Part 9, cont - "Just Seeing" Introduction

INTRODUCTION to "Just Seeing"

After the “Pindar” exercise, which helped me in putting together all that I’d learned from and about Duncan, I set out to choose a poem that was short enough to read closely but also was representative of what I liked most about Duncan’s work and what often talked about – a poem that seemed to go with the spirit of this statement from “Ideas on the Meaning of Form,” “We are part of the creative process, not its goal…what we know shapes us and we become creatures, not rulers, of what is” (101).

I had written out three short poems: “The Structure of Rime II”, “Keeping the Rhyme” and “Just Seeing”. I benefited from the exercise because in helped tune my ear to Duncan’s aesthetic but in the end, I chose “Just Seeing”, which is the last of ten poems available at Jacket, an online magazine. “Just Seeing” is dated September 27, 1980.

Just Seeing Sept. 27, 1980

takes care everywhere before names
this taking over of sand hillock and slope
as naming takes over as seeing takes over
this green spreading upreaching thick
fingers from their green light branching
into deep rose, into ruddy profusions

takes over from the grey ash dead colonies
lovely the debris the profusion the waste
here – over there too – the flowering begins
the sea pink-before-scarlet openings
when the sun come thru cloud cover
there will b bees, the mass will be busy
coming to fruit – but lovely this grey
light – the deeper grey of the old colonies
burnd by the sun – the living thick
members taking over thriving

where a secret water runs
they spread out to ripen

After I wrote the poem in longhand, I typed it so that it was in the middle of an 11x8 piece of paper. That way, I could write on a copy of the poem, mapping it out in different ways. First, I went through the poem and identified, word by word, the parts of speech used. I was reminded of a quote from the essay “Ruthless Attention” in Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Flexible Lyric. She was critiquing a poem she did not consider a quality piece from Philip Larken, “Heads in the Women’s Ward”. The absent omniscient speaker, “summarizes and then abandons the poem to a sentimental heap of nouns. In “Just Seeing” I had found the counterpart to “a sentimental heap of nouns.”

After mapping out the parts of speech of the words in the poem, I looked through my list of “texture” components (from part 5) and identified the juxtapositions, repetitions, surprises, figurations and uses of imagery. I also dedicated a sheet to the form of the poem, the rhythm and, the one that was the most illuminating, the sounds in the poem. All of these sheets are attached and labeled accordingly. I scanned them for a visual component to this section.

As I closely inspected the poem, I thought about the interior and exterior aspects and my reactions to them. When I first read the poem, I was immediately attracted to it, even if I didn’t fully grasp its meaning. I realized that I was reacting to the energy of the poem. While it’s the least concrete element of the interior of a poem, it occurred to me that it’s the thing that readers first react and respond to with any given poem. It’s what we apprehend first.

What aspects of energy did I react to? First, the spacing and how that affects the rhythm of the poem as I read it. Then the mystery – the what in the first stanza isn’t clear but the feeling of urgency is clean in the entire poem, even from the first read. How that urgency is achieved is what gets discovered during the close reading. I found that the most attractive aspect of the poem is its use of juxtaposition. The surprise with phrases like “lovely the debris.” This phrase is noticeable first because it is grammatically inverted, instead of “The debris is lovely.” It is also an unexpected description of debris. It is irony, though upon the first read, it’s the surprise, and not the technical term, that grabs you.

Between lines 8 to 11 words with negative connotations, “waste” (8), “profusion” (8), “debris” (8), are quickly followed with positive words and phrases like “flowering” (9), “pink-before-scarlet openings” (10), and “sun comes thru” (11). In addition to debris being lovely, so is “grey”, which one does not usually think of as a lovely color. Conversely there is little that is “expected” in the poem: no cliché, no obvious working of language.