“Loneliness in Jersey City”
I’ve been reading “Loneliness in Jersey City” by Wallace Stevens and thinking about metaphor’s central place when committing acts of poetry. To enter the poem we must consider its unlikely opening equation: “The deer and the dachshund are one.” It’s odd, but far from dismissible, more than passing strange. The stanza continues with a syllogism that never quite resolves: “Well, the gods grow out of the weather. / The people grow out of the weather; / The gods grow out of the people. / Encore, encore, encore les dieux . . .” I imagine Stevens fit to be tied, at the end of his rope, so to speak, stacking the world into probabilities as he did during his day gig as v.p. of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Nothing adds up. No foothold presents itself. This is not whimsy, but hell for a guy who wrote in “Three Academic Pieces,” (a Harvard lecture,) of the magic that can happen when metaphor bridges “things of adequate dignity.” I feel Steven’s isolation emerging as the poem goes on to surrender its street scene: its darkened steeple and its all-night immigrant serenades.
I remember a creative writing worksheet from my high school days. It was designed to help young people avoid clichéd expressions. Instead of writing “busy as a bee,” it instructed, one should invent a level of business more like, “as busy as a mustard paddle at a picnic.” I, frankly, fear the poetry that grows out of such instruction.