Monday, April 28, 2008

A First Measure of the New "Measure"

Happy day—the new issue of Measure has arrived! We haven't been this excited for the mail since we ordered that decoder ring from the back of Archie Comics. (That was...what, 5-7 weeks ago? It should arrive any day!) We haven’t had time to read through the entire issue carefully yet, but are looking forward to exploring (and writing about) its contents over the next couple of weeks. This one opens with six poems by Mary Jo Salter, followed by an interview with Salter conducted by Papa Baer. The issue also includes twelve finalists of the Howard Nemorov Sonnet Contest. The winner is A.M. Juster’s “No”:

No, not this time. I cannot celebrate
a man’s discarded life, and will not try;
these knee-jerk elegies perpetuate
the nightshade lies of Plath. Why glorify
Descent into a solipsistic hell?
Stop. Softly curse the waste. Don’t elevate
his suffering to genius. Never tell
me he will live on. Never call it fate.

Attend the service. Mourn. Pray. Comfort those
he lacerated. Keep him in your heart,
but use that grief to teach. When you compose
a line, it is a message, not just art.
Be furious with me, but I refuse
to praise him. No, we have too much to lose.

Frederick Turner’s introductory note to the poem—and what he calls the poem's “searing denials, its noble ethical ruthlessness barley suppressing its grief and denials, its noble ethical ruthlessness barely suppressing its grief and pity”—captures the poem’s moral force and critical relevance:

The absolute naturalness and idiomatic force of its dramatic monologue is perfectly constrained within the form—not a beat is missed—just as the love the speaker has for the suicide is constrained by the terrible Dantean judgment the speaker must recognize. The poem…reminds us that art—even art as great as Sylvia Plath’s—is also irreducibly a message, with the responsibilities of any message. The poem is then an important critical document, rebuffing both the moral relativism and sentimentality of much contemporary literature and the shallow aestheticism of some of its critics.

Formal excellence, “Dantean judgment,” and moral seriousness—a Mahwahvian’s dream!

By the way, here’s subscription information for Measure. The price is right, and the editors have announced that they will now be publishing two issues a year. And here’s information about this year’s Nemerov Sonnet contest, judged by Timothy Steele.


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