Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Loom is a postmodern retelling of myth and fables; it does not pretend to serious intent or formality in its method of narration and argument, but recognizes its tradition through a complex allusiveness to epics by Homer, Vergil, and Ovid. The classical world of epic literature is a realm of mythical imagination which the narrator longs to repossess in his own words. The flight of mind from the world of mere sense and reason is achieved through the narrator’s figurative descent into his cultural memory, where he merges tales of his own actual experience with those of epic narrative—hence, the figure of the loom as the metaphor of imagination, with its capacity to join the threads of different sources into the same woven fabric.

Kelly does not labor the familiar metaphor of the loom as imagination, but we see it constantly in the narrow strip of language that forms his poem. Its continuous presence, page by page, throughout the work is the woven tapestry created by the collaborative energies of mind and brain. One frequently returns to the speaker at his table in California to be reminded of the weaver at his work—that he draws the threads of narrative partly from his own store of facts about the world and partly from what he fabricates out of pure fantasy.

The modern character of this retelling of myth lies in its self-conscious attitude toward the narration; Kelly knows he is telling an epic journey and draws attention to the act of telling often throughout the poem. The emphasis is not on the adventures or the heroes involved but on the artist who conceives and propels his figures forward by means of other texts and his own ingenuity. Like other ambitious long poems by postmodern writers, Kelly’s poem is as much about the effort to write as it is about what is written. Yet even as the writer draws attention to himself as the maker of his tale, the humor, vividness, compelling interest of the tales he tells lure one from disbelief into the spell of the work; this, too, is part of the humor and complexity of the poem. Magic has its ways, its will over the skeptical modern mind, despite the obvious artificiality of writing a poem and of reading it in a book.

The power of the tale lies chiefly in the myth it invokes. All stories have at their core some immutable and universal moment of truth about human...

(The entire section is 964 words.)