The Sobbing School (Bennett)

This seems to be a tale of two books, one more interesting than the other, if perhaps inconsisten with the title of the collection. In her essay, “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston writes –

I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

It is when Bennet sharpens his oyster knife that his poems, apparently often performed, gain their edge. “Theodicy” (you do not know how to write / what you can’t imagine the end of) is one of my favorites (and is dedicated to Renisha McBride), but it may contain some of the sobbing that Hurston disdained (which obviously doesn’t bother me). “X” is also excellent as is “On Flesh.” “Still Life with Little Brother” is good and its ending is gorgeous.

Please, excuse my shadow. I can’t

stop leaving. I don’t know how

to name what I don’t know

 

well enough to render

in a single sitting. Every poem

about us seem an impossible labor,

 

like forgetting the face

of the sea, or trying to find

a more perfect name for water.

 

Advertisements

Viability (Vap)

Viability means, according to a quick search, the ability of a thing (a living organism, an artificial system, an idea, etc.) to maintain itself or recover its potentialities. And this is clearly Vap’s topic. Whether it’s pre-Civil War American slavery (there’s an interesting note about her ‘sampling’ the work of other writers for these pieces) or present day fishing slavery in Thailand, a newborn baby, stock strategies named after attractive celebrities, Vap explores the notion of viability.

My problem is how she explores it. More often than not, these are less poems and more epigrams, too immersed in their own cleverness to have any emotional power and too repetitive in their structure to hold much stylistic interest.

She has a good question; I’m just not sure she’s the one to answer it.