Sunday, August 28, 2005

On Brian Kim Stefans' "The Applicant"

Although Brian Kim Stefans has penned longer and more complex works, I've chosen a rather simple, modest poem for this blog. The poem is modest and fun and suitable for children, which is not a commonplace combination. The poem is a vivid display of the poet's capacity to play nicely in a skillful way. It defies the equating of un-innocence with stupidity that is often not so much of a product of avant-garde sophistication than of laziness and apathy.

The poem has the feel of what I think is the best of transcribed, sput-of-the-moment poetry. It feels fresh and unpolluted. There is rhyme, but the rhyme feels unforced. The length of each line is short, often consisting of only one word, which pulls the reader through the poem. If one wants to make the case for "less is more" (which I actually think is an overused cliche), then this poem would be a sound example.

If I must find meaning in the poem, it appears to be about an applicant at a job interview, though it is capable of many different interpretations, and the primary feature of the poem is the language.

The language is the diva of the poem. The poem opens with the wonderful line, "Your promise is a lazy dog." There are several original turns of phrasing, such as "jury duty effects," "dirigible skill," "It's nothing the matter person," "free in bluster," and "all block-wide jeeps will issue." I realize that I'm quoting a fair percentage of the poem here, but many of the lines are entirely fascinating inventions. The final stanza ends on the same strong, refreshing note as the opening stanza.

What I also like very much about the poem is that Stefans does not appear to be writing solely for a particular school of poetry here. There has been talk about particular schools of poetry around the blogosphere. I don't mind them, of course -- Asian-American poetry can surely be interpreted as a "school of poetry." I think that they can make for good communities as well as be helpful to the development of poets and even the writing of poems.

But I also think that "schools of poetry" can become stultifying to the individual poets within the school if they aren't flexible and capable of change. And they can become annoying to everyone else outside the school, if they become instruments of exclusion, like a fraternity where everyone gets certain bawdy in-jokes that are meaningless and dull, if not offensive, to everyone outside it. So, I would argue that those within a school of poetry should remain open to an expansion of the form and the changing of boundaries over time as well as sensitive enough to allow others not inside the school to more fully participate in the conversation. And, of course, even though I read a lot of "Asian-American poetry," that is certainly not the only type of poetry that I read. But I'm drifting here...

I think that "The Applicant" is a good read that will entertain all poetry lovers of different stripes.


Blogger Patty said...

Thank you for introducing me to Brian Kim Stefans' work.

3:58 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

You're welcome!

4:58 AM  

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