Poet's Pick April 12
Marianne Moore: "The Fish"
Selected by Carolyn Guinzio
National Poetry Month 2016

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Our thanks to Carolyn Guinzio for today's Poet's Pick!

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Don Selby & Diane Boller
Editors


Carolyn Guinzio's Poetry Month Pick, April 12, 2016

"The Fish"
by Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

wade
through black jade,
    Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
    adjusting the ash-heaps;
       opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
    The barnacles which encrust the side
    of the wave, cannot hide
       there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
    glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
    into the crevices—
       in and out, illuminating

the
turquoise sea
    of bodies. The water drives a wedge
    of iron through the iron edge
       of the cliff, whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
    bespattered jelly-fish, crabs like green
    lilies, and submarine
       toadstools, slide each on the other.

All
external
    marks of abuse are present on this
    defiant edifice—
       all the physical features of

ac-
cident—lack
    of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
    hatchet strokes, these things stand
       out on it; the chasm-side is

dead.
Repeated
    evidence has proved that it can live
    on what can not revive
       its youth. The sea grows old in it.

 

* Carolyn Guinzio Comments:
I’ve carried my copy of the delightfully slender The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore through so many states and sun-filled homes that the text has faded entirely from the spine. When I look for it now, I look for “the book with the blank spine.” And when I take it off the shelf, it so often falls open to the page of “The Fish.”

The first thing to love about “The Fish” is how it looks.  It’s like a visual version of the setting “Ocean” on a meditation sound machine, arriving and retreating at shortening intervals with a moment of silence between. There’s a reason so many of us long to stand in the sea with our eyes closed, feeling where we are in the world. But Moore has caught us, and now the universe into which we’re plunged is beautiful, yes, but violent and terrifying, too.

That visual pattern we notice first is quickly mimicked aurally—the wade and the jade slap at you once and then twice, the same and different. And by the time you hit the word jade, you’re there with her.

Written nearly a hundred years ago, “The Fish” feels current and timeless at once. Despite its formal constructs and conventions, there’s nothing stuffy or dusty about it—not its language nor its concerns and ideas. So much is contained in an injured fan, the iron in the water, the submarine toadstools—the things of industry and warfare in nature, and nature in the things of industry—tensions and inversions presented in a thrillingly inventive and mysterious way.

It’s almost shocking, the inversion that occurs in the final line. It does not grow old in the sea, you see—the sea grows old in it. As much as the world may make us old, we make the world old.


Carolyn Guinzio:
Carolyn Guinzio is the author of four collections, SPINE (Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press, 2016), Spoke & Dark (Red Hen, 2012) winner of the To The Lighthouse/A Room Of Her Own Prize, Quarry (Parlor, 2008), and West Pullman, (Bordighera, 2005) winner of the Bordighera Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Harvard Review, Agni, The Boston Review, Bomb, and many other journals. She is the text editor of YEW: A Journal of Innovative Writing & Images By Women.


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