About the Poems
by Jeff Downey
“Had I been born not knowing that one word follows another I might have been, who knows, perhaps anything,” the loquacious Bernard says in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, summing up the dependency of his identity on the stimulus of others’ words and stories, but also throwing into question whether or not individuality can exist in, about, or through language. Can language be isolated? If so, what is its currency? Can language epitomize? If so-so, what is making an indifference?
I notice Bernard’s conundrum most in adages, bywords, idioms, aphorisms and the like. They are treated simultaneously as the gems and stopgaps of language, more material either way than other words. Some turns are so chiseled (make no bones about it), they can’t help but feel like a numismatic slip. Other coined phrases may be attributed to a Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw but seem like the stale breath of the obliviously obvious. Any observation worth its singularity, it seems, can be endlessly assembled. Then again, to single out isn’t necessarily to observe.
Although it wasn’t an aim at the onset, reflecting now on this serial poem, I’d like to think that one of the ways my concern with the above has found its way into the poem is through such observation-without-singling-out. I wanted to near but not nail down adage and idiom, see what stories unfold when language’s expedients are asked to be characters.