I’ll think I’ll talk all little on one of the poems that really stuck out out to me in David Herd’s Through. On page 44 in the section “Syntax,” the poem “X.” really pushed me into a head space preoccupied with the concept of space.
While the poem itself is intelligible as a whole, I read it more as a series of couplets, tercets, and a single quatrain woven together to form two stanzas. The separations don’t have many visual markers as punctuation (like many of the poems in “Syntax”) as the focus is more on the arrangement and relationship of ideas rather than forces that, even unintentionally, divide. We’re left to sift through the syntax.
Some of my favorite portions of the poem are:
“I leave the following message
It is not ok”
These two line start the poem. The mix of formal urgency and a low, everyday response establishes the poem’s logic that can flow in and out of contexts in the single flourish of a line break. My reading of the couplet implies a colon after “message,” but it could be that “not ok” describes the message rather than comprising the message. The ambiguity and subsequent over reliance on the syntax lets the complexity play.
“Dear Jurisdiction –
This one’s a letter (it even follows a reference to waxwing birds in the line prior that are named after their resemblance to wax seals on old letters). The use of “Jurisdiction” as the pronoun to which the letter is addressed reinforces the formality discussed earlier, but also supplants a small absurdity in addressing an authority in such curt, politically charged means. On that note the diction (which is the root word of “jurisdiction” meaning “law” and “saying,” which I highly doubt is unintentional), “deplorable” as a word has taken up such radically different connotations following the 2016 US presidential elections that the irony of the four lines, while formally, come across as funny and mocking. Also, the notion of a jurisdiction as an area of which the power of law is exerted is so central to the idea of space identified earlier.
Shall comprise an area”
This one is my favorite. The tercet, mentally and on the page, just takes up so much space at the very end of the poem that it just can’t be ignored. But “Here,” standalone, carries so much weight and fully occupies the space it establishes in the tercet, stanza, poem, and higher concept of places, spaces, and areas as something physical. And it plays so well off of dear jurisdiction from earlier, the other stanza-ender.
“X.” occupies and justifies the space it takes up on the page, in our minds, and in the world. Either despite or in tandem with the charged diction in terms of high and low, etymology, or politics, it doesn’t take a direct stance and teeters so carefully on the spaces of outrage and the mockery of outrage.
Just a quick note: the poem also references a writer (and professor of poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver) named Steve Collis who, from severely limited research, also uses language and poetry to address socio-political issues. He probably writes in the same vein as Herd if Herd’s speaker holds him in the same regards as he does his associates, the waxwings. I think I’ll look into him more.
Also, the conversation with between this poem and the other “X.” poem on page 31 and 32 is quite something.
Thanks for reading.