"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Some More Fake Criticism

Hey Mr. Tangerine Man: Zimmermanian Typology in Robinson’s “Fruit Sonnets”

       Critics have long noted that A. Robinson’s “Fruit Sonnets,” particularly the citrus subsequence, owe a debt to the mid-twentieth century poetry of Robert Zimmerman. While the thematic concerns of each poet seem quite distinct from one another, the careful reader of Robinson’s “Fruit Sonnets” can’t help but note an abundance of Zimmermanian features, particularly the use of parataxis and ellipsis—equalizing and economizing devices that enable an evasive poetic rhetoric that tends to enrich the poems with a multitude of possible meanings and in doing so defies definitive readings. Although it would be a misstep to attempt to explain away these ambiguities, the sonnets may be understood more fully by examining them not only formally, but through the interpretive lens of Zimmerman’s thematics.
       In this paper, I’d like to examine a key figure in Zimmerman’s poetry that is reworked in Robinson’s sequence. The rootless wanderer character appearing in so many of Zimmerman’s poems (such as “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Boots of Spanish Leather,” to name two) prefigures Robinson’s Grouchy Greengrocer, the presumed speaker of sonnets 265 through 297. Not only does each speaker possess a mumbling drawl, and several other distinctive “speech” patterns (omitting final g’s from certain verb and gerund forms, for instance), but some of his actual utterances appear to have been closely influenced by Zimmerman. Compare, for example, these lines from Robinson’s sonnet 269:

I drank that fruit’s forbidden juice now runnin’
Down my leg. Sweet paradise that nectar
was—so cold and oh so sweet. I’m gunnin’
now for my produce man—the dude they call Hector. (9-12)

with these lines from Zimmerman’s “Where Are You Tonight?”: “I bit into the root of forbidden fruit / with the juice running down my leg” (65-66), and “If you don't believe there's a price / for this sweet paradise, / remind me to show you the scars” (71-73).
       My study will attempt to place Robinson in the Zimmermanian tradition by drawing parallels between the most significant poems of Zimmerman and those of Robinson’s citrus subsequence, and arguing that Robinson’s Greengrocer is the fulfillment and completion of the nameless wanderer in Zimmerman’s poem. I’ll also refute critics who have read this citrus subsequence as a post-Pixies (and, by extension, Marxist) response to the chaotic conditions of the modern farmer’s market, and in doing so have incorrectly placed Robinson’s poetry in the Cobainian tradition, drawing attention away from his obvious Zimmermanian affiliation.

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