LYRIC OPENINGS Geraldine Clarkson

I open Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches Press 2020) because I’m bored, and itching to write about how lyric affects the malaise of boredom. Clarkson’s poetry has an over plus of musical meaning and I like that.

Boredom afflicts people who read books in ways only books can help. We say take a walk, get some fresh air. Listen to the news. Call a friend. Go online. But nothing helps.

But when I read “ she’s started swearing, her mind like a sewer,” the last phrase of Clarkson’s “Inis Ni,” I connect to something outside myself but obviously part of myself now. Maybe my black mood needed this “objective correlative,” to borrow Eliot’s phrase. (And another phrase that has become a closed door.)

Such openings in the process of thinking through a poem involve us with the world of contingency, the world which may well not have happened. This is, in a sense, the human world; we like to say other worlds, like mathematics, are necessary. The sleep of finitude, boredom, is asleep in the necessary. Lyric openings wake us to the contingency and we feel suddenly alive and connected.

So anyway I reread the poem and I’m feeling better.


It’s something about the specific music of this poem, the melody of swearing and sewer, the dissonance of reference and sw-sew. Then I notice the double meaning of sewer. And another dimension opens up: I don’t sew but I love textiles as handiwork. I connect it with making poems, and swearing while doing so because it’s demanding work.

The poem is then an opening for me. I was closed now I’m open.

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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