Monday, 29 February 2016

Number (February)

American poet Howard Nemerov was born February 29. His statistical poem ‘Life Cycle of Common Man’ lists “roughly figured” totals of things consumed by “this man of moderate habits” in a lifetime: “Just under half a million cigarettes/ Four thousand fifths of gin.” The Fifties is another country. Nemerov wonders about the tally of words his anti-hero ever used, quantifying thus: “If you merely printed all his commas the result/ Would be a very large volume.” Distillation is good reason for poetry. Nemerov spells his numbers, assisting pronunciation, but statistical poems are a sub-genre, their surprises short-lived, their scansion forced.

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