North’s “A Few Facts About Me”

I'll have to admit that I'm having a hard time working my way through Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry, as you might have guessed since I keep writing about something else or working in Photoshop. I suspect that I should have read this book in a college class I'd paid to attend and then I'd feel more obligated to keep up with classroom assignments, or at least keep up enough that I wouldn't sound like a total idiot in classroom discussions.

Reading this book and trying to make sense of each and every poem has proven to be extremely hard work for me, and I haven't consistently lived up to that goal. If I weren't determined to gain a better understanding and appreciation of postmodern poetry, I would have long since given up trying to finish this nearly 700 page work and moved on to poetry books sitting on my shelf I know I'd love to read.

Unfortunately, I still find myself clinging to long-held ideas of what poetry is or should be. So, invariably, I seem to find myself drawn to the poems that are closest to those that I've loved in the past. Hopefully, at least I am more open to different forms of poetry than I was before I began reading this work.

With that caveat in mind, I'll just say that this poem by Charles North is my favorite in the last hundred pages I've read:

A FEW FACTS ABOUT ME

I am moved often, and easily
without knowing why or finding it appropriate
to be a consequence of somebody else's unfathomable will.

I can be taken in by the suggestion of emotion in others
even if their actions are as foreign to human psychology
as the emotions of European children in American textbooks

or American textbooks in American life. Deciding what my life
will be has always been the decision as to what it has been,
and before I met you I knew what it would be like, and planned
to be in the path

of whatever could change it, whether or not it prevented me
from being the sole translator of your natural eloquence.
As the captain of my fate and steerer of my star

I don't find any single decision irrevocable,
feeling inadequate to life's daily immensities, a condition
of the unwillingness to act, for of the things that are human

the best is to be unavoidable, which doesn't make it any better
but doesn't make it worse--like that sunset I'm always refusing
to look behind
or away from as if to be dull were the reverse of not shining

and living selfishly when that too is exhaustible.

Most of all, I think that I like the self-deprecating humor of this poem. That's not to say that I don't find more truth here than I'd like to admit. Of course, it reminds me a little of that old adage, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans," but at my age looking back that seems more like truth than merely a cliche'.

I'll have to confess that I'm often moved by poems or odd movies that seem to have little or no effect on others, and I would have a hard time explaining why I found them moving. While I would like to think that I was the captain of my own destiny there's not doubt looking back that much of my life was changed by forces I neither affirmed or understood.

But neither have I found "any single decision irrevocable," and hope that at the very least I have learned something from the errors of my ways, particularly when I have lived "selfishly."

3 thoughts on “North’s “A Few Facts About Me”

  1. Hey Loren – admiring your tenacity in ‘ploughing through’ those 700 pages – no-one can accuse you of not having tried when you get to the other end! I’ve had difficulty feeling any connection with Postmodern stuff myself, and don’t have much patience for writing that doesn’t make me curious about it, even if it’s only a phrase or a pattern. Why should I spend my energy untangling something if it doesn’t invite me in? Sometimes it feels as if clever or opaque writing is the writer talking to themselves rather than offering something to be heard. I liked the one you picked out too though – esp the first line.

  2. Hi Loren,

    I stumbled into your blog about a month ago while looking for some Mary Oliver poetry on line and have been checking in ever since. I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

  3. “Unfortunately, I still find myself clinging to long-held ideas of what poetry is or should be. “

    Loren, I can’t see that there’s anything particularly bad (or even too unfortunate) about that. There’s undoubtedly much great stuff within yr own parameters of poetical taste. (I’ve always been interested to note R. Silliman’s appreciation of W. Berry)

    I’ll go a step beyond Fiona and say that it’s some kind of literate virtue that yr willing to give the unfamiliar and uncomfortable stuff a chance. Many wouldn’t.

    My own blessing curse victory or fault in the course of my own mostly self-raised poetical notions is that, in poetry (if not in life) anything goes. Always been attracted to the oddball stuff. And that’s given me permission to go my own way in reading and writing. I’ll take a decent language / postmod poet over any randomly chosen page from Henry James… most days… even though I’d be able to “say” much more about the James, I’d almost certainly enjoy the avant or post-avant poet more…

    O… sorry to go on so much about me… tom

What do you think?