Friday, July 24, 2009

Linda Sillitoe: "Encounter"

One of the most striking poems I've read recently is Linda Sillitoe's unrhymed sonnet "Encounter" (from Dialogue 35.1 [2002]), which takes as its lyric province the intergenerational relationship between people, places, and possessions (yes, the alliteration was on purpose). The poet, born of goodly parents (at least it seems so from the cache of memories stirred in this sensory experience), begins by lyrically binding the three and expanding and deepening the connections from there.

Notice in particular the alliteration at work as binding agent in the first five lines (as through the entire poem): the /n/'s, the sister sounds /b/ and /p/, /d/ and /t/, the /s/'s, the /g/'s, all grouped variously throughout, then combined in the last clause of line five: "I glanced behind me." I read this mixture as the lyric medicine the poet found in this cabinet of wonders (even though she claims she was just looking for a comb): as she turns toward her past, toward (I presume) her father's presence in the room, in her life, she finds a genie-like granting of the wish smoldering beneath the surface of the poem---that she could remember her father, "[t]wo years" gone, but always a defining presence in her being and in her connection to her mother and to the past (and thus to her present and future).

This desire surfaces---and ripples through subsequent readings of the poem---in the last three lines, the denouement in which the poet wonders about her mother and, beyond that, about the fusion of time and person, place, thing, and sense as this union moves to draw lucid experience, even ecstasy (as suggested by the narcotic-effect the sudden encounter has on the poet: "The room wavered like my knees" [line 6]), from memory's cistern and to immerse us in melancholy wonder over the duration, strength, and will of human connection.

Such is an appropriate sentiment to keep in mind, I think, as we strive to "summon" (12) presence and experience from kith and kin past to help and heal us in our present and our future relationships with person, place, and thing.