Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I do something awful to a poem by Nancy Willard

I recently learned that the more moronic Red Sox fans refer to Mariano Rivera as "Fruit Bat". Coincidentally I started reading Nancy Willard's New and Selected Poems recently, having picked it up on the basis of reading a random page and loving the cover painting by Blake, and found a poem about a fruit bat.

The Fruit Bat

Because the air has darkened
like bruised fruit, you creep
down the bare branch

where you slept all light long,
gathered into yourself like a fig.
Little mandarin woman fleeing

under the stars on bound feet,
when your wings spring open
even you look surprised.

What are the raven's slick feathers
beside these pewter sails
raised in the foundry of your flesh,

burnished by light poured
from a wasted moon and a dipper
brimming with darkness?

This is a small, observational poem that doesn't do a lot for me. It seems a bit overwritten, as if it had aimed at haiku compactness but bulged out on a diet of adjectives. The contradiction between "creep" and "fleeing" bugged me, and anyway "creep" has a sense of body-to-the-ground that doesn't work here. Further, don't bats hang upside down, making the branch stuff nonsense? And "mandarin" is kind of random, isn't it? Then "poured ... dipper" doesn't work for me. And why is the moon "wasted"? And "burnish" means to polish by rubbing. Basically the last stanza has to grasp at significance and crumbles under the pressure.

The Fruit Bat

The air has darkened
like bruised fruit, so you sidle
down the leafless branch

where you slept all light,
gathered inward like a fig.
Wrapped in a plain shawl,

your feet to the stars,
when your warm wings spring open
you too look surprised.

The raven's feathers?
Crude beside these pewter sails
smelted in your flesh

from papaya juice
and the nectar of flowers
you see by starlight.

p.s. - probably superceded but amusing

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Blogger James Welsch said...

I don't have the problems you do with the original, & I like the bound/creeping "contradiction". But I actually like your stripped-down version, too.

2/10/06 12:16  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Glad you liked my cover.

Now for my haiku version of Gray's Elegy...

2/10/06 12:36  
Blogger bardhol said...

1. "even you" is better than "you too".
2. i see what you're doing: 5 syllables for the last line of each stanza - and well played - but i think her 4th stanza is actually more evocative and *less* clunky.
3. what th' heck was i doing here, anyway? oh yeah... looking for an mp3 of "your face"!

1/7/10 10:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody has commented on the wit of "all light long" and the strength of Willard's smilies. And I like the overtone of Cummings' the moon "like a fragment of angry candy." All in all, I think it's a fine a memorable piece. ~JGN, Michigan

13/1/15 07:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry about my typos! ~JGN

13/1/15 07:17  

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