I’ve been reading Marianne Boruch’s first book, View from the Gazebo, and thinking about how sentiment may very well simultaneously be the first tool in the poet’s box and the first hurdle a poet is obligated to overcome. It’s kind of the Chuck Berry riff of writing poems; it cannot be denied, but must be applied with care and timing. More specifically, I’ve been reading “Love Poem Against the Spring,” a poem that opens with lines that neither deny nor reverse sentiment:
Spring means nothing but camouflage
so we dare to say these corny things.
It’s spring once more - no irony, no high-modern cruelty. Instead, Boruch acknowledges all the existing green that any new attempt at green blends into. She acknowledges the unavoidable matrix of sentiment that consumes any new declaration of love, the “camouflage,” the “corny things.”
She concedes spring and its purple flowers, but never denies her own discomfort: “OK, they’re cute. My hunger’s not.” I like that the speaker’s ache stays complex. She is accused of being a computer by a friend, but the calculations here are clearly the necessary (and probably futile) steps to avoid breakdown: “Perhaps the pretty air / exaggerates some things.” These concessions to sentiment nearly mask the anger. The intelligence here just exasperates the sense that the speaker, more alert and alone for defying a mindless vernal camouflage, is utterly disconnected, and by the end of the poem she has earned her take on an image common enough to be cliché but strangely effective in triplicate. She has earned her collapse into a heightened state of emotion that could be “sentiment” if decades of academic poetry workshops had not thrown sentiment out with the bathwater:
Last night I saw three couples, incredible throwbacks,
strolling into the dusk, two so giddy, they’d love anything.
I’m quiet as a brick. But for spring
this far I’d go – glad, I guess, to shed this coat. It’s you
I crave, you who gets more stunning
as we age.