Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hypnotic Qualities

Michael Lista tries to get at the magic of Ricardo Sternberg's poetry:
Magic, by definition, is an exemption to the natural order, and the first thing readers notice and admire about Sternberg’s poems is the overwhelming sense that they shouldn’t work as well as they do. Their constituent parts are too simple; the language is that of everyday speech, sparingly multi-syllabic and rarely sending you to the dictionary. Faulkner once said something like that to Hemingway and intended it as an insult, but as Hemingway knew, it’s hard to cast a spell on someone whose nose is in the OED. And that’s just it: Sternberg’s poems operate the same way that spells do. He describes his own technique as “slowly blowing breath/ into each syllable,” and even here we can see the magic at work: the expertly weighted lines balanced by alternating alliteration, the bookending L sounds, the enjambment machine-tooled to correspond to the length of a breath. But what puts the lines over is that the mechanics of the artistry are hidden in the rafters, leaving only the illusion onstage. The sense is less that the magic has been muscled into place than that Sternberg has divined the secret connections between the words, unlocking their hypnotic qualities. As Quintilian said, “the perfection of art is to conceal art.” The effect is a feeling that the laws have been upended, of discovering that the magician’s coin has vanished from his hands and, abracadabra, appeared behind your ear.

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