‘Brass’, ii

Smooth Landing (p191 in Poems)

“There is a lie of the immortal […] he boils his egg”

I see this poem in Brass as in effect maintaining and developing the tension between avant garde and art, and thereby, kitsch and low brow.

The first phrase – DEFINITELY – seems pseudo kitsch, in Greenberg’s sense of using art “values” exclusive of ‘expression’. It’s hackneyed sentiment, however formally coherent. Content is made less relevant, by the structure (making sense) of the rest of the poem (“peace with honour”: a repudiation)

The second phrase – clearly to me – is low brow, but in a different sense (is it a post modern collage?). It makes the poem, but so robustly that – given content – it’s slightly absurd, as if a parody of closure; even as there are links with the ‘cataract’ in the penultimate line, a doubling that mirrors the dynamic of the kitschy introduction – from ease / speed, to old age / blindness (or perhaps vice versa).

The poem reads like an avant garde work that erases all that is said in so much as it collapses into a meaningful whole, when the poet aligns the importance of his avant garde erasure with the indeterminate figuration. Yet the ‘whole’ does not – for me – suggest either metonymic reading is preferable; which is puzzling.

So, perhaps the work is a success if it is not a “lie”, if interior to the poem “the immortal” has “honour”. If so, that is a matter of form