Monday, April 6, 2009

Elizabeth Cranford: "The Semantics of Blessings"

Today I've gone contemporary with Elizabeth Cranford's poem (I'd call it an unrhymed, free-variation on the sonnet form), "The Semantics of Blessings," which won an Honorable Mention in Segullah's 2007 Poetry Contest. Cranford also took First Place in this contest with her poem (another sonnet), "Reproach." Both, I think, are excellent poems, tightly crafted and nuanced enough to produce a multitude of rich readings and rooted enough in the rhythms and hitches of human embodiment to strike a deep chord in this reader's flesh; but I've chosen to highlight "Semantics," not because I feel sorry for it, sitting there silent beneath the Honorable Mention banner while "Reproach" hogs all the glory, but because of its viscerality.

The first four lines are especially striking: "Do not steal my fire and ice, make null / my trial, void it with another name / than pain. The cut of a blade opening to bright red / is revelation." Here the poet steals our attention straightaway with her command, "Do not," a trochaic phrase (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable) that punctuates the poet's attempt to seize power over her body, over the name she's personally given her physical trial*: pain. To call it anything else, she suggests, is to weaken the sensual revelation that accompanies the body in pain, a revelation that keeps us attuned to the "present sense," that keeps us aligned with "the now of living."

I find myself looking for such revelations in the poems I read and write lately, simply because I think that's one thing poetry can give us perhaps better than other literary forms (as I've alluded to in other posts): a sense of our own embodiment, a full engagement with the connection between our physical and spiritual selves---a union of eternal matter we Mormons call "the soul" and which will someday be the fullness of our joy.

Such are "The Semantics of Blessings."

*Reading this poem in light of "Reproach" suggests that the trial might be barrenness.