Original poem reprinted online here: "Pompeii" by Charles Bernstein
Originally read: April 11, 2013
More information about the Poet: Charles Bernstein
Depending on the reader's sense of background the opening line, "The rich men, they know about suffering" may come off as jolting. I don't think the first thought that comes to mind is "suffering" when it comes to someone who is "rich" -- but the first line dictates how the reader should go about the poem -- a bit skeptically, a bit weary, but treading forward and not over thinking the lines.
Unfortunately, I naturally over think lines. But the poem exposes it's intent with the line, "Rich men say they can't control," and past me wrote, "proverb -- wealth versus control. Suffering at the loass of control."
The poem goes expansive after what cannot be controlled, "The tides, the erosion of polar caps / And the eruption of a terrible / Greed among those who cease to be content." The line "And the eruption of a terrible" is a angular line break which plays on the expectation of the title "Pompeii" and sets up a metaphor between both Pompeii and "Rich man."
But this is Charles Bernstein -- I think in my head as I read this poem this first time. I remember hesitating when I wrote this down for the metaphor, "Greed = poor. Poor wealth. Poor knowledge" and the speaker does confirm this with the line, "Such wealth / Is the price of progress." With such obvious metaphors and connections, I'm trying to find something L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. Something that forces me not trust the diction, syntax, grammar, structure.
But no, not really with the next lines which focuses mostly on the unassuming person of Pompeii's blast, the fishmonger, who lays out mackerel.
The last sentence brings a meta-poetic epiphany to the metaphor and the scenario, "In Pompeii, The lava flowed and buried the people / So poems such as this could be born." And yes, this is a burn on poetics, and culture, and wealth, and society, and...not what I was expecting. There's a point plainly laid out on the page. No mystery. No subtext. Just a completely exposed poem about Pompeii. Which is actually quite interesting in the context of Charles Bernstein.