Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This is not about Stephen King's novel, It, nor the scary 2-part movie/mini-series based on it. (Heh, "it." Get it?!) This is not even about It, the 1927 film starring Clara Bow, the original "It girl," though understanding the  importance of the word "it" in that helps to understand the "it" in this (and helps establish the free use rationale for this poster of that film!) ("It" as opposed to "that," as in That Girl, for instance, an ABC sitcom about another "It girl," played by Marlo Thomas.) (Wait. What?!)

Anyhoo, yesterday I posted a link to the new issue of Eclectica and my poem "Blackberry Moon" in it. Over on Facebook, a friend asked if the "it" in a line of the poem referred to the moon or the garden hose. And that is the subject of today's blog!*

As you can see if you scroll down this Poetry Contents page, the sentence containing the line is highlighted as an excerpt from that poem. In the excerpt, the "it" seems, grammatically, and from the only evidence provided there, to refer to the moon itself, the blackberry moon, black as a snake:

When I went to look for the blackberry

moon, it lay uncoiled there, a hard
slick snake.

But in the poem itself, these lines are preceded by others that provide more evidence and another interpretation of the "it."

I'd dragged the garden hose here and there
all the unknown day.

So, in the narrative logic of the poem, the "it" could refer to the uncoiled garden hose, left in the yard "all the unknown day," as the speaker didn't know rain would creep in overnight (which is how the poem begins, if we continue to go backwards, as I often do--born that way). The more precise and correct grammar of the sentence is suspended (like the word "blackberry," hanging off the end of a line and over the "moon" it modifies and over a stanza break...though not in the centered excerpt on the Poetry contents page, which loses the gap and compresses the grammar to the precisely correct kind...for a moment. This is why form is inextricable from content in poetry, and why poetry drives some people a little crazy! If they weren't already born that way.) Two things can happen simultaneously in the poem then: the "it" can be the moon or the hose.  And then, oddly enough, the moon, as well as the hose, can be a snake.

My close-reading friend asked, next, whether this would be the new moon or a sliver, and also about the size of snakes that could lie curled in a basket, which sent me on a Cleopatra journey in my mind (to become a geographical journey in November, though not to Egypt--to Ohio, instead--wait. What?) and the answer, from evidence in the poem, might support the new moon, as the only light comes from the interior of the house, or another phase, with clouds covering the moon (the rain of the opening line). Also, the sky is a really big basket. Also, the line "What light there was from the inside shining out" seems also to have emotional and/or spiritual content in the poem, as well as a concrete effect on the new trash can. (See poem.) (The new trash cans are huge, but not as big as the basket of sky.)

But back to "it." I don't want to trick or mislead the reader, so it was a risk to use "it" in this way. I do want to help the reader to pay very close attention to the words and other choices on the page, as this attentiveness is I think crucial not just to appreciating and interpreting poetry, but to appreciating and responding to life itself. (And why else would I write?)

I think a close reader of poetry can hold the garden hose in his/her mind and the hidden moon in her/his mind long enough to see and imagine both a "snake" in the grass and a coiled and uncoiled moon in the sky, and to wonder whether some things are "meant to be kept hidden" or not, and why, and not just trash cans, and so on. I think if we look at and listen to the world attentively enough, it comes alive with possibility and full of wonder, whether the moon is visible or not. And when this happens, even the ordinary acts of watering a garden, taking out the garbage, and wishing on a star are extraordinary and full of beauty and joy. But, hey, that's just me. Wait. What?! Oh, surely it's you, too.

And, by the way, some snakes are egg eaters. Take a look at the blackberry moon on this giant egg, part of the fabulous Faberge Big Egg Hunt in London!

*Darn it! (Heh, "it." Get it?!) I should have called this "The Moon or the Garden Hose." But then we wouldn't have Clara Bow or Marlo Thomas to look at, although Cleopatra probably would have gotten herself in here, thanks to Shakespeare's asp. (Heh. Shakespeare saved her asp.) Cleopatra was definitely the "It girl" of her time--the one with phenomenal magnetism! What is "it"? It's hard to define, but it absolutely attracts.

If you are still here, thank you. It means you are coiled in my origami brain. Heaven help us.


Maureen said...

Two letters and look what came of them!

I found that poem wonderful. Maybe it says something about me that I never questioned "it".

I loved the unexpectedness of the image of a "coiled" and "uncoiled" moon (thinking of its phases, here).

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Maureen! That's great that you didn't question "it," as it means I didn't trick or mislead you...I hope. I let you see it your way.

seana graham said...

"It" is pretty dense, knotty subject, isn't it? It took Stephen King 1104 pages to tackle it, or "It", after all.

Loved the illusory nature of the points on the moon in your second poem, by the way.

The Swamp Lawyer said...

But does the previous mention of a hose and the moon preclude "it" from actually being a snake? It could have just crawled in there after dark.

Just found Selected Roles among my books the other day and was rereading.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Seana! And how delightfully you argue your point, Swamp Lawyer! I've not seen any actual snakes in this back yard, but they've wiggled their way into various houses I've lived in!

Collagemama said...

This is great fun, and I haven't even gotten to your poem. We live in a culture that is ambiguity-challenged. The arts have a big task here, providing evidence that "it" can be both "that" and another.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Collagemama! You are folded and glued into my origami brain for sure! And collaged.