The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Against the Evidence,” a thirty-three-line meditative poem, is characteristic of the autobiographical nature of much of David Ignatow’s poetry. In free verse, it presents the contrast between the “estrangement among the human race” and the narrator’s determination to live.
The poem opens with a seven-line stanza in which the narrator attempts to “close each book/ lying open on my desk” but is attacked by the books themselves as they “leap up to snap” at his fingers, causing pain. The action suggests a mutiny of the books against the speaker, although they have obviously been a significant part of his life.
The conflict is heightened when, in the second, longer stanza, the poet reflects on his heretofore harmonious relationship with books. He has “held books in my hands/ like children, carefully turning/ their pages.” This harmony has resulted in a close identification of the poet with what he reads: “I often think their thoughts for them.” Following this benign reflection, a jarring shift occurs as the narrator plunges into the dark message of his musing: “I am so much alone in the world.” The books, which have been such a dominant part of his world are not, after all, human beings. Their mutiny at the beginning of the poem seems to suggest that the speaker is becoming estranged even from them. The poet mourns the loneliness of his preoccupation with inanimate elements such as stars or steps. He then links...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
David Ignatow’s language is deceptively simple, his images spare, and his metaphors often obscure. Like William Carlos Williams, he uses few typically poetic devices. Rather, his language carries his message. Initially in this poem Ignatow personifies his books. As he attempts to close them, they “leap up to snap” at his fingers. As realization explodes upon him, he is weakened and must sit down.
The uprising of his books seems to jar his whole existence. He reflects on the prior harmony he felt with his books, which might almost be considered symbiotic: “All my life/ I’ve held books in my hands/ like children.” One wonders whether this means that he holds them as he holds children or as children hold books. In either case, he implies a nurturing relationship. However, the books betray him, unable to fulfill his need for community.
Juxtaposed with his comfortable perception of the books in his life is the alienation that breaks into verse 2: “I am so much alone.” He reinforces his aloneness with a series of sterile images: “the stars,” “the breeze,” and the “steps/ on a stair” that he can count as he climbs and descends them. When he speaks of other human beings, they are no more communicative, for he feels that their smiles are only “for the sake of politeness.” He pinpoints his apparent despair in the word “estrangement.”
The feelings of alienation, separation, and estrangement are further...
(The entire section is 388 words.)