Mary Jo Salter, The Surveyors (2)


I mentioned the number of poems whose starting point is a work of art.

But a critic and poet I admire, in her review of The Surveyors, speaks of poems that too often wind up on the sunny side of things, witness this poem about 'The Profane Piano Tuner,' a man (who might have a neurological disease, though the poem doesn't raise or eliminate this possibility) who swears at the keys as he tunes them, mostly it seems in a way that expresses anger at women, 'You filthy stinking, stupid bitch,' but concludes (the poem) with her daughter coming home from school and playing 'a Chopin prelude like an angel.'

So should Salter's poem get more darkness into them? I think this is a fair question. After all, Wendy Cope, who is also a witty, crafty, funny poet is, in fact, extremely dark, and this (all of the above) is why she's so good, so memorable and so often gut-twisting. Salter is not gut-twisting: most situations in her poems seem to come right in the end, they finish politely, with a smile, even when she may be gritting her teeth and feeling more like snarling--and there are enough dark situations in her last two books to suggest that she must have done a fair amount of snarling or weeping or something.

So could there be more edge? Less comfort? Wry is her default tone, and wry has its limits. But wry is clearly her comfort zone and she does it extremely well. On the other hand, there's every indication that Salter is an extremely intelligent, gifted  poet, who has grown better with time, and maybe, if she senses that wryness is limiting, she could push herself beyond it? More angry Anger, more Grief? What about expanding the range of her subjects--politics, history?--though she already ranges  widely, despite the pull and also the warmth and attraction of the domestic.

I guess I'm lecturing myself too.