In my first post (on
SPRING, CENTRAL PARK ZOO
“I love my Love, and my Love loves me!”
A bird, a Lark, sings this.
Blissful tears are shed
By a Gentoo Penguin mid-plunge.
The fullness of his heart causes
A Suriname Toad to ascend to a higher plane.
Mary, Mother of God, appears
relieving a Red Panda of all anxiety and self-loathing.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! All Men, Rejoice!”
barks a Harbor Seal as high as a kite.
The bats are just going crazy crazy
with happy happy happiness.
-- Sarah Paley
Every strong poet is a school of one. Every strong poem is one of a kind, which is just as true whether a poem appears to embrace some form of tradition or allies itself instead with specifically contemporary gestures. “Spring, Central Park Zoo,” does both. It begins with a line from a Coleridge poem (“Answer to a Child’s Question”): “I love my Love, and my Love loves me!” The line will sound familiar even to readers who’ve never read the Coleridge poem, partly because it’s often quoted, but also because the line looks back to centuries of poems in praise of spring. Yet this playfully over-the-top poem is completely contemporary and distinctively individual. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Through its wild exaggeration, it manages to parody its literary forebears, but also to enroll itself in their number.
The poem’s opening line is sung by “a Lark,” a poetically generic bird, warbling its way through the Coleridge poem and through seven centuries of poetry in English. In the Paley poem, however, the generic lark gives way to very specific and (in spring poems) very unexpected creatures: A Gentoo Penguin, a Suriname Toad, a Red Panda, a Harbor Seal, and bats. They do unexpected things, too. They’re no longer simply warbling. “Blissful tears are shed / by a Gentoo Penguin mid-plunge.” The Suriname Toad “ascend[s] to a higher plane.” “Mary, Mother of God,” pops into the poem from nowhere, to relieve “a Red Panda of all anxiety and self-loathing.” The poem resembles nothing so much as the loopy, animated (in both senses) world of early Disney films, where animals, birds, humans, even flowers and trees, fired by spring, dance and sing with loony abandon. The creatures in this poem, and apparently the poet persona too, are all beside themselves with joy; and by the end the reader is too. I’ve read this poem a number of times. Each time I read it the final lines, rising to their peak of excess, made me laugh and – yes – made me happy, even if not quite as happy as the delirious bats.
-- Patricia Carlin