Pushcart XLI: Shelley Wong, “The Spring Forecast” (poetry) from Crazyhorse #88

Soon, the sea. On the city corner,
     a tree asserts I am every
            shade of pink.
Like the inside.
     Dresses as transparent
as watercolor. Doors flung open
     
                  to receive gold arrows.
      (stringing the strings)
Skirts flare into bells. Hair
      like bougainvillea.

One of my first serious literary experiences in college (or as serious as one can be in Poetry 101) was a class on The Canterbury Tales. The instructor tried to convince us the Prologue had a sexual tone – all that piercing and bathing and generating – and I was unconvinced. I guess I’ve learned something since then, because I see a lot of the Canterbury Tales sex in this poem. Not to mention a bunch of other stuff.

But first – full disclosure. I was googling around looking for notes on the poem, as I always do, or at least an online copy so I wouldn’t have to type all those indents (I hate typing indents, though formatting them for blogging is even worse) and what do I stumble across but Jacob Weber’s blog post about this very poem. Jake has been a regular participant in my BASS posts for a couple of years, and this year, Pushcart.

We had similar overall impressions (with some big differences) of a walk down a city street to the beach in Spring, with romance blooming all around. I’d been thinking myself pretty clever for considering the ambiguity of “strings” as referencing music and/or Cupid’s bow, but he’d made the same observation so now I feel like a copycat. In fact, his analysis is certainly preferable, for anyone serious about poetry, to anything I’m going to come up with, so I highly recommend a trip over there.

I’d throw in some observations about the rhythm of the poem. “Soon, the sea” sets a wavelike rhythm in short phrases that persists until “Skirts flare into bells”, an appropriate phrase for a disturbance of regularity.

I also had a very different impression of the identity of the speaker. I was thinking it was a man, enjoying the springtime pulchritude, until he’s interrupted by a memory, a voice in past tense from somewhere inside his head:

Once, a stop sign
     
before the water. Once, he traced
     the arch of her foot.

And then it’s back to present tense. And I have to wonder: what happened at that stop sign? Is he an old man, remembering his own spring romance from days gone by? I hear this intrusive memory returning, maybe, with “Her hand / petaling open” and I’m imagining all sorts of things happening at that stop sign, from long-lost love to rape to a tragic accident. Is he on his way to the Island, where, though he won’t enjoy the scenery, he also won’t be tormented by this memory any more? Or where he won’t be bothered by temptation? And yet he longs for the pied-à-terre. Could this be a woman, recapturing a once-experienced spring blooming, with sweet nostalgia for the foolishness, and a not-terribly-serious wish to live in the midst of it forever?

The personage of the speaker became my focus. The poem references both “he” and “she”, and the syntax is irregular enough to put those in any context. But in the end, I’m left ambivalent. I always wonder, when I’m ambivalent, if it’s because I’m stupid or because that’s the point. We remember our youth in a certain way, and even when we romanticize it, I think we always know it was filled, not only with bursting pink, but with uncertainty and worry and pressures.

I had to smile at one of Jake’s comments about sexual excitement recast in a dark light, mocking the romance. I skipped right over theme of “niceties constructed to cover animal lust that leaks out anyway” and rushed straight to abuse and death. I went a step too far, I have to admit: the peach, “strings up” and the “offwhite leader”, well, I’ve been reading a lot about Reconstruction lately, so … I think I’ll leave it there. I prefer Jake’s interpretation of strings up: bikinis. Wish I’d thought of that.

I too wonder, as Jake did, if there’s some reference I’m not getting. I seem to be getting all kinds of references, and that’s even worse: The Canterbury Tales, To The Lighthouse, Prufrock, and The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, and I wonder why I’m trying so hard. Why can’t I just see this as a guy lost in a sexual fantasy as he walks along Main Street on his way to the island, and admire the poetics? Short answer: because I don’t know much about poetics.

In the end, I have no idea if this is a pleasant idyll, a bittersweet memoir, a social critique, or something else entirely. Bring on Emily: I dwell in possibility. But I do wish I knew what town I was in.

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6 responses to “Pushcart XLI: Shelley Wong, “The Spring Forecast” (poetry) from Crazyhorse #88

  1. Thanks for the shout-out. I got zero Canterbury Tales references out of this, although I guess that makes a lot of sense. Any English poem dealing with spring probably needs to confront Chaucer in some way.

    Another thing I wasn’t satisfied with in my reading of the poem was the treatment of stanzas and line breaks. Although modern poetry is so enamored with enjambment, I sometimes wonder if there is any other way to write poetry now. I wasn’t at all certain what those elements were doing to meaning.

    I’m sticking with a reading of feminist social critique. Maybe one day the poet will Google herself and come give us a hand in figuring it out. As long as she’s not one of those who insists she has no control over the poem’s meaning once it’s written.

    • I’m in one of my hyper-proactive phases so I sent her a tweet. I used to tag authors routinely, but stopped for some reason. I should always do it with poets, since I need their help most of all!

      I love enjambment. I especially love “violent enjambment”. Not even the technique, but the phrase. If I were a poet, I’d enjamb all over.

      It’s so helpful just to have a second opinion on all these things – thank you!

  2. Thank you both for the time and care you took in reading my poem, writing about it, and having this exchange!

    While I had certain ideas in mind while writing the poem and have a certain reading of the finished result, I don’t believe that I own the correct reading of the poem, because the poem belongs to anyone. Everyone brings his/her own life and life’s reading to a piece and we’re all teaching each other. I also think that although I had designs on what I wanted the poem to be, those ideas became more of the atmospheric periphery rather than part of the legible understanding of the poem.

    Which leads me to say that this was a really fun poem to write and I’m glad that it found some readers! For some background: I kept the poem associative and suggestive in true seductive fashion, as it was inspired by the form of perfume ads. This poem is a sister poem to “The Fall Forecast,” which takes place on a runway. I was less clear about the fashion world inspiration here, but I took the idea of heavy suggestive jump cuts of perfume ads to create a spring fever poem about lust, longing, and memory.

    Karen: I appreciate all of your readings! Your last interpretation is close to what I was going for — a woman reflecting on past loves (definitely some foolishness!) and looking ahead to another spring. I love the wavelike rhythm observation! I’m also intrigued by the stop sign as an intrusive memory, as that was lightly my thinking, though I didn’t want to “go down that road” if you’ll forgive the expression. I do love that you found the speaker to be ambiguous as he or she–I was a bit coy with that. You were definitely onto something with “offwhite leader” as I did want to convey that the girls are led by a women of color (lightly referencing the aesthetics of beauty brought up in “The Fall Forecast”). I love that you found several literary references echoing here — you are a great reader! I struggle to remember much of my English major work so I can’t say that I meant any references. As for the departure, I imagined it would be from somewhere in the middle of the country. I admire your Pushcart blogging work! You’re a wonderful reader and are doing generous work.

    For Jacob: Similar to your thinking, one never knows whether one’s poem is in range of a stranger’s understanding. In your post, I found much that was in my mind as I wrote the poem (spring break fever; the strings as music, bow for arrows, bikinis) as well as some wonderfully nuanced insights that I had not thought of (the sea as a sexual force retreating from the light paralleling packing illuminations), so I learned a lot from your reading. I had a more playful thinking about spring fever for women — more of a celebration of women, sexuality, spring, nature and looking ahead to an island of possibility and desire. I greatly appreciate this unpacking of patterns and echoes that you have drawn out. This is similar to how I read a poem—I’m all about drawing lines and categorizing threads of related images. I also love the idea of writing winter and summer forecasts, as I had thought about it, but never ended up following through with them. As for your conclusions, I’d say they are spot on as close reading. For me, I do see some ambivalence, but I see the poem as more of an embrace of love’s attempts, of being empowered and older to take leaps toward desire rather than away from it. There’s always a gap between one’s intention and the final result, but I hope that is illuminating — :). I’m glad that the poem intrigued you to stir your interest in close reading poetry again. You’re an astute reader and I encourage you to continue to read, write about what you’re writing, and write in general. Poetry needs good readers!

    • Shelley – thank you so much for your comments! I know a lot of writers prefer not to engage in this sort of thing, but it’s so helpful to improving my reading skill. My ultimate goal is to be able to recognize the writer’s intent (at least within a range) while retaining my own rather overreaching impressions. You’ve helped me come closer to that.

      I do wish I’d paid more attention to “Fall Forecast” – I knew it was out there, Jake’s blog mentioned it, yet I didn’t read it; that was just lazy of me, I think, though I clothed it in not wanting to be distracted. I love what you’re saying about perfume ads next to Fall’s fashion ads, and yes, I can see that, word association. I am quite fond of the stop sign memory, so that’s one of the things I’m going to retain for myself while continuing to pare away my more extreme wanderings.

      Again, many thanks! And congratulations on your first Pushcart!

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