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  • By Richard Katrovas

A Riff on Abstraction


"Evil is the systematic substitution of the abstract for the concrete."

Sartre


As in “concrete” as well as “abstract,” and though

I cannot help but wonder if a system,

constructed for the purpose of control,

contrasting with all systems found in nature,

is doomed to doom all that it must contain.


And how may we regard the paradox

Of systems grounded in desire for freedom?

The civilizing impulse is control

Of all that is sustaining and fecund.


Each child of mine I’ve held, fresh from the flesh

Of her mother, has been a joy incarnate,

The word made flesh to my decaying flesh,

An object of intense, sustained regard


Beyond the auspices of abstract nouns.

I wish each one freedom from her father.

As all dances are systems of movement,

I wish each one ecstatic movement through


The backstage doors of “pain” and “fear” and “sorrow,”

Onto the boards before an audience

Of angels, demons, and divine accountants

All weeping at the end, applauding madly.


Richard's forthcoming collection is entitled "The Woman with a Cat on Her Shoulder" from Carnegie Mellon University Press. His "Chained to a Tree: A Memoir in Essays about Poets and the Fools Who Love Them" is forthcoming at about the same time from Louisiana State University Press. He is the founding director of the Prague Summer Program, and teaches at Western Michigan University.

6 Comments


drleach1953
May 12, 2021

This is a really great poem. It brings together a very profound philosophical and theological paradox with a very personal, subjective experience, resolving them in an act of selfless love. This is one of the best expressions of the idea that we are children of a loving God that I have ever seen. The final image makes you feel this truth deeply, as it touches the heart, not just the mind. Thank you.

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jm6783685
jm6783685
Jun 11, 2022
Replying to

I particularly like the way it exemplifies what it proclaims. We are so often told to avoid abstractions, yet here abstractions are used to very great effect, and are contrasted with the concrete in a very effective way. So that here mere concrete appearance comes as a wonderful shock. Which presumably mirrors the situation in real life. It is a poem that is difficult to understand on first reading and cries out for several rereadings. (Just like its subject presumably.) In this way it demonstrates that easy comprehension isn't necessarily the goal of poetic craft. Sometimes difficulty is precisely what one is looking for.

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jm6783685
jm6783685
May 01, 2021

This is more like it. A very fine poem indeed.

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jm6783685
jm6783685
May 02, 2021
Replying to

Well worth close study.

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