3 poems by Carlina Duan
1 essay by Sean Thomas Dougherty,
on the poems of Carlina Duan
The Use of the Past and the Present Tense in “Bzz Bzz I Am Tired,” “I Didn’t Want to Write a Poem,” and “Sonnet for my Bad Knee”
I love poems that take place in the present tense, that give us a kind of unfolding in the snow like the way Frank O’Hara’s poems walk us down the street or through an art gallery or visiting a friend. So here when the poet says "my students to Take a screen break five minutes" and we the reader begin to pace. The body begins to move in language.
I am there by the window. Can you see it? The window there and the window here where now as I write this too the buds of the Japanese elm and the lilacs are blooming, and it reminds me of the Pandemic, this pacing, this noticing of outside and in, and my own children glued to their screens with their patient teachers. My children failed that year, could not listen, how can one listen when the leaves outside want to unfurl, and the clouds and a cardinal cross the sky. But life goes on and here too in the poem buds are ready to burst open. There is such a litany of life in this poem to follow full of kisses and hopscotch and doughnut shops and groceries— the poem wants to shout and does to us, to the children, but even more to the reader listen up listen up!
But sometimes what we write we don’t want, or to confess what we don’t want, and in “I Didn’t Want to Write a Poem” we are given a journey that the poem wanted to write, and took authorial control. The poem takes us through the streets of a city not in the United States, and the acts of literacy, and the vendors selling mangoes, and all the streets which become part of the poem, or the city is a poem, until this 'I' asserts control again and shifts—literally the page to a smaller line length and the city becomes small, and times slows, and we walk slow and we witness and everything changes with the confession of love. Love yes. Was there, back in those streets.
And nothing was understood. And now everything almost is.
And then we have a sonnet. And the body goes on, still intertwined between the past and memory and the present. Because the body has scars and pains to remind one, to slow one’s pace. A bit of cartilage, and bone. How much of this is the past, and yet the body continues to move, continues to take one through the grocery store. These poems are all sinew and cartilage and bones. The poems are a body.
We the readers are a body.
Can you hear it? Inside your skin, or is that the paper? Or the screen of the computer as you read this. The sonnet that aches at the joints. Or is that the heart? Can you hear it, that low mumble of what inside it is breaking.