Some poems are capable of tapping into the connotations or “languages” around a word and making them meet. This week’s poem, “If It All Went Up in Smoke” by George Oppen, for example, does a great job of taking the languages of the word “smoke” and blurring them to create a visceral metaphor.
First, there is the paradoxical logic of the initial two lines: “that smoke / would remain,” which presents the image of smoke hanging in the air. Then through “light” “footprints” and “grass blades,” the logic of the poem further develops from transient, slight things, only to have that idea pushed against by the solidity of “wells” and the presence of “distances.”
As smoke is always in motion, so is language and, by default, poetry. Smoke is also after-the-fact, needing to arise from a fire. From the fire of experience (“grass / blades”), begins the smoke we write and read in poetry.
If It All Went Up in Smoke – George Oppen
savage country poem’s light borrowed
light of the landscape and one’s footprints praise
in the close
that is strange the sources
the wells the poem begins
neither in word
nor meaning but the small
us in the stones and is less
always than that help me I am
of that people the grass
and touch in their small
distances the poem