The Art of Noticing

Robert Pinsky Poetry Forum

Chemeleon Hours

Good writers notice things. And beyond observation itself, good poets sometimes notice things in their work before they have become generally recognized (I’m tempted to say “officially recognized”) as “poetic.” For example, William Carlos Williams, after many generations of poets describing landscape observed while walking, noticed how the landscape looks from a moving car, in poems like “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital.” In “The Young Housewife” he describes himself bowing to someone at the curb as he drives by: a 20th-century gesture.

The contemporary poet Elise Partridge, in her book Chameleon Hours, has some observant poems about cancer treatment. I like the directness, clarity and understatement of these poems. Partridge scrupulously avoids playing for sympathy; but beyond that, in “Chemo Side Effects: Memory” she convinces me that her attention to memory loss is absorbing, rich in detail: a little like the fascination a birder or…

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