Lisa Jacobson’s third book, South in the World, opens with ‘Several Ways to Fall Out of The Sky’, a poem composed of imperatives instructing the reader in the strange art of descent. Jacobson’s poem deliberately invokes Auden’s famous piece of ekphrasis about Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, which concerns itself with the relativity of suffering. All tragedies, Auden suggests, are products of perspective: Icarus’s plummeting may be a source of anguish for Daedalus, but is a minor occasion for a passing ploughman. Jacobson challenges this divested notion of witness by engaging in acts of imaginative empathy, stepping beyond the poet’s localised purview into the broader historical sphere.
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