My brutish love of poetry, part 2

In 1920, Marianne Moore wrote a poem that begins:

The Fish


through black jade.

You can immediately see that this poem plays with line breaks and structure and is not about meter and rhyme. Yikes, free verse. What is there for a brute lover of poetry to sink her teeth into? Marianne Moore is famous for style. She wrote a poem about her self-deprecating love of poetry, called: Poetry.

The first few lines of The Fish surface in my mind often. Black jade, I think, is the reason.

I grew up in British Columbia and the water off the coast, where dark green conifers grow right to the edge, is black or dark green, even when the sky above is sunny and blue. My parents sometimes went fishing in Burrard Inlet, and I sat for hours in a little boat with nothing to do but look at the water. “Those fish are so clever,” my mom would say. We rarely caught one, and most of the time it would be a grumpy, finny thing with big jelly blob eyes.

blue sky and black water - Deep Cove, BC

blue sky and black water – Deep Cove, BC

One day my brother caught something wayward and strong. Our dad had to haul it in. We stared at the water, anticipating. It was black, but not ink. The last ten feet or so were illuminated crystal. Clear and uncoiling from the cold darkness came a furious little shark. Unlike the scaly, finney fish, the shark was sinuous and strong, and it panted and glared in the bottom of our boat like a juvenile delinquent in the back of a police car.

When I read those lines years later, The Fish/wade/through black jade – they seemed so familiar and so apt. I loved the rest of the poem too, how Marianne Moore was able to cram so much observation into a few lines, and give a sense of something larger. I’m more dependent on setting and story when I try to describe something, maybe more like this poem by D. H. Lawrence, Snake.

There are so many great poems about animals. Old favorites: The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson, A Narrow Fellow In The Grass, by Emily Dickinson, and The Fly by Karl Shapiro.

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