Eighty-blade Sportsman’s Knife, By Joseph Rodgers & Sons

 I think one think that’s pretty consistent throughout Schiff’s poems is their repetition. In this poem, she focuses around the knife and the various words connected to it. In that sense, these connections to the knife and these leaps from the knife to other things and back again really hold the poem together. She does this in a way too, where the poem isn’t just a catalogue of object traits. I think what helps with this so much, is first, her seamless enjambment. I find myself ending on words a lot, and they seem finite with ending there, and then the line continues. And even though I am consciously aware that she’s going to enjamb the lines, I find myself surprised and really attracted to the freshness she brings each time. 

She also makes these leaps from object trait to object trait, that doesn’t necessarily make sense the first time reading them. Schiff definitely makes you think through each trait as a reader and see how they all connect to one another. In this sense, the object traits are far from ordinary, and I think that helps them to separate from just being a catalogue of traits. I can really see this in this stanza of the poem:

is improvisational, also death. All things
slip. But another name for the
butterfly knife I find more fitting is
“Manila Folder”; I’ll take world capitals
for two hundred plus ancient
technology (at least as old as the
Roman Empire) by which a blade pivots
Into its own hilt. It

Sounds like a place to file old receipts, Manila
Folder, but it only files one
blade over and over. It is not grace
or contempt, but repetition that sharpens
me, and as repeating your
own name contaminates the same way
a human’s touch repels a mother bird
from her eggs, I don’t think

So, just in these two stanzas, you can really see the jumps she makes that are evocative, and give a less catalogue-feel. She goes from the butterfly knife, to the manila folder, back to the blades of the knife, and then to a mother bird’s eggs. And simultaneously as the reader, you really have to think how these leaps can be made and how they all connect to one another. So the poetry, while difficult to read, really works hard in itself, and makes the reader work as well which speaks to its consistency.

Since both parties are working so hard to get some meaning out of words on the page, I definitely think there’s “enough” to get a meaningful read out of the poem. It’s not as overt as other poetry may be in reader relation, but I definitely think that if I spend enough time with a single poem, I can get a lot out of it. I think sometimes if it’s too difficult to derive a meaning though, you sort of just have to leave it in itself. And I do feel that way about some of the poems in this book but I think there is enough on the page if you really dissect it, especially in the poem I am working with.  


One Response to “Eighty-blade Sportsman’s Knife, By Joseph Rodgers & Sons”

  1. stephroush Says:

    I especially enjoyed the leaps in this poem. You center on her repetition it is so amazingly layered in this poem. I wonder if she trained her mind to work like this or if she starts a poem with the sort of exercise we tried writing a few minutes on different traits and objects, then weaving them together. The importance I want to get to here is how I see a central repetition/object as a theme and then Schiff works in repetitions that spin off/expand from the central pattern. For this poem, the blade is central and if you haven’t seen this object look it up. It truly is “a bouquet of all the ways a point mutates.” So we have the blade which works through vampire knife, butterfly knife, folded knife, sharpened knife, Roman knife, specific names of implements, etc. Off of this central progression we get the threads of “butterfly knife” to butterfly, to a butterfly and its wings to firefly to luminescence to holy fire. Another route is the folded knife to manila folder to files and cross-referencing to things fitting. I have to say the little lines that step back and comment are heightened by this repetition. “All things / slip” is such a great place, especially if you’ve seen this object. You think about the possibility of one of the eighty blades slipping. You make your own mental progression to mortality, but Schiff makes the idea more complicated than that. She depicts everything wavering at the center, on the verge, life slips and death slips and moments slip and thoughts. And on the subject of thoughts/observations, I love that she enters the poem with “Do not think of the secret transvection of the blade.” Her poem necessitates the inspection. I definitely think that her poem is meaningful as well and I think, Amber, that you are saying her style is as meaningful.

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