Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Poem of the Week 6/27/2012: Sneeze Ode

Sneeze Ode

Here comes the sneeze with its end-of-the-world,
mobster-motor, a-gog cog.
You better not be holding nothing full,
better not got hurt ribs.
Rip right through your billet-doux, weed-whip
your honeysuckle before any bees get sip.
Unlike its wussy brother hiccups, its argument
is politics not music, neither poetical like the cough,
if there's blood it's on the wall
not crumpled in no hark-a-lark hankie.
Flu's coup but too like the wow of wooing,
there's nothing you can do, not the court
stenographer, not the pilot or his co--
so think about that next time you're landing in O'Hare.
Even the cathedral's got a crack in it's lunette,
there's a demon in the lemon, semen
in the seamen and out out it's got to come.
Opposite of hum-drum, nowadays
it's the best gods can do for visitation,
no shower of gold coin but a cold draft,
no whole swan but a feather tickle to the nose
then kerBOOM your body's not your own,
its shrapnel in orbit for years and years
before burning up in the atmosphere.

Dean Young 2006

Some notes about Dean Young's lithe and electric postmodern ode.

The first line opens with the announcement of the coming of the sneeze; this pulls directly into mind Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," with its line, "and what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be Born." Yeats' poem addresses the human at a time when God has dropped away, and when the world is changing from its ancient order.

Also standing behind this poem, I think, is Philip Larkin's poem the old Fools - which reads - (At death you break up: the bits that were you / Start speeding away from each other for ever / With no one to see). And of course there is the entire history of Odes - Keats' comes famously to mind, Ode on a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, To Autumn, etcetera.

What do these references do? Well - they inform the backdrop of the poem - it's as if all of literature is a stage, and the plays are composed of poems / scenes. This play opens with odes, moves to Yeats, Philip Larkin, and finally Sneeze Ode. 

So what is the sneeze ode? The poem's first half focuses on the sneeze itself, mocking Yeats and weaving in the strains of apocalypse, too. Its darkness is a bit hidden, I think, beneath its cheerful exterior. The darkness of blood in a handkerchief is probably the reference to Keats, who died of Tuberculosis. The sneeze is also dangerous, like Yeats' beast. It could crash your Chicago plane. This is one aspect of the sneeze - a cheerful, energetic destruction.

The second half I find the most interesting... in it, the sneeze seems to be repeated - a fundamental feature of our lives - the sudden explosion from within, whatever that internal infernal quality (be it the demon in the lemon or semen in the seaman) that cannot help but explode, this repeated something is what we are meant to inherit. This vision of the human of the receptacle or actor of phenomena that happen throughout all scales of life - the vessel of eternal recurrence let's call it - seems to me disturbingly religious. Or if not religious than simply disturbing, in that it perturbs our calm sense of sovereignty over ourselves, and places us much more in relation with the natural order of things - Dean Young really gives us the sense that we are natural and as temporal and eternally recurring as nature when he writes: "kerBOOM your body's not your own, / its shrapnel in orbit for years and years / before burning up in the atmosphere." 

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