by Jean Mallinson, Ph.D.
I have read “Winter” and have many things to
say about it. The first concerns the cover, which is a hibernal
or negative image of an icon called The Green Man: do you know
it? The Green Man is a threshold image, an image of regeneration,
a blending of the human visage with the kingdom in flora. It is
common and archaic in Europe, and appears in cathedrals, in pub
signs, facades—virtually all over the place. The image is
a face, not—as in images of Wild Men—a whole form.
Typically, foliage is sprouting from the corners of the eyes,
the mouth, in such a way that the borders and contours of the
face are seen to be blending with leaves, but the effect is not
grotesque. As soon as I saw the leaves as the left side of the
face on the cover of your book, I thought, "this is the winter
disintegration of the Green Man" and of course the crack
completes the symbol, and it is entirely appropriate to the subject
of the poems.
It can only be a compliment to
your poem that in trying, as I always do, to find what it is like,
I thought of “The Waste Land”, which, like your poem,
is both private meditation and public lament; and is, moreover,
about barrenness and possible regeneration. Did you think of this?
(I realize that “The Waste Land” lies behind a good
many modern poems, especially poems about cities, but your poem
evokes it more specifically than that). Of course, the sense of
spring in the opening of “The Waste Land” is reluctant;
the poem resists spring. The opening lines of your poem are more
like D.H. Lawrence, that sense of generative power in and under
the earth. Other lines, the whole sense of the opening sections,
are like Lawrence. Section iv is very beautiful. (Do
you know Wallace Stevens' poem "Large Red Man Reading"—it
is one of my favourite modern poems, and it is about how the dead
long to rejoin the living, long to touch again the things they
have left behind).
I like the poem about Jim Morrison
in itself and I read it, in context, as a transition poem between
the first part and the second, but I'm not sure that his strong
presence belongs in the sequence; at least, I can't for now see
just how it works. With "Heaven's Gate, Hell's Gate"
and its oxymorons used to suggest stasis, a sense of being immobilized
by and between opposites, the poem seems to be coherent again.
The geographical placing in this section leads on to the geographical
and historical placings that are used in the rest of the poem—a
change from the mythological placing of the opening pieces.
I suppose a question may arise
about the implied parallel between vii, "City under
Siege" and viii "The city of Dis", and
between the listed parallels in "call it ethnic cleansing,
/call it fascism, communism, / nationalism / call it black or
white / pur laine, Aryan race". The phrase "call
it" suggests an equivalence, not a series of stages or gradations.
I suppose you can say that the poem is about a human response
to history as it unfolds around you, and the threats you observe
are akin to the threats embodied in the other words. I think it
works, though I question the inclusion of the information about
the churches being burned in the southern USA. I suppose you want
to pull in instances and images that are part of the terror of
contemporary history, but I'm not sure that this detail works
to that end.
I think x works very well
and its tone of public statement is right for the condemnation
of bigotry and the evils of demagoguery. The documentary in the
last few lines of this section brings the outrage into history
and up to the present. This material and the sense of outrage
it arouses is elaborated, made more detailed in section xii.
The evocation and celebration of the city as it was in xiv is
very fine, especially the list of poets. I'm not sure about the
last two lines of this section, "none of the above / an April
Fool's joke" but maybe its wry, colloquial tone suits the
poem. I think the concluding section xv, is just right,
with its account of the speaker's personal history, stance, and
a hope for the city to retain, regain its multifarious character,
its vitality, its essence—and, of course, it links the poem
with the opening images of possible regeneration out of the depths
This is a bold, deeply felt poem,
and it will be interesting for you to see what kind of attention
is paid to it, who comments on it and in what way. It is very
ambitious of you to write a long meditative lyric poem that is
also a public political poem and I think you have succeeded wonderfully.
You realize that what I have written is after a couple of readings,
and things, which are not clear, now may come clear later. It
is true, too, that “The Waste Land”, which I take
to be the prototype—though your poem is much more a political,
historical statement than that—works through evocative fragments
which have no narrative connections. There is a sense, too, in
which the speaker of such a poem is slightly deranged by dismay
and disbelief, and so the eruption of related images—like
Jim Morrison, the churches burning in America—may be allowed
in the poem.
Copyright by Jean Mallinson: www.carolynzonailo.com,