Thursday, July 7, 2011

Swagger & Remorse

I've been re-reading Swagger & Remorse, a book of poems by Richard Fox that I read a few weeks ago while preparing his poetry feature at Escape Into Life, up now with fabulous photographs by Katinka Matson (that are actual flowers reproduced by scanner!). This one is called Spiders.

And pondering (sometimes while lap swimming) the phrase "swagger & remorse," which has a terrible perfection to it.

I hate "swagger" in myself and am uncomfortable around it in others, and so often, yes, it is accompanied by remorse. Or followed by it, often quickly, as in the shaking of salt & pepper onto one's food.


Am having Coke & meatloaf:

everything is too salty--
there is such salt

to make everything
taste like something:

does taste like something:
tastes like salt


I remember some of the poems in this book from their appearance first in journals: "Medusa/Superman" in Court Green, "There were multiple things we did in all the wrong order" (a line that might describe my own life!) in Diagram, and "Cinderella" which we took when I was at RHINO, so I probably also recognize others from that particular submission, too.

In fact, I wonder if that was a moment of "swagger & remorse," as "Cinderella" is here titled by its first line, "The dead shall know the dead by their shoes," as are many in this book, and sometimes, when there was disagreement in the group during our decision-by-committee process, we'd ask a poet to re-title a poem, etc. Well, it's done now, and no doubt Richard Fox has a way of accepting it, as in this (otherwise untitled) poem:

If your house is on a hill, it's because someone decided it would be.

If your body feels tense, then it is.

You leaned for so long against your hall locker that your grade school principal said

       You holding that wall up

You wanted to talk to me, but could not find the time;

looked for the vanishing point & saw none.

I am getting ready now to age.

Everything is fearless in the wind.

Thanks to you, I have never walked into the same room twice.

This is a gorgeous book, melancholy, precise, and wise. It feels like a sustained elegy, and is indeed a book-length series of meditations and observations, some titled and some simply beginning. The table of contents is a poem in itself, therefore.

I might quote anything from the book to show you its beauty and melancholy, but I will quote one last poem in  full, choosing it because I once wrote a poem to my son with the phrase "Choose happiness" in it, so this resonates in that personal way with me and, I hope, in a personal-that-is-universal way with you.

So, another by Richard Fox, from Swagger & Remorse, a Tebot Bach book:

Happiness is in the smallest hands.

Where could you be when the air smells of boxwood;
the new-mown lawn of watermelon.

What could it be when sweat bands your shirt
before clouds genuflect in front of the sun.

What turns happily large & luminous, suffers the little ones
to touch the skin of others,

rises & falls in the happy atmosphere.


You can't.
You won't.
You will.


Maureen said...

Great intro (for me) to a wonderful poet. Heading over to EIL.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Maureen. I am amazed by him and so glad to have read this book!

Dale said...

Wow. That last! Anybody can write a misery poem: a happy poem is really hard to do.

Kathleen said...

Ain't it the truth, Dale.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the review. I, too, was unfamiliar with both poet and artist. Read and viewed the selection at EIL and enjoyed.

As for swagger, I'm much more drawn to it in the action/adventure movie than my husband, who can't stand bravado. Still, we both love to cheer for the underdog, who often gets to swagger a bit in the end.

I do agree about the remorse following any self-swaggering. :)

Kathleen said...

Any future swaggering on my part will probably come from porous bones rather than bravado.

ted tingley said...

I can suffer swagger in an action movie but in many cases it ends in death. An example is Grand Torino.

Kathleen said...

I saw that again recently, Ted.

Nancy Devine said...

terrific poems. especially Garden Party.

Kim said...

I can help porous bones. For swagger you are all on your own.

Dave said...

Sounds like a wonderful book -- I love the excerpts.

Kathleen said...

Kim, I hope not to swagger unnecessarily!

Dale and Nancy, yes, he's a wonderful poet, isn't he?!