DEFORMANCE

Anyone can read a poem, memorize it, and/or parrot its surface presentation.  However,  any reader who has attempted to analyze poetry has learned, interpretation is not clear-cut.  By viewing the poem differently, by rearranging the text, the poem is “released” from its inherent structure.  This concept, according to Emily Dickinson, allows the poem’s “imaginary self” to appear. Her idea of deformance, “reconstitutes the work’s aesthetic form,” and fosters the possibilities of imagination. In fact, it helps the reader “dwell in the realms of possibility.”(McGann, 108)

William Blake felt that in interpreting imaginative works (such as poetry), we should respond with our imaginations, not merely reflect through further analysis. In other words, use our imaginations to view text from a totally different angle, pull “backwards,” even isolate different textual elements to release the poem from its structure. This technic of deformance opens the poem to a viewing of elements that are not obvious to ordinary literal translation.

In  Billy Collins’ “Bereft,”  the poet is listening to a friend’s observation about the “freedom” that death provides from worldly encumbrances. The poet tries to counteract the gloomy diatribe with references to mundane,worldly objects–beautiful, playful images. The fourth stanza (more sombre in tone) refers to the “empty zone,” “vaporous,” “dark tunnel,” “region of silence.”  The poet closes the last stanza with what may be a complete turnaround: are the “beatings of wings” angels?  And, as he ends with the “sound of the newcomers weeping,” one may infer these are either those newly born to Earth or the weeping of the newcomers to the great void after death; crying for what they have left behind on Earth; relief for finally being the lucky dead.

In initially deforming “Bereft,” the poem easily flows as prose; the first two sections of sentence phrases are countered by the third section which turns sombre, quiet and dark in mood. Tension appears between the poet and his acquaintance, one who sees the worldly objects as so simple maybe even profound and the acquaintance who may be seriously depressed or just making a joke. It is left to the reader to surmise.

In the next exercise, “backwards” reading “releases” the text from its initial structure. More clearly is illustrated the attitude of the poet–entirely reversed. The images are still clear but the mood differs; talk of death is now at the end of the reading. By isolating the nouns as the next step in reordering the poem, do the images become clear  more profound: disparate “ordinaries” of Earth.  Finally, the most delightful look at the poem is when all the adjectives are “alone” on the page.  “Lucky”and “lifted” begin and end the poem, but then, in the center stanzas are: snow, railway, inside–bright, glimmering, cool, open–empty, vaporous, dark. The images have taken on a more vivid color of their own; the “movement” between “lucky” and “lifted” reaches through to darkness then out again.  The reader is led by this “new” structure to reconfigure the form to clarify the “essentials” of the verse. Could this be what was “underneath” all the time? Obviously, and as expected, viewing a poem through deformance has sparked an opportunity for the possibilities of revelation through the imagination.

Bereft by Billy Collins

I liked listening to you today at lunch

as you talked about the dead,

the lucky dead you called them,

citing their freedom from rent and furniture.

no need for doorknobs, snow shovels,

or windows and a field beyond,

no more railway ticket in an inside pocket,

no more railway, no more tickets, no more pockets.

No more bee chasing you around the garden,

no more you chasing your hat around a corner,

no bright moon on the glimmering water,

no cool breast felt beneath an open robe.

More like an empty zone that souls traverse,

a vaporous place

at the end of a dark tunnel,

a region of silence except for

the occasional beating of wings–

and, I wanted to add

as the sun dazzled your lifted wineglass,

the sound of the newcomers weeping.

IN PROSE

I liked listening to you today at lunch as you talked about the dead, the lucky dead you called them, citing their freedom from rent and furniture, no need for doorknobs, snow shovels, or windows and a field beyond, no more railway ticket in an inside pocket, no more railway, no more tickets, no more pockets. No more bee chasing you around the garden, no more you chasing your hat around a corner, no bright moon on the glimmering water, no cool breast felt beneath an open robe. More like an empty zone that souls traverse, a vaporous place at the end of a dark tunnel, a region of silence except for the occasional beating of wings–and, I wanted to add as the sun dazzled your lifted wineglass, the sound of the newcomers weeping.

BACKWARDS

the sound of the newcomers weeping

as the sun dazzled your lifted wineglass,

and, I wanted to add

the occasional beating of wings–

a region of silence except for

at the end of a dark tunnel,

a vaporous place

More like an empty zone that souls traverse,

no cool breast felt beneath an open robe.

no bright moon on the glimmering water,

no more you chasing your hat around a corner,

No more bee chasing you around the garden,

no more railway, no more tickets, no more pockets.

no more railway ticket in an inside pocket,

or windows and a field beyond,

no need for doorknobs, snow shovels,

citing their freedom from rent and furniture,

the lucky dead you called them,

as you talked about the dead,

I liked listening to you today at lunch

NOUNS ONLY

listening     lunch

dead

dead

freedom    rent    furniture

doorknobs     shovels

windows        field

ticket          pocket

railway       tickets      pockets

bee                  garden

hat                  corner

moon             water

breast        robe

zone             souls

place

tunnel

region      silence

beating       wings

sun            wineglass

sound      newcomers

ADJECTIVES ONLY

lucky

snow

railway        inside

bright        glimmering

cool                  open

empty

vaporous

dark

lifted

Advertisements