the metaphysics of the contemporary lyric: Clarkson’s “Love Cow”

Love Cow

by Geraldine Clarkson

Oh cow of love you have me pinned
to your evergreen felt

and are in at my ear with fermenting
oaths and actual importuning

and imprecations. I rebut you
with a tough raft of arguments, derived

from magazines under the sofa
at my Aunt Libbie’s house

I have a disease, your rump is small,
your rich cream disgusts me

and others which are more
sophisticated, from the Bible and books of

philosophy. You give me a soft brown
stare. How I wobble now before you, cow

of love, humongous, like a free-range
sack of boulders swaying

delightfully, your cordial spine
rippling, your celtic skeleton

offering promise. To eat you
would be divine, surely,

your emerald milk fast-forwarding
to your stomachs, pressed over and over

by clenching muscles. Why is it you cows get
such bad press? I wonder, half-beguiled.

Sometimes I see you, fenced,
defending young (‘let go of your dog

if cows surround you’, the notice
on the farm-gate says)    

or at the abattoir, steaming hot
and hung prosaically on hooks.                                           

Or on the plate with no relief
except for some mocking green

salad – staked out, defenceless.
They say your flesh can stay

unsullied in the gut
for six months or more –

bowels fill with longing
for sloping fields, a faraway sea.

This poem, first published by The Poetry Society before the publication of her now celebrated MONICA’S OVERCOAT OF FLESH, fulfills the promise of that volume. The oblivion to which metaphysics have fallen in modern times makes it ripe for my use. Her fans should be interested in why we should think of her art, so resolutely affirmative about the ways our bodies add dimensions to our sense of self. The Love Cow speaks intimately to the poet, who initially closes her ears with the arguments of others. The image —pinned to evergreen felt— might be cleared up by the poet, but the ambiguity “you have me pinned” creates an “other” structurally irreducible to reduction: so “meta”? And the dialogic form sustains that and reminds one of earlier metaphysicals like Donne and Herbert. The balance of the poem argues in several voices with the imposing immanence, indeed the fleshy quality underlies the metaphysical universality. (The double Immanence/Transcendence is fundamental to our metaphysical understanding of Romanticism, but as I hope to show, a good lyric handles it with finesse: here it’s part of Clarkson’s characteristic charitas.) As we will see in this column, Romantic Hegelian metaphysics has been transformed by more recent philosophers such as Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and William Desmond to open the meta to the centrality of the Flesh, to use a contemporary Upper Case. The confidence of the metaphysical presentation of the “Love Cow” should leave no doubt that in the hands of Clarkson the metaphysical mode is decidedly contemporary. It’s a glorious 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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