Ann Arbor Weather:
Sunday January 19, 2020
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo

Philosopher and father

by Keith Taylor

From the December, 2017 issue

Early on in Gregory Pardlo's Digest, his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems, he writes an atypically short sentence, "I do love / Brooklyn so." Even that short phrase is stylized--in that "so" at the end. In another poem with more precise and detailed observation, the structure is more typically complex:

It is nearly July in Brooklyn and already

the fireworks from Chinatown warehouses

are bursting in stellar fluorescence like tinsel-tied

dreadlocks above the Bushwick tene-

ments and the brownstone

blocks of Bed-Stuy now littered with the skittering

decollage of wrappers exploded across the blacktops and handball

courts, playgrounds and sidewalks knuckled by tree roots.
Pardlo does love his borough. It's where he raises his children, buys his food, and does his thinking. And Pardlo is a thinking poet, given to hard, rigorous philosophical musing. That willingness to engage complicated ideas--and follow them through the sometimes difficult syntax of his sentences--is likely what brought him to the attention of the Pulitzer committee.

The titles of his poems mention Boethius, St. Augustine, Aquinas, and Heraclitus, as well as such modern thinkers as Alfred North Whitehead and Deleuze and Guattari. Perhaps the most ambitious of these is "Alienation Effects," in which the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser speaks or is spoken about. Pardlo's poems have many speakers in them, and it is sometimes difficult to determine where the speaker ends and the poet begins.

Althusser is remembered for his "anti-humanist" approach to Marxism, his idea that everything is determined by the structure of the cultural systems and not by the individual. He's also infamous for murdering his wife and dying while incarcerated. In Pardlo's prose poem the mad philosopher addresses the poet: "I am merely a curtain of words. I cannot absolve you. I cannot dress your wounds. I can't deliver you, Pardlo. You won't find a hero in all of your books. The figure that haunts you is your own design. Let her go."

It is a measure of Pardlo's skill that he can write something so complex and just
...continued below...


as deftly describe a simple moment of shopping with his daughter.
The Fulton St. Foodtown is playing Motown and I'm surprised

at how quickly my daughter picks up the tune. And soon

the two of us, plowing rows of goods steeped in fructose

under light thick as corn oil are singing Baby,

I need your lovin.
Even this poem moves on to a point of foreboding, but it is shaped by a father's love for his child, even as he recognizes that love might be insufficient in a hard world.

Gregory Pardlo comes to UMMA for a reading on December 5 and a lecture on

Dec. 7.     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2017.]

 

 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

CoreLife Eatery
Bowls the way you want them
M.B. Lewis
Nightspots: Ypsi Alehouse
Fitting Vintage
The Getup adapts classic styles to 21st century figures.
Fionn Pooler
Inexpensive Hotels
Childcare And Preschool Programs in Dexter
Photo: Running Away
Sports, Dancing, Nature, & Recreation
Baked Goods Ice Cream And Chocolates in Dexter
Passport to Adventure
Data mining at Briarwood
John Hilton
Kendra Scott Opens at Arbor Hills
Natural gemstones from a Texas jeweler
Sabine Bickford
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
Mohler Prize Lecture
A visitor's guide to Ann Arbor