Introduction to "Junk"
Eric Pankey
   

I
grew up in a tempest of a household. Not the magical and comedic realm of Shakespeare's island, but a stormy place always on the verge of violence. My parents drank, and their drinking led to arguments, and an argument might send a plate of spaghetti flying across the room or overturn a table.

 

So at twelve, with a freedom I took as my own to take, I slipped out of the house and onto my bike and pedaled to self-exile at the local library. The aisle straight ahead as I entered was formed on one side by the 700s and on the other by the 800s, so I would grab an armload of art books and another of poetry books to wait out my parents' drama. I passed hours gazing at the great art of the world, reading randomly and with a hunger whatever poems to which luck had led me.

One poem, Richard Wilbur's "Junk," captivated my imagination at once. Here was a poem made of the "cast-off," the "gimcrack," the "jerrybuilt," which seemed so much a part of the shambles I had left behind at home. Yet from this hodgepodge, this bric-a-brac detritus, Wilbur weaves something whole and bristlingly beautiful (not unlike another poem, Hopkin's "Pied Beauty," to which my sortilege soon led me). Its lines, its taut melodic surface and hammer-dressed clarity, were unlike any of the poems the grade school's teachers has shown us as they taught us all to fear poetry and its opacity. The secret of poetry, I learned that day from reading "Junk," was to get under the spell of its incantation and believe in the ordinary magic of words.

 

Return to First Loves


Home