Thursday, September 15, 2011

Notes on Kinnell's “Sheffield Ghazal 4: Driving West”

                                    ---Galway Kinnell
A tractor-trailer carrying two dozen crushed automobiles
   overtakes a tractor-trailer carrying a dozen new.
Oil is a form of waiting.
The internal combustion engine converts the stasis of
   millennia into motion.
Cars howl on rain-wetted roads.
Airplanes rise through the downpour and throw us through
   the blue sky.
The idea of the airplane subverts earthly life.
Computers can deliver nuclear explosions to precisely
   anywhere on earth.
A lightning bolt is made entirely of error.
Erratic Mercurys and errant Cavaliers roam the highways.
A girl puts her head on a boy's shoulder; they are driving west.
The windshield wipers wipe, homesickness one way, wanderlust
   the other, back and forth.
This happened to your father and to you, Galway -- sick to
   stay, longing to come up against the ends of the earth,
   and climb over.

I think that image works hand in hand with the diction of this poem to channel the rhetoric revealed at the end of the poem.  Kinnell writes some excellent images in this poem and uses them to transport the reader to this associative mindscape of beatnik style road-wandering. The images give the narrative interest and strength, they keep the reader reading, even when the associations and the literal meaning of the language doesn't make clear sense.  I think image is especially important here because it is vital to the effectiveness of the diction Kinnell employs and it is also important for the ghazal form, loosely associated images are center-stage in a ghazal, and Kinnell does them well.

This poem is the first example Hoagland gives for his discourse on diction. This poem survives on it, it is the flesh of the poem. The diction is what forges the connection between the images that Kinnell creates and the rhetoric that is to follow. Through the diction in this poem, Kinnell is able to call upon the nostalgia, the sentiment and the mythos of America and American identity, as well as the underside of it - consumerism, the nonchalance of our environmental impact, etc. All of this is conveyed in a few lines and it is done effectively with the diction in this poem. He does it by using "speech that is consciously making reference to the history of its usage" (Hogland, Tony Real Sofistikashun, p. 7).

This is the skeleton on which all of the rest of this hangs. Without the rhetoric, the direction of the poem would be lost and scattered, resulting in a flat, derivative poem instead of the vivid, associative, and interesting poem that "Driving Westward" is. Hogland points to the last few lines as the moment of rhetoric for this poem but I think it occurs throughout.  The lines about oil, the first few on crushed and new cars, all of these lines hold a level of rhetoric in them especially when you consider diction and image.  The combination of them, and the juxtaposition of images gives shape and form to the rhetoric of the poem.

1 comment:

Alan Soldofsky said...

You've analyzed the poem very clearly and in great detail. An excellent example of how you are honing your close reading skills, skills which you also apply well in our workshops.