Poetry: Stephen Dobyns

Prague — by Stephen Dobyns

The day I learned my wife was dying
I told myself if anyone said, Well, she had
a good life, I’d punch him in the nose.
How much life represents a good life?

Maybe a hundred years, which would
give us nearly forty more to visit Oslo
and take the train to Vladivostok,
learn German to read Thomas Mann

in the original. Even more baseball games,
more days at the beach and the baking
of more walnut cakes for family birthdays.
How much time is enough time? How much

is needed for all those unspent kisses,
those slow walks along cobbled streets?

“Prague” by Stephen Dobyns

_____________________

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Stephen Dobyns (1941 – )Wikipedia,  The Poetry FoundationThe New Yorker , Cortland Review Interview

My Impressions:

(1) Real Love: I think that finding such a love, as depicted in this poem, is less common than literature and movies try to tell us. But if I ever lose my lover, I too may punch someone in the face who tried to assuage my grief with pablum.

(2) Fact or Fiction: I prefer poems born from real experiences, not fiction composed by the author. Thus my last post on the Judith Slaying Holfernes. The artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, fills a mythic picture with her hatred from her horrific experience. But as I explored more poems by the author of this poem, Dobyns, I found three that began with the same line of “The day I learned my wife was dying…” The others are Never and Niagara Falls.

And as I read a few little biography notes on Dobyns, I found nothing about a wife that passed away. And so I was disappointed that though I enjoyed the poem, that it too may have been fiction to him.  Do any readers know more on this issue?

(3) Obscure Poetry:

I detest obscure poetry. Dobyns’ poems seem anything but obscure. In a Poetry-of-the-Week interview we have these quotes from Dobyns on the subject of obscurity in poetry:

There are different kinds of obscure poetry. One kind exists because the poet has an idea of his poem in his mind, and then he puts it on the page, and it’s obscure because it’s referencing material the poet knows that’s not accessible to the reader. …

And then there’s the kind of obscurity that’s created by a writer who wants to set himself off as intelligent, so his poetry has a lot of thunder and lightning, and you expect some substance behind it, but it’s not there. It’s just thunder and lightning. ….

In other obscure poems, the complexity of the idea is just difficult to work out. You can see this, say, in Wallace Stevens, who has poems that are extremely difficult, but if you know how to read Wallace Stevens, I mean if you develop a context by reading his other work, you can come to some understanding of Stevens, and some of the poems, even the difficult ones, become very clear….

Another kind of obscure poetry which is either language poetry or post-modern poetry—it goes under a number of idiotic terms—says that meaning is not possible or is based on the premise that meaning is not possible, that human beings cannot communicate with one another, or that meaning itself is simply passé. They’d say that even the idea that you can communicate the idea of yourself as a human being is impossible, and so poets writing out of that philosophy actually work to thwart meaning; they work consciously to make sure there’s no connection in meaning from line 1 to line 2 to line 3, etc.

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