The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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 humans with these cold, unfeeling objects: “I can look at another human being/ and get a smile, knowing/ it is for the sake of politeness.”

He has finally arrived at the core of his sadness and disillusionment, “estrangement/ among the human race,” about which “Nothing must be said.” In fact, “nothing is said at all” because to speak about estrangement might begin to break it down. The evidence has been building throughout the poem. It seems as though the poet has taken refuge in inanimate objects such as his books. Despite all this evidence, however, and despite his troubles, the poet asserts: “Against the evidence, I live by choice.”

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, February 1, 1994, p. 990.

Library Journal. CXIX, March 15, 1994, p. 75.

Poetry. CLXV, January, 1995, p. 219.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXX, Summer, 1994, p. 99.