Original poem reprinted online here: "Early Elegy: Headmistress" by Claudia Emerson
Originally read: April 4, 2013
More information about the Poet: Claudia Emerson
The use of punctuation in this poem parallel each other, but I'm unsure how the parallels work. The use of the colon could set off a list, and/or define something. But yet look how the title works, "Early Elegy: Headmistress." The colon feels like it's setting off a list, and this poem is in a sequence of poems titled "Early Elegy."
Furthermore the syntactical structure of the title follows into the first line of the poem, "The word itself: prim retired, its artifact". Indeed the colon does set off a list, however there's that usage of the ambiguous pronoun "itself" which can refer to an "Early Elegy" and/or the "Head Mistress." And the qualities each take "prim, retired," does flow well conceptually.
But the poem does confirm the description is about the headmistress through the humorous sounds "her face / the boredom she abhorred, then perfected. " The long "O" sounds followed by a long "f" in "perfected" continues a sense of mockery with the line.
Then from sonic mockery, the speaker continues with more of a visual one, "emptiness / a revision, cigarette and brandy snifter painted, intolerably, out, to leave her this lesser gesture" I'm going to repeat a line here, but note how specific the description of emptiness is -- cigarette and brandy snifter painted, is not here. What is left is a "gesture" -- a very broad term and not as specific physically. In this case, the specificity plus the word "intolerably" add a sense of closeness and cynicism from the speaker.
This tone of the speaker parallels the interpretation of the gesture, "gesture: What next? or shrugged Whatever." The sense of apathy is applied onto the picture, the elegy, and the speaker. But the last line brings a somewhat different tone.
"From the waist down she was never there." This could be a harsh critique of the headmistress. However, I take this differently because the tone doesn't seem cynical. Why do I think this? Well, when I see punctuation, italics, description in this poem, I associate them with the humorous, and cynical. But this line is very straight forward, no punctuation, no italics -- as though the line is exposed and not hiding in the technical.