Lent 31: Centaur

Today’s poem is from a collection I don’t own, and I’m unlikely to, as it appears to feature pets quite heavily. I am not into pets, not at all. Blame allergies or cat scratches or dog bites or whatever – I just don’t see the attraction of sharing your living space with a hairy four-legged mammal of questionable loyalty and temperament. I don’t trust animals, except wild ones. You know where you stand with a prowling tiger or a giant charging rhino.

Chase Twitchell’s upbringing by her English and Latin teacher father imbued a respect and love for pure language, etymology, and ancient roots of the words we use. However, her sixth collection, Dog Language, is based in her realisation that language – how we use it and what we expect of it – is changing. This does interest me. Enough to offset the occasional domestic animal themes? Maybe.

She wrote (in 2006):

“I believe that poets must write in the language of their time, and since our time is one of linguistic chaos and disintegration, that’s no small task. English, as a living language, has always been in a state of evolution, of course, but I’ll hazard it’s changed more in the last ten years than it did in the entire previous century, and the pace shows no signs of slowing. To me, this upheaval is fascinating, but also disturbing, for it challenges my conception of something else that evolves alongside language: the imaginary reader.

“In Dog Language, I begin to allow rifts in the poems through which neologisms and slang could creep in, thus hybridising and corrupting the purer diction of my earlier work. But the more profound change has been in my imaginary reader. As our planet spirals into ecological illness and our governments fail to respond in any meaningful way, my view of the future of poetry has been radicalised. I can now imagine writing on leaves, on snowflakes, on water – for my imaginary reader is looking more and more like a ghost.

Do I agree about the increasing rate of change of our language? I’m not sure – perhaps I’m too young to really appreciate it, like a frog immersed in water, slowly boiling. Like realising your baby has actually become a toddler somehow.

I actually often find neologisms or technology jarring in poetry – pulling me out of that timeless ageless place that probably never existed. There are, and were, always neologisms. There are, and were, always new technologies. I hope there always will be.


     The first typeface I loved
     was Centaur, cut by Bruce Rogers
     in 1914. It had animal bones,
     and reminded me
     of skinny-dipping at night,
     baptized in star water so cold
     I suddenly became another
     animal from the waist down.

     In childhood, I knew
     all about the Minotaur,
     Cyclops, and Centaurs.
     My father read to me
     about the man-horses,
     so I had an inkling
     of their danger,
     and thereafter leaned
     toward the horse part
     and away from the man.

View the intro/roundup.

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