“In Retrospect”

Going way back to the beginning of our work in Structure and Surprise–the ironic structure remains the most intriguing structure for me to work with. One thing I find continuously powerful as a poet is the ironic turn’s ability to almost chastise a reader. Maybe “chastise” isn’t the best word, but an ironic turn forces the reader to reevaluate their initial reading. ‘You thought it was this way, didn’t you?’ it says. The ironic turn makes us think about how we want to read a poem. Take, for example, Margaret Atwood’s You Fit Into Me.

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

We read the first half as a sweet ode to the couple’s Aristophanic jagged edges, whereas it could very well (and does!) mean something rather violent. We read the first half as we want to experience love, I think, but the ironic makes us double-take. Things are not always the way they seem, that much we often overlook, and I favor the ironic structure for it’s ability to make the reader (and poet) reevaluate such.

Katie Pierce’s Famous Last Words has been my favorite read for the class, though I am not sure how my consequent work is in conversation with hers. Many of her poems have something to do with age, with the timelessness of youth. She remembers her “illegal and brilliant” self at sixteen, learning the “alchemy of guilt, lust, and distance” in the backseats of cars (This Is Not An Elegy); she shows us a summer [someone not necessarily her] spent in Moab, Utah, and cautions that someone to “be careful with your memory, it was not deliverance, at the time you felt no relief” (In Retrospect); she speaks of discovering her first gray hair (Apostrophe to the First Gray Hair).

It is the poem Project Yourself Here that speaks to the overall themes of youth, with the girl by the river in central PA wishing she could be a muse,

it would make her glad to know that someone is watching now, even through memory, even through the blue gel of nostalgia. There’s more to tell about the girl, but it’s better not to know. If you did, you wouldn’t want to be her. You wouldn’t be remembering how once you were.

I connect to Pierce’s work because of that feeling, the feeling of incredulousness at the person you forget you once were. Her poetic voice’s consciousness of age also appeals to the soon-to-graduate-and-face-real-life part of me, and right now it is a rather loud part of me. And right now I am particularly prone to reflecting my situation, and naturally I reflect on the person-I-once-was. Sometimes we forget those people, or we want to forget we were those people–desperate, immature, foolish, et cetera. Pierce swings around to consider this chosen blindness/memory lapse, and given the current state of my affairs, I am trying to do the same.

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