Touch by John Godfrey

The gauntlet puts on weight

and I climb into its thumb

which balances and then teeters

and thuds against my nose

and I see stars forever having

forgot aspirations of diligence and method

whatever was the retreat in research

and pursuit in gravity of something

to do while resting in geological sleep

where to touch is to be felt by nothing


I think to understand “Touch” by John Godfrey, a reader should know a little bit about the daily life of this poet: an HIV clinician and nurse, Godfrey has seen much of his life through the perspective of his patients, which reflects strongly in his poetry.

Whether or not this piece is a direct commentary on working with HIV/AIDS patients, I think that this lens was probably influential in writing this poem that I believe says a lot about isolation and feelings of helplessness. In the first two stanzas, the dual usage of “gauntlet” adds an immediate heaviness to the poem, especially since the speaker must climb into it, losing his balance in the process. This is an image of isolation and desensitization, since the gauntlet is armor and a separation of people and their touch. The poem immediately and almost jarringly shifts from a micro to macro perspective in the third stanza with talk of the stars and what the speaker sees as both “forever” and “forgot”—these epitomal signs of hope are to the speaker also harbingers of forgotten methods and confusion. This confusion and listlessness is emphasized even further in the fourth stanza where research, a thing of “gravity”, is surrounded in the sphere of retreat and is in search of an elusive “something”, showing a lack of purpose. The gauntlet separates skin from skin and person from person, touch meaning nothing in this impersonal interaction. The phrase “geological sleep” for me echoes throughout the poem—a sleepiness and absence that is something reminiscent of hollow dreams, and through this phrase we really feel a sensory and emotional disconnect.

The “image” as an emotional and intellectual complex

“An “image” is an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant of time… It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” -Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”


In “A Retrospect” and “A Few Don’ts”, Pound discusses a lot of rules he views as vital to the writing of poetry, many of which are prohibitive in nature—to avoid abstractions, to ornament only when necessary, to make it “free of emotional slither”— and paraphrases these throughout the essay like dogma. These, of course, are NOT dogma according to Pound. Pound’s definition of image is cosmic to me, so omnipotent and nebulous, that for me it almost contradicts his steadfast rules about form and style. The concept of an image existing as a complex in an instant of time is something so metaphysical that I have trouble assigning rules to it in an attempt to recreate it. Do we as poets have enough agency and power over the natural world to think that rules about form, rhythm, and rhyme can lead to the creation of this elusive but important moment?


Of course, Pound’s recommendations for poets are useful and ring true with many of the techniques I’ve already learned about poetry—but we must be careful to understand that perhaps conventions and understandings of the image differ from writer to writer and from school to school, and realize it takes a lot of gall to claim supremacy over the Image.