The Least Surprise

Edwin Denby - "People on Sunday" (1'17"). It's the anecdote in the couplet following the volta that attaches me to this poem: I love the "imagine that" intonation adopted by the poet (here recorded some three decades after his sonnet first appeared in the small 1948 volume In Public, In Private), and the accompanying insinuation: our speaker is used to startling folks with whatever it is that his eyes are signaling to them. Each of the three quatrains leading up to this moment has had a distinct texture. The first provides a thoroughly secular Sabbath-day census of the sportive, libidinal, zonked denizens of the New York streets Denby so loved to wryly document. The second generalizes about the season (sweltering summer) in straight-ahead rhythms that culminate in the grinning accelerando of "and people left in the kitchen are a little flighty" (many syllables in advance of its arrival, you can hear the delight Denby takes in the off-rhyme he's about to unveil). The third stanza praises our soniferous species, inviting us to "look" (interesting synesthetic feint) "at all the noises we make for one another." The formulaic rhymes spill out in fours (ay-ay-ay-ay, uh-uh-uh-uh), then modulate into a subtler set of three substantives ("the weather, the system, the picture of his brother"), until in the final line we realize (with the recurrence of the word "shake") that we've been on a visit only the ceremonial conclusion of which is not conducted "in private." • The unfazed infant recalls Lao-tzu: "I am like the child who has not yet smiled." Meeting Denby's gaze without alarm or judgment, the baby bestows that rarest of gifts: a truly neutral gaze.

More Denby at PennSound. Denby on Rudy Burckhardt site. Denby's Dance Writings & Poetry reviewed in Dance Magazine. And, briefly, in the NYT. Simon Smith and Ron Padgett discuss Denby and his work, part of Karlien van den Beukel's selection of Denby materials for Jacket 21

Sunday -- 16 July 2006 -- permalink

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.