review

Perspective: ‘The Enduring Premonition’ by Owen Marshall

I often feel like there’s something just out of reach. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like it’s physically hidden behind some invisible corner. It’s the feeling of something on the tip of the tongue, but more vague and expansive than language can succinctly describe.

For years, I’ve referred to the feeling as “in the corner of my mind”, or some variation thereof. I tend to keep it linguistically out of reach, because I feel like whatever it happens to be is meant to stay out of reach. There’s something of the Holy Spirit in the ordeal.

I’m not going to pretend the feeling is close to unique, in reality or in poetry; but I recently found a beautiful turn-of-phrase by New Zealand writer, Owen Marshall, that encapsulates the same feeling of ambiguous distance while turning it somehow more real, more malleable. The describing phrase, from the poem The Enduring Premonition, reads thus:

A wingspan of futility

across our shallow tea-cup days

Granted, there’s something macabre about the line and title, something almost destitute, but I’m a sucker for such ideas. It puts a gothic feel on that invisible thing, a feeling of heaviness. But it also finds a resignation to inevitability, that it’s not something that needs to be outrun. I love a shallow tea-cup day, and if I can find those beneath the wingspan of futility, well, I think that’s something nice.

PERSPECTIVE: ‘To a Snail’ by Marianne Moore

If “compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

By Marianne Moore (more…)

PERSPECTIVE: ‘Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight’ by Marianne Moore

With an elephant to ride upon—”with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,”
   she shall outdistance calamity anywhere she goes.
Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets. Locomotion arose
   in the shape of an elephant; she clambered up and chose
to travel laboriously. So far as magic carpets are concerned, she knows
   that although the semblance of speed may attach to scarecrows
of aesthetic procedure, the substance of it is embodied in such of those
   tough-grained animals as have outstripped man’s whim to suppose
them ephemera, and I have earned that fruit of their ability to endure blows
   which dubs them prosaic necessities—not curios.

By Marianne Moore

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