Stephen Dunn on Nothing Much

Finding the remarkable in the ordinary is a challenge many writers have taken up. The idea that what you choose to focus on in the mundane world, and how you choose to describe it, really describes the author’s inner landscape — is nothing new. It dates back to ancient Chinese nature poets, and probably further. Stephen Dunn focuses intently on the disparity between the inner and outer world time and again in Different Hours.

Dunn expresses a complex relationship to confession, grief and numbness in “Burying The Cat”:

For years I have known that to confess
is to say what one doesn’t feel. I hereby
confess I was not angry with that dog,
a shepherd, who had seen something foreign
on his property. I’d like to say I was feeling
a sadness so numb that I was a machine myself,
with bad cogs and faulty wiring. But
I’m telling this three years after the fact.
Nothing is quite what it was
after we’ve formed a clear picture of it.

He takes deliberately unconventional turns here, away from the voluminous body of emotive poems about an author’s dead cat — toward the numbness three years later. In doing so, however, he sweeps up all the language of sadness before denouncing it, giving the poem, like grief itself, a trajectory and progression.
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