Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kathleen Ossip, _The Cold War_

Surprises of the week:

Echoes of Keats in Heaney: You might not agree that "Who is this coming to the ash-pit" is an echo of Keats's "Who are these coming to the sacrifice," but I think it is. "Apart: the very word is like a bell"  and "the heel of my once capable / Warm hand" are undeniable, though (both from Heaney's "Chanson d'Aventure").

An echo of Pound in Ariana Reines: a line near the end of "Permanent Water"--"A hole in myself at the thought of my lord you"--seems to me a pretty crafty revision of a line in Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter."

And now two echoes of Pound in today's volume! In the first poem, "Human Mind," a couple of lines--

Mania we drank, adrenaline we chewed, and for what?
A few women botched in teeth (unfluoridated).

--echo Pound's famous lines on WW I from "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly':

There died a myriad,
and of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization [...].

And then a few pages on, in a poem about 1950s suburban life, Ossip rewrites the first line of the Cantos: "And then went down to the church."

I can't quite recall why I bought The Cold War--a favorable review from Stephen Burt, perhaps? If so, Stephen Burt is right once again: an excellent book. The more memorable poems here circulate around the texts and ideas of not-exactly-major-but-arguably-symptomatic intellectual figures from the late 1940s, the 1950s, and the early 1960s: Karl Menninger and Wilhelm Reich (psychology), Yvor Winters (literary criticism), Will and Ariel Durant (history), Vance Packard (sociology). 

Judging from her author photo, Ossip does not seem likely to have been born before 1970, but her portrait of the Truman-to-Kennedy era puts Mad Men to shame.  The energy she (like the series) might have put into the clothes, the furniture, and the cars instead goes into the psychological structure of that time, its  hysterical insistence on its truths, its forced, blinkered, doomed-to-disappointment optimism.  That "Document:," a post-9/11 poem, slots seamlessly into the middle of this volume indicates our own moment's illness is no new one.

All this and just about the most incisive account of that incredible personage Yvor WInters I have ever seen--and in a poem, no less.

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