Poetry Review, “The Spring Poem” Dave Smith

20 Feb

Ok, if you don’t normally read poetry (most of America) you might not get the joke of this poem “The Spring Poem” or you might, and then realize it isn’t really funny.  Well, in traditional poetry, seasons are spoken of almost obsessively going all the way back to the beginning.  What most people don’t realize is how culturally relevant this is, because if you think about it, you’d realize that some country like Saudi Arabia probably doesn’t have a huge amount of Spring poetry because its seasons are different there.  However we’re not talking about Saudi Arabia, we’re talking about the west.

So Spring is almost always the “nice” season (even more than summer surprisingly) filled with blooms and flowers and mating and new life.  It’s the only season that traditional poets can really enjoy, because winter=death and summer and autumn, while having their delights, require a constant reminder that winter is coming (honestly, traditional poets really like reminding you about death).

So Dave Smith makes his spring poem about springs.  Wait–before you close this post in disgust, it’s not played like that, as I said not a very funny joke.  Actually it reminds me of something a freshman poetry professor would go gaga over because it’s “surprising.”

This poem goes beyond surprising–the springs he’s talking about are the springs in the backseat of an old junked car that teenagers have sex in.  It’s a slightly sarcastic reply to Louise Gluck’s statement “Every poet should write a spring poem.”  Which, while I like Gluck’s work pretty well, that statement sounds like she should be wearing a fairy dress and talking in a lilt while waving a giant glitter feather pen.

“Each year this car, melting around that spring,/hears nails trench from boards and every squeak sing.”  See it’s the makeout car, and he describes every aspect of it sexually, because for a generation of kids who grew up there, that car was a rite of passage, and that has to do with spring as well, because spring’s about mating, and growing up.

The part of the poem that makes this more than a snarky response to Gluck (honestly, poetry doesn’t get that much professional conflict so I have to savor it when I can),  because the beauty comes from the juxtaposition of all these spring happenings with the state of the car, old, rusting, and that all the descriptions of the car, while all sexual, also signify rotting and falling apart.  What grows, in this spring, is rust, not flowers.

And what hides beneath this playfulness, is a fact that once you’re all grown up, that thing you’ve rushed so fast to do, all that’s left to do is age and eventually fall apart.  I’m not saying that’s all that’s left to do socially, but physically, you’re cooked, whenever you stopped growing, you were at your prime, and from that moment forward your body will show signs of aging.  I don’t think this is a tragedy per se, because death at the end of life is like a period at the end of a sentence.  It’s there, it gives it shape and color, it makes certain details noticeable   In fact the single determining factor of human life is foreknowledge that at some point it is done.

See that last paragraph?  That’s what this “joke” brought me to.  And that’s why you need to read “The Spring Poem.”


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