suggestion via Rita Dove

Suggestion is a key element to poetry. Whether it’s a matter of word choice, how using the word “broken,” say, suggests its opposite, “fixed”; or within the structure of a metaphor itself, the juxtaposition of two things bringing to mind a further connection, suggestion is one word for poetry’s ability to tap into language’s conspiratorial nature.

The poem below, “Flirtation” by Rita Dove, is a good example of what I mean. Dove takes the contextual framework of the title and aligns it right away with a variety of evocative images:

After all, there’s no need
to say anything

at first. An orange, peeled
and quartered, flares

like a tulip on a wedgwood plate.
Anything can happen.

First, the movements here of an “orange, peeled / and quartered” are said to flare “like a tulip on a wedgwood plate,” a parallel that works both on a visual and sensory level. This parallel implies subtle physical shifts, similar to one person becoming particularly aware of another. The type of attention described here is sharp and visceral.

peel-and-unpeeled-orangeThere is suggestion at work in Dove’s line break’s as well. The enjambment of the above lines, with line breaks on “peeled” and “flares,” creates tension as image and simile develop. This tension is broken by the following line “Anything can happen.” whose conceptual certainty is echoed in the use of a period to create an end stopped line.

A similar push and pull occurs later in the lines:

Outside the sun
has rolled up her rugs

and night strewn salt
across the sky. My heart

is humming a tune
I haven’t heard in years!

The line “across the sky. My heart” is especially effective as the enjambment and line break here both end and start a sentence, but also imply another parallel, that of a heart being like a sky. This deft way with the line creates a dizzying atmosphere, which brings us back to the title and its implied feelings. Dove continues to develop this atmosphere straight through to the poem’s elegant ending.

Flirtation – Rita Dove

After all, there’s no need
to say anything

at first. An orange, peeled
and quartered, flares

like a tulip on a wedgwood plate.
Anything can happen.

Outside the sun
has rolled up her rugs

and night strewn salt
across the sky. My heart

is humming a tune
I haven’t heard in years!

Quiet’s cool flesh–
let’s sniff and eat it.

There are ways
to make of the moment

a topiary
so the pleasure’s in

walking through.

*

from Selected Poems (Vintage)

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* stepping out with rita dove & holderlin

My translation of Borges two weeks ago received a great response on here – thank you all for your kind words!

This week’s poem, “Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary” by Rita Dove, evokes some of the fascination and thrill of working out a poem from one language to another, how there is a “shyness” but also a “stepping/out” of one’s body in the task.

* Holderlin to your hats *
* Holderlin to your hats *

Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary – Rita Dove

One by one, the words
give themselves
up, white flags dispatched
from a silent camp.

When had my shyness returned?

This evening, the sky refused
to lie down.  The sun crouched
behind leaves, but the trees
had long since walked away.
The meaning that surfaces

comes to me aslant and
I go to meet it, stepping
out of my body
word for word, until I am

everything at once: the perfume
of the world in which
I go under,
a skindiver
remembering air.

***

Happy airing!

Jose

p.s. I wrote about Holderlin a ways back – check it out here.