Friday, 23 March 2012

Passive to active

While Raymond Carver's verse might at first glance seem like chopped-up prose or snippets from short stories, it's actually packed with poetic craft. His gift for condensed narrative is extremely well suited to the genre. In all Carver's work, constraint enables him to raise his game, and his poetic background infuses his short stories. In fact, he stated that he saw himself primarily as a poet. Just as with his short stories, he wears his technique lightly in his poems, never overplaying his hand, as in this ending to The Toes:

"...The sound of hooks being
unfastened, stays coming
undone, garments letting go
onto a cool, hardwood floor."

The accumulation of detail and implicit narrative via the piling up of gerunds is clear, but Carver's real thrust is achieved through the shift from the passive to the active voice. The effect creeps up on the reader and then opens out beyond. This is a gorgeous example of how Carver controlled language in his poetry. I'm convinced it will gradually find more and more recognition alongside his prose.

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