I can’t remember what made me decide to buy George Oppen New Collected Poems , though I suspect it was a reference on Ron Silliman’s blog that tied him to other poet’s I like. I’m sure it wasn’t his early ties to Ezra Pound, who wrote the introduction to his first book, though it may have been his ties to William Carlos Williams’ poetry that attracted me. Just the fact that I’d never encountered his poetry may have been part of my motivation.
Certainly many of the poems from Discrete, his first book of poems, would bring to mind Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” though I like many of them better than that poem, like this one:
Tugs against the river —
Motor turning, lights
In the fast water off the bow-wave:
though ultimately I don’t think brief images like this can be enough, unless, of course, they are grounded in a literary art form like the Japanese haiku.
I prefer his longer poems that appear in later books, like
The puzzle assembled
At last in the box lid showing a green
Hillside, a house,
A barn and man
And wife and children.
All of it polychrome,
Lucid, backed by the blue
Sky. The jigsaw of cracks
Crazes the landscape but there is no gap,
No actual edged hole
Nowhere the wooden texture of the table top
Glares out of scale in the picture,
Sordid as cellars, as bare foundations:
There is no piece missing. The puzzle is complete
Now in its red and green and brown.
Though this is still a relatively “simple” poems it seems much richer in texture and forces the reader to explore the symbolism to a much greater extent.
Is such a scene really a “solution” to life? Probably not. But it’s certainly a long-held ideal, one that even seems to be making a revival recently. It’s an ideal because, looking back, many of us wish our lives could have unfolded as neatly.
There’s something appealing in the ambiguity of “the jigsaw of cracks” in the image, like a Rembrandt, or a flawed image.