Boyle, J., Dr. (1997, May 9). Paradoxical Themes in the Poetry of Aaron Kramer. Lionís Voice, p. 2.

Paradoxical Themes in the Poetry of Aaron Kramer

by Dr. Joan Boyle

Aaron Kramer’s work is wrought with paradox, “the paradox of the beautiful arising from need, of art arising from one’s grappling with the real.”

Repeatedly critics have noted Aaron Kramer’s ability to put together opposite elements, paradoxical entities, which because of their oppositeness create friction like the striking of flint on steel which makes sparks fly up, in this case, the sparks of new insight. This poet’s imagination ignites the sensitivities of his readers, breaking open the mundane event, revealing its wondrousness.

What are the paradoxical elements in Aaron Kramer’s work? Let us select four themes of paradox. First, he refuses to be dictated by popular style. Yet he writes for a modern audience and that modern audience understands him. Unlike the type of poetry prevalent today his closed stanzaic form, his intricate rhyme schemes, his rich tone patterns could be considered “old-fashioned.” On the contrary, people read his work. He is repeatedly referred to as “The People’s Poet.”

The second paradox is that while his poetry is sometimes angry and ironic and even outraged, it never leaves off its tenderness, its compassion, its humanity. We hear him tragically serious and sometimes bitterly witty. John Wilkinson points out some paradoxical features of the man himself. “At first sight you would take this man as a professor of English, as a husband and father, and a good, grey man who pays his taxes and lives in peace with his neighbor. And, you’d be right.” But the critic continues with the other half of the story. “If you know your American history you would know that in some cases Kramer is the only American poet who spoke out against many abuses in past history.”

The third paradoxical theme entails Aaron Kramer’s ability to mate feeling and form effectively. In Charles Fishman’s introduction to Carousel Parkway (1980), he speaks of this artist’s “retrieval of what we have almost ceased to look for in modern poetry . . . the joining of a high moral vision with purposeful form,” a form that grasps the vision without crushing it and the vision that takes the shape of the form without destroying it. This is a rare gift!

But feeling and form are not enough. The fourth paradoxical theme shows itself in this poet’s ability to find larger human questions in the small events of everyday life. The dull smolderings of the most mundane scenario, plain people, plain events, the morning cup of coffee, the moment before shaving, the cereal bowl on the breakfast table, the pigeons of Maspeth, the feeling of guilt over a phone call not made. This is the “obscene ordinariness of daily life.” Yet, because of the artist’s ability to juxtapose opposites, the profound significance of the seemingly trivial sparks up.

This is Aaron Kramer’s gift of capturing the essence of our common human experience in the ordinary. Here the philosophical quest, the moral dilemma, are unlocked. It is the attempt to cope with the drama of passing time that marks the aging of everyone human, not just to cope with death as a last event in one’s life but to deal with the losses both great and small that shift the sands of our life and to cope with the anxiety we experience in the face of those changes. In all the plainness of life and love and human experience, there always resides in his work the irony and the cutting edge of impending tragedy. Yet there is nothing plain about this poet’s words. Their muscularity and tenderness combine in hard-hitting blows at the realities of life. “Never flirtatious or frivolous, his words strike at their meanings like curled fists.”

Has Aaron Kramer succeeded? An excerpt from his own poetry finally suggests an answer to our question about his success:

Finally it will not matter . . .
how many poisons were offered,
or prizes,
how many salvos, how many silences,
whether anthologies nested his poems,
whether a critic called them
‘bright birds,’ . . .
except that his heart
maintained its own beat,
his face its own hue,
his foot its own thud,
his night its own vision,
his soul its own heat,
his hand its own touch,
his tongue its own word.

(Excerpted from The Bloom, ed. Amal Ghose)

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