From Our Staff | September 26, 2007
Editors' Prize Archives: "Chrome Horse" (2000)
I discovered Martin Scott’s “Chrome Horse” (our current online “Poem of the Week”) while leafing through old Editors’ Prize issues, and found myself reading that poem again and again. Part of the reason I kept re-reading it (I’ll admit) is that I don’t entirely understand the mysterious ultimate tercet. That said, I wanted to understand it-which is no small thing for a poem to achieve, in my opinion. When a reader decides to grapple with a poem voluntarily, rather than move on distractedly to the next poem, or turn back to her life, it means the poem has succeeded somehow in engaging her concentration and imagination.
I love the strangeness of the imagery in this poem, especially considering that it’s a (modified) sonnet. The form seems to have invoked leaps and choices the poet may not otherwise have made (“the stress / of flowers reaching toward the light”; “the press / of Heaven’s spatula against the ball”). I love the way these surprising images are offset by phrases that border on aphorism in their clarity, such as, “…Our Earth. How odd, we think of it as ours…” or “The more you try to prop it up, the less / True wall you find.” And, maybe it’s only because I’m eye-deep in Coleridge myself right now, but I enjoyed the funny conjuring of Coleridge’s poem “This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison” in Scott’s line, “This Buddhist temple, my prison,” in the final stanza.
“Chrome Horse” is a poem that looks small on the page, but quickly expands in many directions, to open a little world for itself. The sureness of voice, the understated humor, and the sense that there is a quiet engine of intellectual and emotional urgency underlying the poem’s movement-all contribute to making this what is, in my opinion, a successful and memorable poem. I was saddened, as I searched for biographical information about Scott, to find that he died in 2005, at the premature age of forty-six. While a collection of his essays were published that same year by Water Press, he never did publish a collection of poems, much to our detriment.
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