Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Analysis of "Sense of Place" by Alan Soldofsky

Original poem reprinted online here: "Sense of Place" by Alan Soldofsky
Originally read: Three years ago (?)
More information about the Poet: Alan Soldofsky





I remember reading earlier drafts of this poem, and now I see it as the first poem on the Poetry Flash site for the past couple of months on the left hand side -- first poem featured.  I thought, well, might as well analyze this because I do think this is the core poem in Alan Soldofky's collection, In the Buddha Factory.

But first, what I remembered from a previous draft of the poem.  Back in 2010, I probably went to Alan Soldofsky's, the director of San Jose State's MFA program, office for some school related advice, probably knowing where I stand in the MFA program, or how many credits I needed to graduate.  At the time he was working on In the Buddha Factory and the manuscript was probably in its seventh to eighth draft.  I think I got  direct and brief answers to my questions which I do not remember.  But I do remember him asking me to do copy edits to his manuscript.

I asked how long do I have.  The weekend.

In the feverish rush to find grammatical and spelling errors, I slowed down on this poem.  In the draft I read, I felt something was off about this poem.  The poem didn't flow.  I sort of overstepped my bounds, and I rearranged the sections to what I saw the poem as -- the play, but eventual need for defined places and roles.

This is why I think this poem is the core poem in the collection.  This poem, in it' published incarnation, is placed somewhat near beginning/middle of the collection  In this position, the poem summarizes the importance of the previous poems, the loss and the act of loss, and also indicates where the rest of the poems in the collection are headed, defining loss (and more importantly) the actions leading to loss as self.

In the first three stanzas of the poem, the speaker is very specific on places, especially how place is defined by the actions of what happened there, "Market St. / mirrors the sky," duplicitous emptiness to, "Palace Hotel, where in 1930 / Warren G. Harding died,"  death defining a place to "After Teddy Roosevelt / spent the night in Yosemite on Glacier Point / he said 'Bully'" publicity defining place. The focus here is based on the negative or nothingness defining a place.

"A place is more real when you imagine it."  The "you" here reads along the same line as the "mirrors the sky" line -- a more self-reflective stance so when the speaker goes on about innocuous facts"In Yosemite Valley there are three hotels [...]" there's a greater sense of refocus with the forceful intrusion of the speaker, "I attempt not to notice."  A steadfast statement which implies moving away from remembering a place by history.

I finished the copy edits on time.  How? All it is is reading with a pen in hand.  I had to go to his house to drop off the copy-edited manuscript.  I showed him what my marks meant.  The majority of the time he just gave that nod that signified thanks -- these will be taken under consideration.

I showed him how I marked "Sense of Place" and told him the importance of the build up, and how the last line should be where it is.  On how the push and pull of the personal identification through definition of place is solidified with the separation of the encyclopedic and personal tone.  I didn't say what I just wrote, maybe I said something far less structured or perhaps I added too much meaning to the poem.  He thanked me.  A job was done regardless.

After the break in the poem, the speaker states, "I'm one thing in one place, something else / in another."  I wrote down "shifts in definition,"  but the tone is more playful here in which the speaker was able to have this experience:

     [...]When I drank champagne
     on the deck in Belvedere gazing at the houses
     on the hill above the harbor,
     I felt oppressed by the beauty.

Although tone is playful in the beginning, the line, "I felt oppressed by the beauty" has a splash of cynicism -- what is going on, the romantic sublime?  No, an attempt not to notice.  Even though there's the name of the place "Belvedere" note that the amount of detail is far less.  There's no historical action that defines the place, the place is defined by observation which comes off pretty general with, "The skyline across the water / too bright despite the overcast, / my eyes numb with the bone-white glare."

But then comes the allusion to history with "Drake dropped anchor / a few miles from here."  And here there's the possibility the speaker may regress to the over-importance of history and, but note the single name reference different from the full names used above.  The reference isn't used in a sense of reverence rather rumor with a slight tone of cynicism used earlier, "Some claim he missed the bay altogether, / that he marked his damp, bitter days farther north / lost in some colorless recess of time."

Yes, I wrote down a line underneath that stanza.  I remember a break was there last time, and, to me, it would make sense to have it still there.  I received an e-mail a year and a couple months ago from Alan, and -- the Fall of 2012 that In the Buddha Factory was getting published.   I emailed him back stating that I was happy for him, that "A Sense of Place" and "Novel" were great memorable poems and the collection should be published.

Here's the trick with the stanza after the "colorless recess of time."  The majority of the stanza focused around a quote, but the quote isn't important.  What's important is this line, "It's important to learn the birds' names."  Yes, writing worthwhile lines are important -- but that's just rhetoric.  Names of the residence, current, is important.  More important than the past bedraggled with death and making statements.

So when the next stanza list the name of birds, "western tanagers, red sapsuckers, / solitary vireos, chirping sparrows" the list reaffirms the specificity to the area, not the history.  But the naming triggers a very specific memory which leads off with, "Birds learn their songs when they are born.  The fledgling duplicates its parents' call" to the speaker's son, Adam.

The narrative with Adam is short, but has two distinct scene 1) memorization of a term 2) memorization of a place.  The first scene has specific language learned by Adam, "pointed to the blackberry thorns / and excitedly repeated his now word: prickles."  and how the language becomes personal, "It became a joke between us."  The second scene then pulls the language between the both of them to the speaker, "I should remember / running terrified through the neighborhood calling him."  Note the flow of these lines encompass the structure of the poem, but in reverse, personal, to collaborative, to encyclopedic.  And at the end of this stanza there is the merge of all three:

     [...] with trumpetvine and jasmine.
     Rooster and mourning doves call
     through the dawn beneath the roar
     of jet planes.

Name of plants, then of animals calling as one that, perhaps, sound louder than the jet planes overhead (noise pollution from the top to the personal level).

The personal comes with the rhetoric in the last two lines, "What we call hills are not hills. /  They are mountains."  Past me wrote, "interpretation: signifies /signified?  The importance of the signified"   Note the coupling coming from definition "we call hills"  and this is based on textbook definition.  The line "They are mountains" the correction is more personal.  The inability to  compartmentalize to small, because when up close, all hills look like mountains.

I went to the book release party, bought my copy of the collection.  It's nice looking with the construction of Buddha as tall as a mountain (top), or a hill up close (bottom) on the cover.  I sat in the back wondering what the reading order would be.  The first poem Alan read was "Sense of Place."  Start off strong first, right?

1 comment:

  1. You should've been given a free copy for the work you put in, Darrell. (Shame on Alan). Good analysis here. You know this poem intimately.

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