Charles Hood’s Poem, “What Still Needs To Be Done”

Charles Hood recently sent me one of his poems, and I asked him if I could put it on my blog. He said yes.

A compulsive explorer of details, Charles Hood’s poems tend to be characteristically long (see here and here), gnawing on some large narrative theme throughout (Hiroshima, India, Antarctica, etc).

But Hood’s poem below is short. And quite potent in the concision.

It demonstrates what he might do were he ever to put out a whole book of short poems. Since he is a museum hound, my vote would be for discreet ekphrastic poems—poems devoted to individual pieces of art—as when Dante Gabriel Rosetti wrote these lines in response to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Our Lady of the Rocks”:

Mother of grace, the pass is difficult,

Keen as the rocks, and bewildered souls

Throng it like echoes, blindly shuddering through.

Contra his long-form impulse, I wish Hood would write more short poems like Dante Gabriel Rosetti did, and like the one Hood wrote below, and put out a whole book of short poems. But, as Blake once cautioned, perhaps a crow shouldn’t advise an eagle.

In tone and subject, Hood’s “What Still Needs To Be Done” puts me in mind of Philip Larkin’s “Continuing to Live.” In “Continuing to Live”, Larkin reflects on what remains to be done with a life more than half over. He speaks of making “a lading-list” (a list of what is contained in a package you wish to mail over space and time).

Of course, not all packages accompanied by lading-lists reach their destinations.

Hood, perhaps thinking of Larkin, has made his lading-list (or at least flirted with one).

———-

WHAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE

Sooner or later. Maybe reading Blake,

the parts nobody ever gets, maybe

dealing with the jewbaiting and

wife-beating of the high Modernists.

Learning to speak French. Apologizing

to all your teachers like you mean it.

The collected works of Marcel Proust.

Sooner or later. Picasso did not paint

on a canvas, but against it. Dylan,

Clapton, all these guys going back

down to the blues for their final CDs.

You can postpone marrying the past

but not paying interest on the dowry.

Like swans, debt mates for life. Picasso

in ’38 said of Manet’s Picnic in the Grass,

“Every time I see it, I just think to myself,

‘Grief for later.'”

———-

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Charles Hood’s Poem, “What Still Needs To Be Done”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Santi, thanks for the nice comments but I still have no memory whatsoever of writing this or showing it to you. (Your post said “recent,” but in my dottage I am not sure when this happened. A year ago? Five years ago? I probably wrote this during a Division meeting, on a whim, bored with Student Learning Outcome hoo-hah.) One note though is just about the reality of reality — books get made as chance allows, and good projects fail for no other reason than the world is an unjust place. I had some work accepted for a top-notch ekphrastic anthology, and was going to be in the company of Seamus Heaney and Charles Wright. In the end, the book got dropped by the publisher, and the editor went on to solve other problems in her life, including a forest fire and health issues in her family. I was upset not for my own writing, but just because I lost a chance to turn people on to some amazing but little known pieces of art. Meanwhile, as for poetry in general, I like what Robert Lowell supposedly said, which is that we should always be trying to write the poem we cannot write. For me that usually means even denser, even longer, even more encyclopedic … unless it means perhaps I need to do a series of poems about puppies and ice cream cones. (Maybe I can do poetry about Ezra Pound EATING an ice cream cone?) The former editor of Esquire, L. Rust Hills, has a classic piece titled “How to Eat an Ice Cream Cone,” so perhaps I should start with that. Thanks, though. / Hood

    • santitafarella says:

      Charles,

      I assumed you sent it to me recently because it was in my snail-mail tray (the one I haven’t cleared out all summer). Talk about Bartleby’s dead letter office! My guess is that it was at the bottom of the bottom of my unopened mail (which means it may have been from last summer, for all I know). It’s funny you don’t remember it, and that I’m so lame about getting to my mail.

      But don’t blame me only. The woman the Lord hath given me doesn’t check the tray promptly either. We dig intermittently through for the bills, and get to the others, um, once in a while.

      As for your long-form ambition, permit me to get Freudian on you for just a moment. Isn’t it just a teensy bit possible that the long poem is what you’re hiding behind; that the risk of Ferlingetti’s naked exposure over the head of one’s audience—the real challenge—is in a book of short lyrics that everybody can appraise without the equivelent of a marriage commitment?

      Can you stand the harshest stage lights on a single page absent the distractions of frilly curtains?

      For example, the first half of your above poem is easy, maybe even a tad flat. And the “apologizing to teacher” line seems out of place. But then the poem picks up, and it seems to bear nicely a theme that is more than worthy of contemplation. My question for you is whether you think this poem (or any isolated short lyric on an isolated theme) is worthy of the Jacob-wrestling that you bring to your longer poems. Is it worth taking to the next level—and then doing it again and again with other short poems until you have a publishable book of them?

      If I had your raw talent, I’d try it. But maybe you’ve got to have your level of talent to perceive that the short lyric is just not that interesting (at least not for you).

      Still, I wonder. Is the long form your way of playing Jonah—of running from God? The long form almost seems like the default mode—the automatic mode—for you.

      Are you sure you don’t hear a still, small lyric voice calling to you? That a book of that sort is not also inside you?

      —Santi

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