Poetry News

Change to Vision: Jared Stanley's 'The Phoropter'

By Harriet Staff


We're into these new optics from Jared Stanley's Evening Will Come essay (from the December issue), "The Phoropter." Stanley's initially referring to the optometrist machine, but gets allegorical (whynot!):

Some poems may work like a clarifying medium, a lens; I also like the kinetic action of The Optometrist interacting with The Patient, because they both try to decide, together, which of the many lenses are the most clear, or perhaps what clarity actually is – I don’t think of clarity as a kind of simplification, or delimiting of a given set of phenomena: Proust is an extraordinarily clear and precise writer, but his precision is directly related to his complexity – the more things are clearly there, the more obscure, or complicated, their relation. You might say clarity and abundance are not at odds. You might.

This relationship between The Optometrist and The Patient is special – The Optometrist cannot give The Patient a prescription without The Patient’s input, without his or her patient application, his or her own set of decisions. And those decisions lead, inevitably, to the next set of decisions. The lenses flip and flip inside the complex machinery of the The Phoropter. It might explain why my poems use the word “or” a lot – it’s not a matter of indecision, it’s a kind of extension or greeting to the reader of the poem – we could do it this way, or this way. Which is clearer, or more pleasurable? I would say dizzying, but my friends with astigmatisms might feel that was too much.

It may be useful to dwell on the notion of the reader as The Patient. Doesn’t that put the reader in an awkward position? Is there something about the reader that should be fixed? Speaking as a reader, I have always come to the poetry I love (and have discarded the poetry I dislike) because I have needed some kind of change that poems precipitate. I have needed something from the poem, aware or unaware – it’s not therapeutic necessarily, because poems rarely correct symptoms – in the case of our little allegory, the change is to the vision, but it could just as well be any of the other senses that’re out of whack. As a Patient, I put myself in the care of The Optometrist because I like her, she has a nice demeanor, I think I can trust her, she likes to talk about the place we live and how strange it is (I also like to do this), and the choral refrain of our discussion, “This? Or this?” gives a kind of repetitious, stiff-but-flexible backbone to the leisurely back and forth of our chatter. I rather like being in someone’s care, even in this kind of strange, artificial way. The Patient’s pupils are dilated, and the dialogue meanders in the dark room.

Read it all here. Find Jared Stanley at the Poetic Labor Project.

Originally Published: December 3rd, 2013