Today I read a playful and fruity poem by American poet Peter Davison (1928-2004), who I understood was a quiet but powerful figure in American poetry who deeply believed in his craft. Here is “peaches”:
A mouthful of language to swallow:
stretches of beach, sweet clinches,
breaches in walls, bleached branches;
britches hauled over haunches;
hunches leeches, wrenched teachers.
What English can do: ransack
the warmth that chuckles beneath
fuzzed surfaces, smooth velvet
richness, splashy juices.
I beseech you, peach,
clench me into the sweetness
of your reaches.
Deliciously playful. Davison once said that “poetry for me is not work but pleasure, not a career but a second life—a play within a play.” The alliterations and assonations are intentionally overwhelming; everything in languages comes together to strike a spark: Cute hugs, cracked walls, dead trees, knickerbockers ‘hauled over haunches’, wrenched (wretched?) teachers…
We get the point. Lunging into a luncheon, reeking of a leeky dungeon, keeling toward the munging mongrels etc.” But if play is everything, it is also more than play. Davison’s message about the power of language (he would agree English has keine Sonderstellung in this regard) is stealing the warmth (stealing the fire: Prometheus) beneath the surface and use the loot to keep us warm in less fuzzy circumstances.
Professional commentators would undoubtedly call this poem ‘deceptively simple’ proclaiming that there is much to enjoy under its surface that can only be seen after long years of study. I don’t believe that. It’s just a fine poem and its meaning is right there for all to see. You can’t get any closer, so just enjoy the fruitiness as long as it lasts.