the critical reader, it’s an exciting thing to see. We seem to be in a revival of lyric. Lyric may be the genre par excellence of reflection on limits of our ability to express ourselves satisfactorily.