Posts Tagged ‘Megan Fernandes Scylla and Charybdis’

Megan Fernandes in the August 19 issue of The New Yorker takes on the challenge of writing an original, interesting love poem, with “Scylla and Charybdis.” “I like when the choices are both ugly…” she starts. Notice how deftly she threads a few needles, how quickly. If she had said “both hard,” we would be instantly bored, as that follows naturally from the title. If she had started with “I hate when…” We would also expect that emotion from the title, (or at least not be surprised by it) and some interest would have been lost. My view is, that’s how carefully one must write to publish here. It’s why The New Yorker poems are consistently among the best. Nor is any of this how a conventional love poem would start. “Odysseus chose / Scylla and I, too, would have opted for / a terrestrial evil…” As the poem develops, it goes into details of the two lovers being separated, one on a water vacation, one at work in NYC. “Soon you and I will exist in different time zones… you swim in open Spanish waters… I spin in a street of yellow cars.” As with the best poems, the thesis is not pursued too long, new water is poured into the poem (as Henri Cole once said). “you face the queen medusas in the water… you are facing me. I am them in hundreds.” And the strange image, the twist keeps us interested, as the poet meditates on love, on separation, and on how fear for the beloved underlies any such time apart. A very skilled poem.

Ciaran Carson wrote “Claude Monet, ‘The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil,’ 1880.” “Today I thought I’d just take a lie-down, and drift… yesterday, some vandal upended the terracotta pot of daffodils / In our little front garden.” When a poem tells a story, I’ve noticed, it often does so with many little digressions, diversions, meditations, and insights. So it is here, and they deepen and enrich what we are reading. “I thought of…Poussin… and his habit of bringing back bits of wood, stone, moss…” We may not know the references, or even the painting being referenced (Google it, it’s a famous work) but the plethora of images creates a feeling of richness, of importance, of welcome that draws us in. “Etymologies present themselves, like daffodil from asphodel.” Me, I love to meditate on how words have developed over the years, and I suppose a great many people who love poetry do so as well. This is a poem for the aesthete, perhaps. Those who take their pleasure in references echoing down the years. “Strange how a smear of color, like a perfume, resurrects the memory.” Exactly. And thank goodness that we can share such moments through poetry.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Blue Collar Review – Spring 2019

Nimrod – Spring-Summer 2019

The Missouri Review – Spring 2019


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