Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Doctor Love

Still working through The Cosmos Trilogy.

I've started on the Life on Earth section which are mostly more brutal and confronting and anchored in the real world (is the universe the real world?). He often has a redeeming ending though. I wouldn't say beautiful, because it is still vicious in many ways, but I guess it opens the poem up to being more than just disturbing, like at the end of Doctor Love that discusses oncology, breast cancer, bad film scripts, the commercialism of gene research, murder and then ends with this stanza:
In a soft East River breeze -- like glowing fireflies of snow.
Dear Hart, it is spring.
Cutting a person open
Is possible without pain.
Again, I don't really know how or why this poem works and maybe on some level it doesn't - I am always uncomfortable and in some ways resenting the poem I think.

His line-breaks and diction and syntax are tight but not neat and are crafted but not beautiful. So I guess if you were glancing over them you might see the harshness of them and not notice the skill behind it. Part of that might also be that there isn't a lot of reference to go by. His style seems quite unique (in my limited reading), like the kind of writer who doesn't really imitate other writers, although I've read elsewhere that early on he almost directly borrowed the aesthetics of Robert Lowell, so maybe it is more of a content thing? Maybe the content is dictating the feeling of aesthetic unease.

For an example there is this opening stanza from the same poem:
It was a treatment called
Doctor Love, after the main character.
One of the producers discovered
To our horror a real
I would think (one of) the normal ways to line break that out might be:
It was a treatment called Doctor Love,
After the main character.
One of the producers discovered to our horror
A real Dr. Love,
Now, I know some people might say, but what about free verse! In this day and age we can line break anywhere. This is post-modernism, what Seidel is doing is no different! But I think there is one overriding aesthetic that we still cling to and Seidel doesn't and that is that a poem is supposed to be a thing of beauty or at least a thing of irony, which is a kind of clever beauty I suppose. Seidel doesn't worry about that at all. His poems are uneasy, disquieting, disturbing. I guess like when the first horror movie came along? The early vampire movies? I don't know. But it seems he has figured out a way to do this, without being overly dramatic or judgemental, although his poems are loaded with judegmental language and he uses words like cancer and murder and cutting a person open, but he gets away with it. And maybe there is something in the aesthetics that allows him to do this. Maybe he isn't trying to make it into a thing of beauty which would seem wrong and he is giving the poem over to the content, letting that take control.


  1. Yes, I totally recommend! I'll have it back in the MA library at the end of hols for ya.
    I want to buy his Selected Poems 1979-2009 (massive!), but it's like $70-$80. Eeeek! I'm gonna wait for a sale or something I think.


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