(Part One of Two) Last Tuesday, I tooled 12 miles west down the 10 freeway for lunch with the poet, Molly Bendall. Bendall, who teaches poetry and other classes at that Trojan stronghold, USC, was able to meet me for a quick coffee before her afternoon Office Hours. She led me through a portico outside the Doheny Library to the newly-opened Literati cafe. Stone columns on either side, stone benches nestled against the building itself, metal tables and chairs, draped in backpacks and a detritus of colorful jackets—books and jackets both having been rendered completely unnecessary by Spring. For your average 18-22 year old undergraduate two weeks shy of Spring exams, this was definitely a “that force that through the green fuse drives the flower” kind of day.
Molly and I scanned the odd array of vegetarian and Kosher sandwiches, and instead ordered some fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies with our iced coffees. Then we settled at a quiet table indoors, and asked one another Mitch's perennial question: “So, what are you writing these days?”
And—as if to make a good day perfect—we both had cheerful answers. It will not surprise those of you who may have met Molly and me both, that her answer was more articulate than mine.
“I’ve been working on poems in the imperative, recently. You know,” she pressed, “the urgent or seductive command, instructions from the oral tradition like charms and spells, suggesting a change of action, addressing the reader. I don’t know why but I find it interesting.”
I did too. So I questioned a little further.
"I think I'm after a kind of beckoning directed at another. That often means putting the verb first, as in 'Come...' or 'Move...' or 'Lie..' Obviously this can be an intimate address. But I also like the sense of directions to be followed as in a spell."
I was officially impressed—and ready to try this beckoning/directing business as soon as possible. So I pressed her again. "But tell me why, Molly."
“Well,” she answered. “I’m not sure, but this might have something to do with being a mother to a teenage daughter.”
I couldn't imagine a better feminist (syn)tactical answer.
Ah, Syntax! Between you and me, Syntax is my newest paramour.
Flashback to the company I’d kept on my drive west to the Campus. Yale Literary Critic, Harold Bloom, has been generously riding shotgun all week thanks to free podcasts from Yale University.
Last Tuesday, Bloom tackled "The Art of Reading a Poem" with some tactical words about the contradictory messages of syntax and grammar in Wallace Stevens' "The Poems of our Climate." And I was floored.
But wait! Before I continue....I'd like to beckon/direct/implore you to: Listen to this incredible podcast
(to be continued)