What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Interesting Emendations: David Wagoner's "The Death of a Crane Fly"

David Wagoner is a wonderfully delicate noticer of nature. His great one-sentence poem “The Death of a Crane Fly” (The New Yorker, October 13, 1980) describes a water strider carrying a fallen crane fly, “skimming away with it over / Reflections of yellow leaves, / holding one amber / Lace-ribbed, lifeless wing / Aloft (a small sail / Disappearing among the quiet / Inlets of milfoil) / As buoyantly as a lover.” How precise and subtle that “ amber lace-ribbed, lifeless wing” is. Interestingly, in the version of the poem included in Wagoner’s 1981 collection Landfall, the comma separating “lace-ribbed” and “lifeless” is omitted. Also, in the New Yorker version, the crane fly’s body is described as an “arched frail inch”; in the Landfall version, the crane fly’s body is a bit longer (“arched inch-and-a-half”). I think I prefer the New Yorker version. “Lace-ribbed” is such a beautiful description; it deserves the extra half-beat of separation that the comma provides. The slighter, more tightly fitted structure of “arched frail inch” seems more crane fly-like than “arched inch-and-a-half.” But maybe the latter description is more accurate. Both versions are terrific. “The Death of a Crane Fly” is one of my all-time favorite poems.

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