Probably a great many readers have, like me, been brought to a halt by a brief passage of poetry in Stephen King’s 2008 novel, Duma Key. King very cleverly constructed the passage as a three-pointed allusion, and if nothing else illustrates that he is anything but an untutored writer, slamming out bestsellers without any thought to literary technique. I refer to a passage in Chapter 13—The Show…
“You read me poems because Wireman couldn’t. Do you remember that?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Of course I remembered. Those had been sweet interludes.
“If I were to say ‘Speak, memory’ to you, you’d think of the man—I can’t recall his name—who wrote Lolita, wouldn’t you?”
I had no idea who she was talking about, but I nodded.
“But there’s a poem, too. I can’t remember who wrote it, but it begins, ‘Speak, memory, that I may not forget the taste of roses, nor the sound of ashes in the wind; That I may once more taste the green cup of the sea.’”
This exchange takes place at an art gallery as the two are standing before a painting of a young girl in a boat. The woman is referring first to a 1951 book by Vladimir Nabokov titled, Speak, Memory. Nabokov’s later book, Lolita was about a young girl. The poem quoted, which uses Nabokov’s Speak, Memory title in the opening lines is by Daubmir Nadir. The complete poem is quoted in the passage above from Duma Key.
The allusion as constructed by King adds another layer to his characters, and moves the story into its next stage with true finesse. I got that right off, as I expect most readers also do, but because the author wrote, ‘but it begins…’ I was prompted to follow it up, to see the remaining lines of an impressive poem.
As it happens, King quoted the poem in its entirety. It is one called “Cups” by the somewhat mysterious French poet, Daubmir Nadir. Interesting name. ‘Daubmir’ is ‘Rimbaud’ spelled backwards, as in French symbolist Arthur Rimbaud. ‘Nadir’ of course carries the meaning, ‘the lowest point.’ Like I said, an interesting name. Because I liked the Daubmir poem in Duma Key, I looked through his other poems, most of which are easily accessible here, but unfortunately came away from it not too terribly impressed. I read quite a few of Daubmir’s poems, but in the end felt slightly cheated. I saw too much pretense, too much clumsy juggling of big words attempting to describe inner or metaphysical tremblings, but leaving me instead in confusion as to meaning. Among the three dozen poems I read, only one reached beyond my eyes. It’s another short poem (there are many) titled “Basic Needs.”
for my soul
find its shadow
for my love
for my life
Apart from this brief work, I was left with inelegant and clouded lines like: ‘…the clogged stomata of my agitated addiction’; ‘Spiced with pomegranate between the larvae of my arillate genius’ and ‘the suppurating cavities of unrealized adventures.’
From the preview of Daubmir Nadir offered by Stephen King in Duma Key, I thought I might have found another poet to read and enjoy. It didn’t work out that way. Still, I won’t dispute that the poem “Cups” is a fine piece, well-written and rich in meaning.