fallacying with susan lewis

lewis hsIn my recent microreview & interview of Susan Lewis’ Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVox [books]), I discuss the ways in which the poems in the collection engage with the uncertainty principle and its take on the relation between position and momentum. My own crude, working definition of the concept takes me back to my reading into Zen, ideas like how we are always in motion; how all we have is the present; and the contradictory thought that there is no now because the now that is now…is different from the now now.

Luckily, Lewis’ book delivers insights via strong prose poems and not half-remembered readings 🙂

In this week’s poem, Lewis engages the concept of pathetic fallacy, which occurs when we attribute human feelings and responses to nature and inanimate objects. With this term as the premise, the poem quickly develops a narrative in which humans talk to nature, only to find nature talking back. Here, the position of humans as the ones doing the addressing is made uncertain by the momentum of some rather chatty flora. What develops is a scenario that pushes back on the pathetic fallacy that is the premise of the poem. By the end, the humans are revealed by the suddenly-more-humanlike flora to be not less human, but more, at least in their eagerness to turn “a deaf ear” and place distance between themselves and their new found partners in conversation.


Pathetic Fallacy (III) – Susan Lewis

Having fled their native urban clamor, the newcomers greeted the residents of their rural refuge with indiscriminate geniality. To everything living they offered a smile & a friendly word. To the astonishment of the locals, first to respond to this promiscuous bonhomie were the birches. Then why, a farmer asked a grove whose dappled shade he had often preferred to his own domestic complications, did you never speak up before? & why, replied the tree with the stoutest trunk, didn’t you? When the farmer took the question in silent stride, the rest of the grove rustled, their judgment confirmed. Before long, the attention of the new residents was met with a flurry of expression from the long-repressed vegetation. At first it was enough for the naive humans to attend respectfully to the widespread resentment of the thistles, the meandering narratives of the frost grapes, the magisterial pronouncements of the oaks — turning for respite to the sweet & supportive maples, with their generous supply of sap. Soon they permitted themselves to be probed by the delicate tendrils of the man-root — until offspring were generated, giving the lie to the insuperable separation of the phyla. In time, the proud but challenged bipedal parents were overwhelmed by their intimates’ new-found urge to connect. Desperate for peace & quiet, they retreated to the urban jungle, where they felt less guilty turning a deaf ear to that other onslaught of revelations & demands.


Happy fallacying!


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