We are lucky to live just down the peninsula from the College Town. This particular college (university actually) has a large, permanent collection of Rodin’s sculptures including a cast of The Gates of Hell, which I think I could sit in front of for the rest of my life and never get bored. Last week and again yesterday, I spent some time with the Rodin collection, and was struck by the commingling of passion and suffering his work seems to embody. One interesting thing about his work is that he’ll often break the scale of a piece and include, for example, an outsized big toe, or a hand that is much too small for its body, or a too-long arm. And many, many of the eyes he sculpted look curiously blind — there, but not there. Another interesting thing about Rodin’s work is that he often leaves bodies purposely unfinished to enlarge the evocative power of a piece. Here’s something he said about that: “A torso contains all of life.” O, he seems to say, we are flawed and unseeing, never finished. By the way, this makes me think about how much to reveal in a poem, versus how much to leave unsaid, allowing the language to evoke without being bossy. But that’s another post for another day.
As I looked at the collection, I was furiously tapping notes into my phone — poem seeds and snatches of language. Words like: gouged, fragment, pocked, torsion, seam.
Thus began my most recent draft, which I came to after spending some time in my notebook scribbling all the words that came to mind as I thought about Rodin’s sculptures and what little I know of his process (one detail of which fascinates me: over time, The Gates of Hell became a work-in-progress and treasure trove of new work. He would add newly shaped forms, take away others, use one figure as a model for a new piece, etc).
Although I normally draft in my notebook, this time I did not. And I didn’t use words from other poets as I often do — the words for this draft rose up to the page out of my scribbling and a line echoing in my head: Sir, you must know something of suffering.
I really wanted this poem to be about suffering, but as it skittered down the page it turned its back on suffering to explore themes of imperfection and longing. During revisions, I will need to figure out if both themes can coexist in this poem, or if one needs to be cut. I worked in couplets as I usually do when drafting; we’ll see if they stick. I’m also unsure of the ending which right now is tied up pretty tight but probably needs to be incomplete, unfinished, evocative.
Even so, I’ll leave you with a few lines from this draft: “This is how we meet each other, right Sir? // Headless and missing a limb, nearly / blind and tripping on a too-long leg, // the half-length of an arm / saying more about arms // than the intact limb ever could, absence / becoming presence?”
The syntax is a little too talky for me, but it’s draft with some energy behind it. I think I’ll try to revise toward the strange.