As a literary device, poetry stands alone in its ability to combine images and events that otherwise stand in stark contrast.
(Warning: The following includes commentary on poetry. Though the mere mention of poetry is enough to cause panic attacks and anxiety, do not be alarmed. For those with low tolerance, the effects should wear off within an hour or two.)
In Candace Black’s latest published poem -- “Mr. D Shops at Fausto’s Food Palace,” which will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Free Press in the This American Life in Poetry column assembled by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser -- the arresting olfactory combination of rotting chicken and bananas is used to recall the unsavory changes that modernity has wrought on the simple pleasure of visiting a nearby grocery.
Once, the oft-published English instructor at Minnesota State University seems to say, people weren’t offended by the smell of decomposing foodstuff in the alley. It was part of the fabric of the neighborhood, something to be recalled with a kind of arm’s-length reverence for its aromatic honesty.
You see, rotting trash cannot be what is not.
As Black continues, water now wants to be flavored, baloney wants to be “mortadella” and people want to eat fish caught by a stranger.
Quite a narrative journey -- and one that deposits the reader at the realization that perhaps there is something to be missed from the odor of rotting trash.
“We lose something when our lives are gentrified,” Black said.
In such ways, poetry provides the subtext of life -- the moments we lived, but didn’t notice until we read them.
That’s why I chose to include poetry submissions in the February, romance-themed issue of the Mankato Magazine. Even timeless emotions can still be expressed anew in the hands of a poet.
Every so often I remind myself of that fact with a re-reading of Robert Frost’s “Out, out -.”
In it, Frost’s narrator recalls sweet-scented stove-length sticks of wood, sunset-drenched Vermont mountain ranges, the untimely death of a young boy and his family’s sharp return to the daily work of life.
What begins as a bucolic image of an earnest boy engaged in honest work ends with a ghastly commentary on the disposability of life.
Poetry brings us nearer to our own memories, our own senses, our own fears.
It’s up to us to stop and smell the rotting chicken.