Thomas Carper: Miniaturist of the Grand Scale
Corrie, Daniel, Modern Age
GETTING IT RIGHT For D.A. He sits before the blank page of his mind, Adrift in possibility. A thought Is deeply felt, but masked beneath a white Opaqueness which, he senses, may be brought Into such clarity that he will find The sentence he desires to get right. As wind might toss a paper to the ground Creating movement, suddenly it's there, Alive in English meaning, word on word: A confident procession where we share His celebration of idea in sound At once both ours and strangely over heard. Who is his listener, then? And who is he? The one who wrote the phrases on a page No longer is the person that the new Discovery seems intended to engage In dialogue. The listener once was me, But have I vanished? Is the listener you? --Thomas Carper
ALTHOUGH THE NEW FORMALIST movement is much discussed these days, the poetry of one of the finest American formalist poets tends to be significantly overlooked. Although Thomas Carper has had two books published by Johns Hopkins University Press since 1991, the 67-year-old poet's work has been reviewed in only one national American publication (a page-and-a-half review by R. S. Gwynn in the Hudson Review). Ironically, the most serious critical analysis of Carper's work has been published in Germany. A recent issue of Anglistik featured a 14-page overview of American New Formalism by Franz Link, one of Germany's leading Americanists; the article's first half discussed the writers usually associated with that movement, and the article's second half was devoted entirely to Carper's poetry.
His poetry resembles Robert Frost's in embodying clear thought in clear statement, ranging in a spectrum from homey exposition to elegant restraint. Though Carper's poetry encompasses a varied range of focus from the amusing to the ironic to the poignant to the cosmic, readers in search of the stylistically pyrotechnic or avant-garde should be warned that Carper's poetry consistently demonstrates an affinity for Apollonian moderation in tone and traditionalism in rhyme and meter.
Carper's easygoing equanimity and clarity of statement and logic are exemplified in "Sisyphus' Pet Rock" (From Nature), which also demonstrates Carper's quietly ironic sense of humor and tendency to express ideas through parables:
I have my rock, my hill. So, every day My task, though hard, is known. And as I roll My rock, its weight seems always to convey A certain satisfaction to the soul. Near sunset-time, just before I can see The highest point, I purposely let go. My rock responds and, thanks to gravity, Takes its own way back to the plain below. I follow willingly, our duties done, And grateful that another day's in store, And glad to think my rock and I are one In labor and in meaning. Surely, more Is not to be expected; surely we Will have our task throughout eternity.
In part, "Sisyphus' Pet Rock" distills an attitude of acceptance which pervades Carper's work, in both his amusing and serious poems. His poems attempt to maintain a basic optimism in the face of the many potential trials provided by life and acknowledged in his poetry, as he himself writes elsewhere, "... The structure of a happy destiny/ That finds fulfillment in the smallest things ...." ("Kingdoms"). Furthermore, "Sisyphus' Pet Rock" distills Carper's workmanly attitude toward the writing of poetry. Like his portrayal of Sisyphus, Carper tends to write one line of iambic pentameter after another until one sonnet is completed, at which time the rock rolls to the hill's bottom for the process cheerfully to resume. While Carper's two books contain several deviations from the English sonnet, the deviations are rare, and no poem in either of the collections deviates from iambic pentameter, as Carper writes, ".. …