Under the hot floodlights of spring

(Wilkins, 1982:38)

The cherries ripen under a hot blue sky, and healing seems a natural process, but the last lines correct that impression. The process involves the heavy engineering of the operating room with its overhead power-lamps. The poem brings the mechanical and natural together in one stunning metaphor: 'the hot floodlights of spring'. Despite their gradual convergence we experience this final conjunction as a shock. Just at the moment when we thought of spring as the healing force, we are reminded of the surgeon's eye. However strong the recovery was, a sense of being assailed still continues. The poem couldn't produce this insight without details of setting or world, without image (the way colours impinge with forceful clarity), and story—from illness to recovery. We hear of recovery, also of persistent exposure, a turning-point that doesn't quite make the turn, of green orchards, also Dacron tubing. A dramatic tension holds these impressions together.


But something else is important here and that is the poem's relationship with its world. In this poem the cherries aren't there just to provide realistic touches and therefore credulity, not used just to brighten its colour spectrum. They are performing a central function in this particular machine of words. More than objects, they appear as transmitters of meaning, become signals of colour, an awakened sensuous ness, sought for as an affective supply of life. What sort of cherries, how many, how red, etc? Just to describe them statically in terms of size and shape, along with everything else, is not the point. By transmitter, what I mean is that a particular object doesn't just receive special attention, it galvanises the rest of the poem's world, generates a force field, a polarisation of energy. If you describe it you will be doing more than just representing an object in words. Its signals seem to steer the attention we give to the poem as a whole, and to a wider meaning as we read. A transmitter can be a person or an object, animate or inanimate, a street sign, something in a landscape. If poems are dramatisations of experience, then one way of enhancing that drama will be to think not of static scenes but of shaping energy.

Examples of transmitter poems include 'The Tyre' by Simon Armitage, many of Sylvia Plath's poems, particularly 'Tulips' from Ariel, 'A Disused Shed in County Wexford' by Derek Mahon, is another. The following poem by Daniel Weissbort, a poet wellknown for his publishing of modern poetry in translation, shows how objects—in this case flowers—transmit a whole series of meanings. Notice how he doesn't describe them statically; instead he shows what they do:

'Peonies Again'

The peonies are on the march again.

There's no more room for them underground.

Spearpoints break surface,

Specks of colour in the crumbling dirt.

I stop to examine this upthrust at the bottom of the garden, this promise of future order in a wasteland, order and organization, as though someone sat and planned it all in a notebook, this rising straight up from the ground, the sap busy in them.

And the tight promise of these tips, swelling to cupolas, rounding into globes, tight fistfuls, bunched, bales, packed like golfballs.

And the stems starting to tilt.

And then the black ants come to these oozing earths, make passes across them as though urging them on, milking them, milking them, until their resolve snaps! They split apart, unfurl.

Like a great sigh.

The stems sink lower, lower, as rank on rank of petals unpack themselves...

Not this year

They are building a parking strip there, at the bottom of the garden.

I stoop and easily spot them, only their tips showing among great clods, cans, boxes, brittle scraps of paper from the alley.

'We're back again!' they are saying.

'We'll soon get things straightened out here.'!

And you can almost feel the earth tremble from their upthrust.

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