Today’s poet is an old friend, Randall Templin, who’s currently a graduate student pursuing his love of literature and his skill for writing, and whose work never fails to fascinate me. He was kind enough to send me a couple of poems he categorizes as “recent and open to revision”, which I hope will encourage one or more of you to offer your reactions in the comments as a way of encouraging his art. The poem is entitled “Hail”:
Hail purples the winter ground.
Your old viola lies roughly on the dresser
like hail on the purple ground.
You have forgotten your hat and it is hailing.
A fir tree like the fingernail of our hill;
hail chops at its bark and at your
skull with no hat. It has hailed all winter,
never snowed. The sound warms it to hail.
On the stairs the hail sounds like pearls
on the dresser next to your viola, safe from the hail.
Next to your hat on the stairs I am safe from the hail.
The second the hailing stops like your viola
the purple afternoon puts on its hat in a hail
of firs and the pity of gulls and hail.
I’ll say at the outset that I’m normally unmoved by poems that reuse the same word, over and over—they usually hit their saturation point with me long before the poem ends. “Hail” doesn’t have that effect on me, though….or rather I should say it almost never does, and when it does it averts saturation swiftly and I’m back in the flow of it. I think it’s because the poem’s construction makes me certain there’s an underlying structure I don’t perceive yet—like I’m someone who’s never heard of a sonnet, but I’m reading one and I’m starting to figure out how it works. The repetition of imagery, particularly the same words over and over, feels like that to me…something like a sestina although not as rigid.
I like a little surrealism, and Randall delivers: I suspect some folks won’t like hail “purpling” the ground since it really does no such thing, but either the sound or the feel of “purple” worked for me with the hail, and made the opening image really vivid. There is something ominous in the poem—the casually fallen viola, the forgotten hat, the strangeness of a snowless winter that is full of hail, all add up to make me uneasy for much of the poem. I feel a little as though I have walked into a room I know well and have just noticed something out of place—something I am about to miss is gone, or else something I am about to see is here for the first time. I like some of the images very much: the tree like a fingernail, in particular, and the idea of sound warming the snow (or the winter—the object of the warming is just a little vague) to hail.
I do not, I am afraid, like the repetition of “safe from the hail”…it calls too much attention to the repetition my brain had consigned to the background, and it’s the one point in the poem where I’m almost jarred loose. We right ourselves a bit in the following lines, though they have lost some of that tension that was building for me, until the final phrase, since there is something eerie for me about “the pity of gulls and hail” that resonates with the emotions from earlier in the piece. It’s a poem that works on that level for me, with tone and mood as the things that are really speaking. I don’t get the characters vividly in my mind—either the person speaking or the person (why am I certain it is a woman?) who has left her hat behind and is out in the hail—and I have no sense of how the images and events in the poem affect them or their relationship to each other, if at all. The poem for me is capturing some uneasy juxtaposition of human beings and nature, and I can’t articulate it. I like the feeling I get from reading it, but could hardly for the life of me tell you what that feeling means, or where precisely it resides in the poem.
As usual, I’m hoping to hear from one or more of you on this—in this case particularly, because I’m not sure if my liking it is really idiosyncratic, or if the poem is accessible to a lot more people. I feel like my reaction to it is something like my reactions to the poetry of Gertrude Stein—a rich but definitely acquired taste—and I wonder if that’s accurate (this is a poem for the very few) or if this is working more along the lines of a Dylan Thomas, where there is that use of image and the surreal, but it is open to a much wider audience. I eagerly await any reactions (including, of course, any comments Randall may wish to make, if he does!).