Great Read in Short Book at a Glance

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Kate DeForest Arts Editor

Poetry is, as William Meredith so thankfully admits, “hard to read.” However, some poetry (think T.S. Eliot) is harder to read than others. One of those newer poets, a young man named Spencer Short, falls into the latter category. However, Short loses none of Eliot’s academic elitism, he just conceals it behind a veneer of pedestrian subject matter, creative profanity and self-conscious wit.

Short, whom I had the rare pleasure of meeting at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference this past summer, is an interesting paradox in that he, himself, presents much of the same persona found within the voice of his poems. That voice is both self-depreciating and acrid, while at the same time glorifying the author through its lush and knowingly intelligent diction.

Short also holds the distinction of being described in The New Yorker’s Bread Loaf article (Oct. 15) as bring to mind both Eliot and McSweeney’s. This high praise, however, is hardly without foundation as Short evokes the poetic tradition of the New York School, poetry that lives within its own ironies, delights in its own language and sustains itself through its own virtuosity. And, somehow miraculously, it doesn’t get bogged down in its literary prowess, unlike Eliot’s “fear in a handful of dust,” Short’s poetry is grounded by quirks of expression as much as it is suspended within the aura of the modern and postmodern legacy.

More specifically, Short’s poetry creates a modern beauty. Should it be a chair, it would be an Eames design, if it were a building it would have the clean, crisp lines of a New York City skyscraper, strictly ordered from without, but full of the entropy of human emotion within. Take, for example, the authoritative voice that runs throughout his collection “Tremolo”: “Understand, just being empty doesn’t make/ You a vessel.” Typical of Short, it is the profound phrasing thrown amidst the mundane. However, it also typifies Short in that, throughout the collection, he juxtaposes the authoritative with the self-depreciative as he mourns for, swoons after, condemns and glorifies “X” – the ubiquitous object of desire, the sometime object of love, or at least the voice’s projection of that emotion onto the tangible.

Consider the former quote when reading, “I’m batf*** for X,/ it’s only been three days, & she’s got a boyfriend./ Try and convince me the world’s not full of possibility.” The poetry is saved from sentimentalism by its sarcasm, as it is over and over again. One of the most impressive facets about Short’s work is that his allusions and references stand for their own sake, yet the ways in which he inserts them into his own work seem organic to that work. In addition, they simultaneously expand the way in which the works he references and to which he alludes can be understood. His insight into Frost (“just as the iamb might be a beatific nod to the notion/ of a metrical universe or the rhythm of the human heart./ Da-dum-duh da-dum goes the human heart/ & the poetry of Robert Frost.”) is representative of the dialogue he carries on with the rest of the modern canon. Should you have moment, read the poems for pleasure. Should you have the luxury of leisure, read the poems first for pleasure of the language, then again for the pleasure of understanding.

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Great Read in Short Book at a Glance