Friday, April 26, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 26 with David Starkey

David Starkey’s “The Ways of God to Man” represents a transition from poems concerned with the natural world to something more nebulous that the Steiny Road Poet will call design. While the Steiny Poet has tripped through the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40 on weekly excursions dealing with themes of deathlove, poetry, and a work week peek into poems drawing on the natural world, what comes next will go fast because the Steiny Poet’s project ends on the 30th trip at the end of National Poetry Month. To sum up the nature oriented poems, we looked at Laura McCullough's "Holy" on “snowpocalypse,” Jane Springer's "Forties War Widows, Stolen Grain” dealing with a murder of crows, Charles Harper Webb's "Rain-Out" another weather event interfering with human plans, and Kathy Fagan's cosmically mysterious "Sycamore Envies the Cottonwoods behind Your Place.” 

Two things about Starkey’s “The Ways of God to Man” that please the Steiny Poet a lot are the form and its political audacity.  The Steiny Poet doesn’t know if Starkey’s form has a name but it can be described as a five-line stanza where the first and last line of each stanza are the same and the second line has an end rhyme matching the first line. Lines three and four are short and indented. In Starkey’s poem there are five stanzas and in stanzas three and four he punches up the rhyme to include a matching end rhyme in line four. In stanza two he has a visual (but not oral) rhyme of the words fumes and chrysanthemums. We also saw this kind of faux rhyme in Ned Balbo’s “Advice from a Friend,” loose translation of Paul Valéry’s sonnet.

The subject of “The Ways of God to Man” is a senator who is sorely annoyed with a bill currently on the senate floor pertaining to intelligent design (ID). Here’s the political audacity that so amuses the Steiny Poet:

The issue is intelligent design:
Alas, he thinks it’s asinine.
....His constituents, though
....Consider it Divine.
The issue is intelligent design

And the bill currently on the Senate floor,
Which comes up for a vote at four
....Tomorrow. He’s obsessed
....Now by backlash, pastors,
And the bill currently on the Senate floor.

Intelligent design presents itself as a quasi-scientific alternative to Creationism because it doesn’t say that the maker of the universe has to be God. One of the goals of ID is to discredit Darwinism (evolution). The senator of Starkey’s poem has good reason to be annoyed because in the real world (as opposed to this poem) since 1999, at least two school boards have adopted ID but in the case of the Dover Pennsylvania School Board, which voted to teach ID along side of evolution in their schools’ science curriculum, the U.S. District Court ruled that unconstitutional, saying ID could not be uncoupled from Creationism and, thus, religion.

What is really funny about this poem is that it starts out with the senator in business attire tromping through a field of prickly burdock with all his aides who follow him as if they were foxhounds and he the fox. Burdock is used as a folk medicine to “purify the blood.” In stanza two, we meet the senator's wife who is arranging chrysanthemums who remains “dumb/ As ever, in the face/ Of his outbursts.” Probably a little known fact is that if a person is allergic to chrysanthemums or ragweed, he or she might also be allergic to burdock. Hmmm, is Starkey making some kind of statement about evolution or ID? Hard to say, but the last stanza finds the senator back walking, looking to get away from all the masters he serves. One assumes the beleaguered senator wants to get away from his constituents who believe in ID, but could that also be his aides and wife?

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