I've received a bunch of cool books these past two weeks & am slowly finding time to read them among the other things I have to get done. One that struck me today is Tom Clark’s Threnody. This single poem chapbook is an entrancing meditation on the emptiness of post-industrial spaces. It is a poem about the empty industrial spaces that persist in post-industrial America. Threnody constantly pushes me to understand this space both as a concept & a real place through it’s meditative cycling through particular scenes & obsessive repetition of seemingly commonplace, almost photo caption-like, descriptions of abandoned buildings & empty railways. Through this I’m drawn into the meditation of the poem.
The book itself, which contains Clark’s line drawings of these scenes, adds to this feeling as well. It is a big chapbook; it feels like holding open a folder as I read it. The line drawings almost all pull out into a perspective point that emphasizes the empty loneliness. As I read the text that images gapes at me from the left. The repetition of this perspective movement also matches the repetition of language & image.
They only thing that threw me off in this poem is the Smithson reference—while ideologically it makes sense it seems outside of the focus & this is tightly focused poem. The set of diction returns & returns to the desolation of “dark low brick structures,” “abandoned industrial buildings,” “long low abandoned factory building” & “long low hulking warehouse[s].” Take one of these lines out of his poem & it is not particularly imagistic, but through the repetition this somewhat distant language becomes a kind of everyplace in America. It is the spot by the tracks in every city in which all things are cracked & corroded.
Through the repetition & the final turn in contemplation of irony Threnody requires me to consider this sense, and not the essence, of a place abandoned by people, economy &, seemingly, time. the poem is moral, but not didactically. Its morality lies in the way it uses attention. The final section, entitled "Irony" leads me out of the meditation with a consideration of what relationship I actually have with this kind of place:
Rust covers everything an irony a blight of time oxidizing
We won't be back his way again soon
We were never here so how can it be we're leaving
The blight of time an irony corroding what we've left behind
When the physical breakdown is an irony, then what is my attention? Why do I love the quiet of abandonded warehouse districts? Is this the same as the Romantic affection for ruins? Is it a longing beyond my middle class background?