OKD and the DMS

5 05 2009


In “The Lyric ‘I’ Drives to Pick up Her Children from School: A Poem in the Postconfessional Mode,” Olena Kalytiak Davis includes as a key drama in that poem the unsuccessful effort to give significant shape to the scattered movements of her mind, movements which themselves struggle to reflect (upon) the fragmented state of the life they try to depict.

To convey this drama, Davis incorporates (about half-way through) in her largely associative poem an extended summary of the descriptive-meditative structure, as it is spelled out in M.H. Abrams’s “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric.”  Davis quotes heavily from the same part of Abrams’s essay that Corey Marks uses to summarize the descriptive-meditative structure in his chapter on the descriptive-meditative structure in Structure & Surprise:

“The speaker begins with a description of the landscape; an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape evokes a varied but integral process of memory, thought, anticipation, and feeling which remains closely intervolved with the outer scene.  In the course of this meditation the lyric speaker achieves an insight, faces up to a tragic loss, comes to a moral decision, or resolves an emotional problem.  Often the poem rounds upon itself to end where it began, at the outer scene, but with an altered mood and deepened understanding which is the result of the intervening meditation.”

Though, elsewhere, Davis clearly and actively employs the descriptive-meditative structure in her poetry (Structure & Surprise includes Davis’s “Resolutions in a Parked Car” in the “Supplemental Poems” section of the chapter on the descriptive-meditative structure), in “The Lyric ‘I’ Drives…” Davis employs a reference to that structure in order to note how that structure “evades her [or, rather, the poem’s “lyric ‘i'”].”  With this reference to the descriptive-meditative structure (which aims at insight, decisiveness, resolution), Davis is able to highlight the forlorn (if occasionally lively, witty) quality of the experiences and the thoughts her poem attempts to convey.

This seems a fascinating use of reference to a structure in a poem.  It is a bold and powerful gesture to say, in effect, I know where I’m supposed to go with this, but to do so would not be truthful to the content of my experiences or my thinking.  However, such a gesture is not totally unfamiliar.  It is, in its own way, a kind of concessionary gesture, one that acknowledges, I know what I should be doing, but I cannot, and/or will not…  And poems often comment on the structural expectations they feel they are evading or revising.  For example, many elegies often acknowledge that they should be aiming at finding some consolation only to admit (or bemoan) that consolation eludes them, or else actively critique the effort to find consolation.

None of this is a critique of Davis’s poem.  Rather, it is only to make note of a significant reference to structure in poetry, and to draw some further attention to a new use of a time-honored (though perhaps little-known) poetic technique.  Additionally, it is to offer one detail regarding the method by which, as Ira Sadoff says in “The True and Untrue Confessions of Olena Kalytiak Davis,” Davis “accounts for the structure of the poem” even though she structures her poem “associatively.”



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