Tuesday, April 16, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 17 with James May

In “’A Culture,’” yes, the title is in quotation marks, James May combines imagery of killer whales known as orcas attacking other large sea life, such as a stingray and a great white shark, with his rarefied study of spoken art (read poetry here) that is interrupted by a gourmet dinner. This seventeenth lit trip through the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40 looks at this free-verse poem, one of three by May in this edition of the BPR, comprised of nine unrhymed tercets with a concluding stanza of one line. It’s a format similar to Joshua Gottlieb-Miller’s “Power Animals,” except May single indents the second line and double indents the third line of each stanza.

Usually, the Steiny Road Poet steers clear of automatically assuming that a poem presented in the first person singular (I) is the author. However, the combination of this narrator who is deeply involved in studying “declaimed art” with comments related to mnemonics (memory aids) and a quotation from the supreme 18th century man of letters Samuel Johnson superimposed on what seems to be a televised story about the culture of orcas—how these terrifying creatures communicate and operate—cannot be anything other than a personal experience by James May.

Approaching its prey, the orca will turn upside down,
...clasp the ray in its teeth and then right itself so the ray upside down, which triggers some evolutionary typo

that floods the ray’s brain with serotonin, rendering it
...completely calm before the orca leisurely halves the body.
......It was the sort of image any book would lose to,

no less the sentence I was reading that declaimed art
...must be useful.

Who else but a writer would call the stingray’s topsy-turvy problem a writing error? Really, an “evolutionary typo”? The Steiny Poet loves this turn of phrase because it brings more attention to the work of poetry, of which Samuel Johnson, as quoted by May, wrote in his “Preface to Shakespeare,” “The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing.”

May also describes a mother orca defending her pup from a great white by attacking and flipping the shark, raising the beast out of the water until the shark suffocates. Then the orca eats the shark’s liver and leaves the rest of the body for the gulls. Here May leaves his book on the table and goes to a French restaurant with his partner or friend Chelsea where May is at a loss to explain to her how orca language is like “those ancient and useful mnemonic poems about farming/ and laws.” Meanwhile, they are mutually at a loss for what to order from the menu. Chelsea asks, “What is the duck stuffed with?” The waiter, repeating her question, tells her, “The duck is stuffed with more duck.”

The water’s answer most likely refers to foie gras, duck liver made by force feeding ducks so that their livers can be harvested for pâté. The Steiny Poet assumes that the stuffing inside the duck on the menu was made from pâté de foie gras. And now the Steiny Poet knows why the title of May’s poem is in quotation marks. 

No comments: