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To Hell with Drawers

Poetry as cabinetry.

The difference between lyrics and poetry is that I don’t understand poetry. I don’t understand biology either. Someone must be there to guide me through the meanings of things. Lyrics, recorded and sung, have the opportunity to sink long and thoroughly; they can work on and with the subconscious. We have long ago passed the time when poetry is memorized without such aid, and sitting there on the paper a poem makes me feel ignorant and insane.

Even recited, words expressively coded and adjacented are like a miracle of phonetics but do not mean what they should. It’s about the structure, but a poem holds nothing up and nothing in. It sits there. And in a public space, a read poem fills the air with signs that I cannot use to direct myself anywhere except the restroom or the sidewalk, or inside of myself.

Recently I read a review of Shame, a movie “about” sex addiction, and the reviewer boldly and awkwardly quoted a Shakespeare sonnet in order to say something about lust: “All this the world well knows; yet none knows well/to shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” It made complete sense to me, and got me searching for the full sonnet. Unfortunately, the full sonnet made no sense to me, and even that quoted couplet became scrambled and indecipherable without the guidance of a critic to give it meaning—because it is poetry, and poetry is something that points to something else.

I also do not like drawers. There must be shelves, where the contents are visible. When things are hidden in drawers, they do not exist. Doors must be open. Prose is shelving. On lust, Iris Murdoch (about whom I know nothing except that her writing is mocked in a weird British movie I vaguely recall seeing) wrote: “The absolute yearning of one human body for another particular one and its indifference to substitutes is one of life’s major mysteries.” And that is a shelf with its contents quite viewable. It’s like: Yes. Whereas the versed lines of the bard are more like: Ouch.

Coding is fine, but mostly when given a clue or some other assistance to its solution. This can be done by setting the words to music and then singing them. Leonard Cohen sings, “I needed so much/To have nothing to touch/I’ve always been greedy that way.” I have heard that line so many times in my head that it functions like propaganda. It has become a part of my lang-scape. Take Cohen’s book Death of a Lady’s Man, in which each piece is juxtaposed with a counterpoint to shed light on both. I can read that shit. I can read most verse, but it dissipates so quickly because my stupid modern mind travels so fast to another place that the lines are gone.

Give me a melody—give me, better, a harmonized melody—and those words will become a part of me. This is what I, a child of the age, need. I’m ready for a return to epic balladry when it all comes grumbling down and we must actually use these memory cells we’ve been given. I am always crying inside to have things integrate and interrelate, but having grown up having to find and appreciate things on my own, and on my own terms, it now takes a grander force to pierce the defenses and get the party started in my soul than it may for many others. My mind isn’t a sponge, it’s a parasitic death-starry glob that is big and wet and angry much of the time, feeding on itself and allowing only the choicest and most-vulnerable bits in when its blood sugar gets low. It longs for a projectile to penetrate and obliterate its oneness, and let the stockpile plenish billions.

At least that’s what it feels like sometimes. My mind is kept in a drawer, in the end. And the drawer hides its contents from view, like a poem. So really, poems and cabinets only make me hurt because I resent those who love them.

More from this issue

This poem originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

  • Will Oldham works in music and as an actor. He puts records together using the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Collaborators include the Cairo Gang, Dawn McCarthy, Mike Aho, and Trembling Bells.

Prose from Poetry Magazine

To Hell with Drawers

Poetry as cabinetry.
  • Will Oldham works in music and as an actor. He puts records together using the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Collaborators include the Cairo Gang, Dawn McCarthy, Mike Aho, and Trembling Bells.

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