Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lynnwood Transit Center (17/30)

here, under the shelter, as dusk takes the evergreen tops
framing the confrence center and the edge of a strip mall
serving to define this sprawltown, incorporated 50 years ago,
borders, naming, everything arbitrary, necessitating later
incorporations of further sprawl, farther out, but this is
Snohomish County's first great thumbprint.

Why this sunset, post-hail, post-blood-draw, post-job-interview,
dropping down over moist pavement, seems to drag me with it,
I'm not sure. They happen all the time, sunsets, but the uninvited
six years old, losing my family in the alderwood mall,
making the journey from Sears to JC Penny near-tears
and the salesgirl giving me a Snickers while i waited
for my dad to trek the distance of the mall--
make for cold company at a transit center in the town my best friend and I,
fifteen years ago searched for case-split abandoned Megadeth CDs on racks
between fishing rods and belt sanders. The town keeps growing, but
never gets any bigger. A man with an excellent mustache whistles,
seemingly knowing something I don't. Another Community Transit
passes, third in a row marked Out of Service.


James said...

Graham: First off, thanks (as always) for making your art public in its early stages. I like that you invite comment, especially tonight since I'm going to be a bit critical (and know you like that). There are some nice images here, but not a poem yet, I think, so I'm going to give some feedback about specific moments, but then step back and try to see the whole canvas.

The first section doesn't quite work for me because the thought never really finishes -- you begin by describing a place at a particular moment of the evening, but before that sentence finishes it's something different. I don't know, for instance, what the "but" refers to in "but this is Snohomish County's first great thumbprint". I think there's some good stuff there -- "sprawltown", "everything arbitrary" -- but I think it needs to be more fleshed out, and in particular a couple of thoughts begun need to be finished. I like the sunset line that follows, and the vivid memory of being lost at the mall (detail: I'd say your dad trekked "the length of the mall", not its distance). The Megadeth example goes by too fast, though: you want to capture something there, but I don't pick it up. It seems to be happening in another town, honestly -- those CDs weren't at Alderwood (were they?), and I don't have another place to hang my hat on in this poem. The line about the town works for me, but the last two sentences are jarring because I don't think I see how the memories tie into your immediate circumstances. That is, I think the poem would be stronger either if it leaves your present behind in search of the past (and never looks back), or if it were clearer how the past ties into these really vivid details from the present. I can see the mustache man and the Out of Service bus, but I don't know why they end the poem.

Stepping back, I see a couple of things. Your phrasing changes really dramatically -- from comma-laden, effusive (almost over the top) language early on to much more direct prose at the end. Is that an intentional effect? I'd say that the poem may be trying to handle too much for its current length -- it's a meditation on a particular kind of town (of which Lynnwood is the ideal example) that you have some things to reflect on, but it's simultaneously a meditation on how your personal identity is wrapped up in this town. Weirdly, Lynnwood (with its strip malls and its bland convention center) could be "anytown", but you are simultaneously struck by how specific a town it is -- not just "any" town, but a town where you felt some things deeply you haven't felt in a while, or look forward to experiencing through new eyes again, or something like that. I think to say it the way you want to say it will either take multiple poems or something substantially longer (and if longer, then with some kind of structure imposed on it).

My guess is that the 2nd draft of this will be radically different, and really awesome. There's a very fruitful ground waiting for you here, and I know you've got the chops to make it really expressive of the blend of memory and reality that hit you at that bus shelter. So basically, though I was critical of a lot of it, I'm a huge fan of what you're doing here, and I really look forward to the next installment. Hope I wasn't too "ruthless". :-)

graham said...

Some trenchant commentary. I'm gonna re-fit this one, de-flower the prose in the first bit and go for something more direct and spare, I think.