John Logan

John Logan’s The Zig Zag Walk Poems: 1963-1968 is another of those books I bought several years ago that turns out to be, unfortunately, a book I probably won’t remember whether I read or not a few months from now

Though I was originally attracted to this book because many poems featured areas in the Pacific Northwest and California I’m familiar with, I was disappointed to discover that none of the poems made me see these areas in new, different, or more vivid ways.

While all of the poems are pleasant enough to read and there are eloquent phrases, lines, or images throughout the poems, few poems seem memorable.

This did make me wonder about what determines “taste.” I obviously liked several of these poems years ago because I never buy books lightly, not on a teacher's salary. So, how do I account for the fact that none of them seem to appeal to me now? Have I changed so much in that time that I’m no longer interested in the same things? Or, was I the victim of a “fad” in poetry when I bought this book? As I read more of these books I bought years ago, I will have to consider this more deeply.

Though none of the poems seemed particularly memorable, I did find a few poems, as I do in nearly every book of poetry I’ve ever read, that made me see my world in a new way. Probably my favorite is one that got me thinking about Morris Graves’ paintings I had previously seen, or not seen, considering what he saw, at the Seattle Art Museum. After reading this poem, I think I need to make another visit to the museum to see if I would now look at them in a new light, because Logan certainly saw them in a very different light than I did.

Three Poems on Morris Graves’ Paintings

1. Bird on a Rock

Poor, thick, white,
three-sided bird
on a rock
(with the big red beak)
you watch me sitting on the floor
like a worshiper
at your melancholy shrine.
All you can do is look. I mean
you lack any kind of wing or arm
with which to go home.
The three-toed foot of each odd limb
forms a kind of trapezium
about its edge
(though there is no web).
Oh bird, you are a beautiful kite
that does not go up.
You cannot even get down.
Because you've lost your mouth (it's gone)
only your great eyes still moan.
You are filled with the ancient grief,
fixed there lonely as a god or a thief.
Instead of limbs to bring you nearer
Morris Graves has given you
the sudden awful wings of a mirror!

2. Spirit Bird

Looking at Morris Graves' Spirit Bird
(1956), suddenly I
understood the structure of angels!
They're made of many colored streams
of the most intense, most pulsing light,
which is itself simply the track
of the seed of God across the void.
Each length of light seems to be a thread
that forms this angelic or spirit
stuff. But it's not. It's finer than that.
What gives the light its substance and shapes
the streams into the spirit thing
(apparent limbs and parts of body)
is the heavy, almost solid and
somehow magnetic eyes of angels.
These create the dark into which they glow,
and pull and bend about these sweeps of light.

3. Moor Swan

I'm the ugly, early
Moor Swan of Morris Graves.
I'm ungainly. I've got
black splotches on my back.
My neck's too long.
When I am dead and gone
think only of the beauty of my name.
Moor Swan Moor Swan Moor Swan.

I may not have discovered a new poet to read, but I did discover an artist whose works I would like to pursue. I'm already making plans to stop at the museum named after him on my next trip to California. And the discovery of a new painter is as exciting as the discovery of a new poet, because it seems to me that they operate on very similar planes, particularly an artist like Graves whose works seem so metaphorical and symbolic. I think you might actually have to live in the Pacific Northwest, particulary the Puget Sound area, to understand the aptness of Bird Depressed by the Length of the Winter of 1944.

Though I was unable to find references to these particular paintings, I was inspired to look up the following on the web:

A list of various paintings on the Graves’ paintings on the web:
And an article
A few images:
And another image of a bird:

I may even have to spring for the book at Amazon: