Close reading: ‘Epiphany’ by S.E. Venart

Here’s a poem that has stayed with me, Epiphany by S.E. Venart:

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What is the “it” in the second line?

Is that the same “it” in the fourth line?

The “it” that must be found within the hour?

To me, this “it” sounds something like inspiration, a thing a writer might seek, or perhaps “it” is the epiphany of the title, a thing that has become more elusive over the years, like figurative language (“Metaphors were easy then”).

How literal things become as we grow older, with responsibilities, and with a seemingly ceaseless flow of information, the “millions” filling our minds with “tiny grey flags” and “scraps”.

And then there’s a dog, which we first see with bleeding gums. This creature, the narrator of this poem plainly states, is loved; rather, “you love,” as if addressing me—how’d the poet know I have a dog?—or the poet herself? At once, the dog is a creature of sympathy—is it instinct that leads it clench rocks until its gums bleed? Is it the rock that was from twelve years ago? Or does the “another” signify an older dog, one with a past and history that has been shared with the narrator. Twelve years is a lot of years in dog years (though my dog will be 15 in a month). The dog is presented as a searcher, just like the narrator.

So I can’t help but read the question “What if she stopped looking?” with a stress on “she.” In that formulation, I read it that the narrator had stopped looking for “it,” and so identifies herself with the accusatory second person “you are a mother who used to be a poet.” Another question—”What would a dog be if a dog stopped searching?”—can then be thought to be also asking: “What can a poet be if a poet stopped searching?” Can there be any hope for such a poet?

An answer seems to suggest itself, that it isn’t in “sitting at a desk,” but in action. There’s a wealth of poetry in the final stanza, a quick, whispered expression of love and empathy that aims to awaken joy in a dog’s final moment. With that final word, the “it” is found. That makes the poem both heartbreaking and brilliant.


 

Epiphany is by S.E. Venart, the author of the collection Woodshedding (Brick Books) and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. It was originally published in Douglas Glover’s Numero Cinq, which includes a selection of her poems. Another poem by Venart—Chance Harbourcan be found the blog Concrete & River, which is run by Numero Cinq poetry editor Susan Gillis.

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