The Soul’s Active Ingredients

by Greg McNeill
About Poetry Forum
Third Place, March 2008
Judged by Fleda Brown


TS Eliot just paid me a visit.
He was tapping on an African drum.
He described the wasteland that he left in ’65
and the wasteland in which he nows resides.

The drums, he said, contained embedded rhythms he hadn’t learned at Harvard
or in the litanies of London.
Rhythms that only accidentally made it into his poetry when he had a vision of discontinuity.
Rhythms, he said, that would stun Rimbaud and Donne.

He’s been drumming ever since he stopped breathing,
and if and when he re-incarnates
he says he’ll teach the poets a thing or two about how the senses interface
with the soul’s active ingredients.


I pick this poem because of its affecting unpretentiousness. When one begins a poem with T. S. Eliot, it's not easy to be unpretentious. This small poem is like the tapping of a drum. The poem is about sound: the "litanies of London," and rhythms "that would stun Rimbaud and Donne." Just when I think I know how the poem will sound, the next line does something different. The poem pulls off its abstractions. It almost gets lost in them, but the plain lines, the plain language, keep my feet on the ground. Who would think that a poem could get away with "interface/ with "the soul's active ingredients" without floating into space? Yet when I get here, I'm nodding my head, listening to the drum, and it's okay. --Fleda Brown

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