Thursday, October 30, 2014

Analysis of "Life" by Steve Davenport

Poem can be found here in the comment section until he deletes it if he wants to: "Life" by Steve Davenport 

Before I get started with this analysis I want to write that I was going to do a different poem today, but I was intrigued at Steve Davenport's response to my analysis about James Wright's "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota."

I analyzed a poem by Steve Davenport ,"Ministry Today" from his collection Overpass, wow, years ago.  What also intrigued me about "Life" was I could get a sense of a theme from Overpass (which I still need to get) from just these two poems:  the wandering gritty mid-west Americana bard.

But this analysis is about "Life".

The interesting thing about this poem from the outset from a comparative angle are the specific stanza breaks: sestet, quatrain, and single line which I find the opposite of lazy (which was a theme in my analysis of James Wright poem) but rather specific, but not too specific (it's not like it's all quatrains or sestets).

The poem starts out with a specific image of a bridge, "Across the bridge from downtown St. Louis, / it's Ballet du Sauget" followed by a specific location.  But note that the placement of the speaker is based around the area.  The speaker is not relying on images rather place-marks.

The next three lines of the poem dictate more of the mood of the poem through language and sound rather than place, "Women at work / moving the wet middle of ripe motion / around the poles on rubber mats down a clean road."  Yes, the images are specific (and also mimic Pound a bit here with "wet" a bit) but note the focus here is "motion."  Content wise, the motion of the women at work cleaning the road could symbolize an opening away from the direct place.  But, for me, the strongest impact of these lines are the alliteration of "w" and "r" which makes it hard to pin down the poem.  I feel this specific phrasing of the inability to be pinned down says more about the speaker than the observation.

Then the poem list places as place-marks, "Monsanto, Big River Zinc Smeltery, / American Bottoms Treatment Plant / and Deer Creek."  Yes, there's a sort of descent from big city place to more of nature.  This could represent a return of some sorts, but I also feel the listing of places adds to the haze of the speaker -- the language and the listing adds a sense of wanderlust.

Now the poem goes to a specific time frame, "That summer evening we rode the bottom / before the game, windows open, passing / the bottle, roads we didn't know, the weed."  So these lines confirm a couple of my analytic points. But more importantly, this is the introduction of the speaker into the place-marks and how he reacts to such haze with specific actions and time.  "That summer evening" indicates that the speaker is looking back at a moment; furthermore, the line "before the game" could be read as literal or metaphorically inclusive to the poem as the speaker is playing word and language games as well.

Then the drinking and the weed -- which, actually, adds a physical haze to the poem along with the language and the places.  The speaker is not necessarily lost in the haze, but rather celebrating it with the final line of, "I did not waste my life."

Comparatively, with the Wright poem, the more specific the speaker became the more the speaker realized that he wasted his life; meanwhile, the more the speaker in "Life" goes further and further into the haze, the more the speaker feels that his life is not a wasted.

1 comment:

  1. Sauget Dead Wagon

    Down to Sauget and all that hell
    The bodies come the bodies go
    Carrying things from fall to fell

    To ashes ashes ring the bell
    Dead wagon going coming slow
    Down to Sauget and all that hell

    Yellow grease bone chips a smell
    A body never wants to know
    Carrying things from fall to fell

    Who cares what doesn’t render well
    Until the wind begins to blow
    Down to Sauget and all that hell

    Dead wagon’s coming to sell
    The bodies it picked high and low
    Carrying things from fall to fell

    I say fuck this villanelle
    That can’t stop what’s got to go
    Down to Sauget and all that hell
    Carrying things from fall to fell