The only map is the map of the bear.
Your best hope is to follow it closely,
Closer than dogs. It's engraved with your spoor,
You wake in the night to find it partly
Charred by the dying fire. The only

Map is the map of the bear. Follow
It closer than dogs. Your best hope is
To read the part engraved below
The surface of the fire. Sleepless,
You move by night. The only map is

The map of the bear. Dogs know,
That's why they follow with no hope
The dying spoor. You're passing through
Fire, you've passed through sleep,
Now the only map is the map

Of the bear. Now hope gives up
Its secrets, now you follow where
Dogs won't go, even in sleep.
Above, the route's engraved on fire.
The only map is the map of the bear.

Tad Richards"The Map of the Bear"

Peter Saint-Andre mentioned the New Poetry discussion list, which he learned about in an earlier Quotīdiē. I'd been living in a bit of a shell regarding contemporary poetry before I joined that list. (Upon arriving in the U.S. in 1989 I looked around, aghast at mainstream verse, and retreated quickly to past classics). The list has been a good way to bring energy back to my study of poetry, and to keep in touch with contemporary work. It turns out that there are some very good poets on that list, though I didn't recognize them by name, because of my ignorance of the contemporary scene. I do recognize the quality of their work, and today's Quotīdiē is a piece by a regular on the list, Tad Richards. In addition to being posted on the list, it was also hosted on The Poets' Corner by Anny Ballardini, another regular. The list is a very rich find. I'll later post links to other good poems posted to the list.

Refrain-like verse forms are very popular in modern poetry, from Villanelle to Pantoum and so on. (I somtimes call these poetic fugues). It seems that in the past couple of decades poets have become especially skilled with the use of partial refrains. "The Map of the Bear" teases out a sense of desultory restlessness with its partial refrains. The meter is accentual, with four accents per line. This is a very versatile framework, but I've always found it easiest to hear gothic tones in it, and in this poem, that feeling is particularly apt. Another poem that struck me immediately because of its partial refrains is Dana Gioia's "The Country Wife".

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she's gone.
She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

Dana Gioia—from "The Country Wife"

Peter later followed up on my observations on how poetry slows down perceptions, leading to richer understanding and appreciation.

The other day, Uche argued for the continued relevance -- indeed, the increased importance -- of poetry in today's fast-paced times, since the concentrated and often difficult nature of poetic language forces the reader to slow down. Yet (as Uche knows) it is more than just diction: it is also the meter (or, more broadly, the rhythm) that induces a kind of slow time when one reads a poem. Poetry is a temporal art in much the same way music is -- and in one respect, a poem enforces slow time even more viscerally than a piece of music does because usually you perform the poem (by reading it silently or aloud to yourself) rather than having it performed for you at a poetry reading or by means of a recording. The post-modernists would call this co-creating the work, and for once they would be right!

Peter is right that rhythm is the primary tool for the slowing and enriching effects of poetry. I also agree that meter is the most established form of rhythm, and that it's harder for non-metrical rhythm to bring this richness. Peter is also right to reiterate that Poetry is a mere shadow without its performance (whether it's the reader sounding out the poem in his head, or in public performance). With all that in mind, I quite consider "The Map of the Bear" an example of how a poem can work such slow enrichment outside classical framework. Accentual meter is quite respectably meter for me, and the partial refrain, especially when read aloud, serves to deepen the incantatory mood. "The Country Wife" is also accentual. There is much more of an iambic tetrameter basis, as one would expect from a formalist such as Gioia, but it is still variant enough to be more accentual than accentual- syllabic, and I think this suits that poem well. Interesting, this juxtaposition of accentual meter and partial refrain—It makes me think of fugue, a baroque musical form, not just because of the echoing phrases (to go with the echoing melodies in fugue), but also because of the overstatement (in a positive sense) suggested by the four-stress line. It is an approach I shall have to explore more fully in my own verse.

A final note of interest is that "The Map of the Bear" originated from a misreading of a trite phrase. In Richards' own words:

I do have a poem based on a misread statement that was sorta interesting. Reading an article about a performance artist, I came across the statement that she explored a territory where the only map is the map of the bear.

I thought this was one of the most fascinating ideas I'd ever read. Then I looked again and saw that it actually said she explored a territory where the only map is the map of the heart. This was a territory, I realized, which held no interest whatever for me. But what about that territory where the only map is the map of the bear? I wanted to know more about that...a territory where the wilderness mapped itself. I had been deeply moved by Kurosawa's great movie, Dersu Uzala, where mapmaking becomes a symbol for both exploration and limitation, and I started to feel that I had to know more about the territory mapped only by the bear. This was the poem that came of it.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia