About the Poems
by Patty Seyburn
“Art in America,” “Ode,” “Younger Man” and “In the Mouth” were all written under fairly strict formal guidelines: 14 lines of six syllables each. I was brutal with the syllabics, even though there was no particular reason to be so. I had this idea that I wanted to see how numbers affected not only my lineation but the content of the poem – thinking of Spenser and all that crazy counting he did for his “Epithalamium” – it’s hard to imagine a poet doing that, now – so I thought, I’ll write these 84-syllable poems: 14 lines of six syllables, six lines of 14 syllables, three lines of 28, 42 lines of 2, etc. They all began with the 14 lines of six syllables, and as I moved to change the line length, well, nothing really happened. I was thinking there would be some radically different effect, but the information didn’t feel different – the music didn’t even really feel different. So I decided to break the lines where I felt like breaking them: sometimes entertaining a bit of enjambment, sometimes doing it syntactically, sometimes leaving them in their little pseudo-abbreviated-sonnet boxes. I had wanted to conduct this big math experiment in my poems, and it didn’t go anywhere, like most research, I suppose. Nonetheless, it made the language tight and efficient, those damn six syllable lines. I even thought, this whole book will be about numbers, and I started to do some reading in theoretical mathematics. I discovered that there’s a reason I’m not a mathematician: though I was good with numbers as a kid, I’ve pretty much lost my affinity for them, and they have definitely lost theirs for me.
“Ode” borrowed its signature piece of information from Scientific American (I would pay them royalties, were payment a possibility): the name “Rattus Rattus,” for the common rat. I couldn’t get over that. Gotta love the namers of this world. I fear and loathe rodents, bugs, etc., but I thought that the big Latin name deserved some attention in the traditional poetry world of moons and flowers, and a traditional form, or, at least, the title of a traditional form. I also was enjoying all the doublings in the poem (yum) (yum). Sirhan Sirhan, here I come.
“Younger Man” is also the result of my random form of research: Scientific American while making someone chicken nuggets. I love the language of cosmology and cosmogony and astrology (Scorpio, but a nice one, not vengeful) so that motivated the poem, though Emily Dickinson made her stand at the end. I can’t think of the word “revery” without thinking of her poem that begins: “to make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee,” and so the poem ends up being a slight homage to her. It’s also the first poem I wrote that started to circle the idea of aging, which has since made a more prominent place in my mind and work.
I’m not sure how “In the Mouth” got started, though it quickly became driven by the sound of the “soft g,” discussed in the poem. What I don’t know is why I stuck together “generosity” and “pugilism,” but once I did, they began a relationship. I do have an extremely naïve and sentimental interest in the idea of connection, be it among people or language or people and language. I should be put in a museum.
I’ve always been amused by those studies that identify what people like in their art: colors, scenes, etc. I grew up with an affinity for abstract expressionism – thank you, Rosanne Vihos, my groovy art teacher – and could not draw something representative with a gun to my head. I also have a healthy distrust of how every study is conducted, scientific and aesthetic. Nonetheless, if this is what a large group of people like, it explains why there’s so much bad art in the galleries of Laguna Beach, near where I live. My favorite move in the poem is the huge gap – pause – silence – between the discussion of the “art” and the final line. Every now and then I like to imagine myself the laconic Canadian I may have ended up had my parents stayed in Canada, where my father was from, instead of relocating to Detroit. That’s how the last line moves, with no embellishment, just a little terse commentary: “Those winters.” Wish you all could see the pretty picture above my computer.
I’ve always loved the Pathetic Fallacy, and am grateful to John Ruskin for thinking up this term that seems so emotionally weighted, though it was not intended to be so. Find me three poets who don’t assign, conscribe, at least relate, their emotional state to their surroundings and vice versa. I’m not much of a nature person – I grew up in Detroit, and we just didn’t have a lot of it – but if it rains, and I’m bummed about something, I think: well, of course, a bit ironically. This is the second poem I’ve written with “Pathetic Fallacy” in the title. The first was a well-intended but unsuccessful elegy for a friend’s husband who had a fatal heart attack on the roof of their house at 40 years old. It was too heartfelt to be any good, but I needed to write it. This poem embraces and mocks the fallacy throughout, personifying everything in sight: In a nutshell it says, if you’re going to be depressed most of the time, sometimes the weather will back you up. It’s also a driving poem. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may do my best thinking while driving. It’s a Detroit thing.