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Today’s poetry post on Slate is an excerpt from Clangings, a collection of poetry by Steven Cramer, which is set to be published by Sarabande Books in 2012. Steven Cramer has been widely published in literary journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and Triquarterly. In addition, Cramer has written four poetry collections, one of which was named a 2005 Honor Book in Poetry by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Cramer has taught at many institutions, but currently directs the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge.
The excerpt from Clangings was posted this morning and can be read after the break.
from Clangings, by Steven Cramer
A finch in my chest flinches to get
heard. Wingman sewed it in. I hear
the chi-chuwee chuwee achew in there,
tiny beck beating the big heartbeat.
Mind you, it takes brains to slice
open a hide, scoop out the marble
muscles; craze a rib cage; uncoil
an aorta; slide in a gift like his:
the elf chirruping in my self, itself
elfin (the self’s wit-part part want).
Pity I’m not someone else’s heart!—
elf elsewhere, another body’s grief.
I don’t mind my beater’s a warbler,
or how in-the-skin is the finch’s cry.
Eat sweat, wet seat: its homunculi
pinions ping in a rock tumbler’s
cavity. I place my ear to my chest.
Finch-flitters from the solar-plexus,
beaky reminders keep keeping pace.
Oh my minute pecks, tend your nest.
Iris of the one-eyed Satan—see it?
X-ray of a horse pout about to eat me.
Amputee kissing a double amputee.
Exploded nova; no, what an idiot
I am: fly gotten crushed by a shovel.
That black is somebody’s childhood
shit spread on a microscope slide.
If e cuts in line, vile becomes evil.
A woman’s shadow on her back, legs
open, like pudding’s been splattened
by a bullet-train’s million-mile second.
Take away the veins, that’s the bags
I stuffed my faces in before their faces
mixed each other up and made mine.
What a kid drew in Art Class, a brain-
dead kid. Not sure what that clot is—
or they’re smudges, maybe inkblots?
Somebody dripped ink on paper, folded
the paper top to bottom or side to side.
The ink blotted and created inkblots.
The circulars blued under my eyes
from lugging salt sacks across a river
over a fire. One blinkered the other.
Almighty, they blazed with furies.
They were a sight. In Lord School,
my retinas uprooted. Not funny, I
tell you, spotting clots in eye jelly.
I’ve seen things. Threaded red pencil
threats, delivered. The pupils shrank.
Bobbing in floaters, I squinted right
at the nuns, white as off-white paint.
Faces have fifty-two muscles to spank.
Could’ve sworn I’d rubbed out all
that rubble. Could’ve sworn I saw
trouble swell into an eyeful of awe.
Awl, hack, rip, jig. Two-hand radial
Father Joseph. Touchy amen man.
Ass-burned the children out of sight.
Jesus’s analgesics didn’t conceal shit.
A hymn is one crummy physician.
This was such a fun and interesting poem to read because of how much Cramer plays around with language and the expectations of the reader. Though the three separate parts of this poem excerpt seem to be just that — separate — there are some running themes throughout the entire piece. There are continual references to parts of the body, animals, and things like inkblots or clots. These references help to create a continuity throughout while still maintaining an element of strangeness in the poem.
My favorite section of this poem is definitely the first part. The following two sections were just as interesting and just as unique, but there were so many crackling lines that caught my attention in the first section. Each line seems like a tongue twister in the best way possible. I truly just enjoyed reading the lines because they play with the English language and they play with what I was expecting to read.
The language in that first section is so visceral, and not just because Cramer is talking a lot about parts of the body. The language is so concrete and perfectly descriptive that I can feel what’s going on, I can see it, I can imagine what’s happening even though the poem’s premise (a finch in a person’s chest) is fairly unimaginable. It’s hard to tamp down just what I enjoy about this poem, but these lines are a pretty good indication: “the elf chirruping in my self, itself / elfin (the self’s wit-part part want). / Pity I’m not someone else’s heart!— / elf elsewhere, another body’s grief.” Just read those lines and try not to smile at how Cramer is using the English language.
For me, the audio player wasn’t working on Slate’s poetry page, but if it’s working for you, do listen to Cramer reading his poem.
— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan