What goes on goes on outside the window. It’s weather, but a weather that stands for every kind of ray of sun and blast of wind that rocks or soothes a life. And it’s the century, our time. We share it. And it matters. And this underpins Oppen’s poetry, but it’s not an easy poetry to read, for me, and it almost certainly won’t be easy for anyone wholeheartedly unused to reading a poetry that denies our expectations of conventional poetics and gives us, instead, fragments, disassociated phrases, sometimes part-utterances ….. but which also, in spite of that, often (very often) gives moments of pure beauty, elegance, recognition, wisdom. It’s sometimes hard to relinquish the quest for total comprehension in favour of a few seized moments of great pleasure or revelation, but I swear it’s worth it. When I think of how often reading and “getting” a whole poem can be a very much less than pleasant reading experience, I’m thankful for a few lines that give pleasure and add something to my world.

One can read one of these poems and it might feel like a cold and unforgiving gemstone: it looks great, feels great, but it’s not exactly yielding anything up to you. You’re very much outside it and separate from it. But it’s okay to read a poem more than once, and largely these poems have that about them that suggests you do that. Attempt One wasn’t altogether bad, even if perhaps you didn’t get much from it in the way of meaning but there was some reading pleasure; Attempt Two may yield something else. And as readers, we can work a little, can’t we? A poem with only a couple of dozen words in it, and the first time it resisted you, but you liked it enough to read it again -- And again -- And again several days later -- For example:

This land:
The hills, round under straw;
A house 
With rigid trees
And flaunts
A family laundry,
And the glass of windows

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I admit I still can’t make anything very interesting out of that “round under straw” bit. I may be being blind and dense. But for the rest, each time I read this poem, I see a picture in my mind’s eye but, more importantly, I sense a celebration (if that’s the right word, which it perhaps isn’t) of the very ordinary washing flapping on the washing line, and those windows, which one can look in to, and out of. And think and imagine. “Rigid” is an interesting word in the middle of the poem, don’t you think? And it doesn’t matter if I’m right or if I’m wrong, because it really doesn’t. I’m not being marked on this.

Occasionally, a poem will be much simpler:

Civil war photo:
Grass near the lens;
Man in the field
In silk hat. Daylight.
The cannon of that day
In our parks.

Which is, I think, and to be frank, damn fine.

Having read “around” Oppen in my preparation for reading the poems, I came across some pretty finely tuned intellectual ideas, not all of which made complete sense to me. I can just about live with his concern with the little words, what the Objectivists termed “the lyric valuables” that make up the world, what a note in the notes to the Poems refers to as his “lifelong concern with the primary elements of experience, those ‘little nouns that he [liked] the most’”. And I’ve read a couple of analyses of a couple of poems that concentrate, for example, on how the word “thus” is used twice in a poem, and how its use and placing, and the space around it resonates….

…. which is all very well, and I’m not underestimating any of that in any way, but there’s a few reasons why quite a lot of what I read in my reading so far of The Collected Poems of George Oppen