smoking with george oppen

Some poems are capable of tapping into the connotations or “languages” around a word and making them meet. This week’s poem, “If It All Went Up in Smoke” by George Oppen, for example, does a great job of taking the languages of  the word “smoke” and blurring them to create a visceral metaphor.

First, there is the paradoxical logic of the initial two lines: “that smoke / would remain,” which presents the image of smoke hanging in the air. Then through “light” “footprints” and “grass blades,” the logic of the poem further develops from transient, slight things, only to have that idea pushed against by the solidity of “wells” and the presence of “distances.”

As smoke is always in motion, so is language and, by default, poetry. Smoke is also after-the-fact, needing to arise from a fire. From the fire of experience (“grass / blades”), begins the smoke we write and read in poetry.


If It All Went Up in Smoke – George Oppen

that smoke
would remain

the forever
savage country poem’s light borrowed

light of the landscape and one’s footprints praise

from distance
in the close
crowd all

that is strange the sources

the wells the poem begins

neither in word
nor meaning but the small
selves haunting

us in the stones and is less

always than that help me I am
of that people the grass

blades touch

and touch in their small

distances the poem


Happy beginning!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: