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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Commentary on my poem

I guess I can interpret my own poem, right?

The speaker in a typical poem nowadays is like an idealized version of the self. My speaker is like a de-idealized Mayhew, kind of peevish. I have those peevish impulses, like everyone else, but I try to rise above them sometimes. The complaint is a trivial one, that people use the word "surreal" when they really mean "unreal." You surely shouldn't hate people who do this, even if you wouldn't use the word this way yourself!

There is an expectation that the speaker will also be sincere. An idealized self seems insincere, if too idealized, but so is a de-idealized self. The self always positions itself at a particular angle, there is no "straight-on" self. I gain some sincerity points, though, by making the self a little more petty than it needs to be, anxious about trivial stuff.

A second expectation is that for anecdotal material to lead to epiphany. Here, the anecdote reveals only peevish annoyance at moths in the pantry.

The speaker also resists a third expectation, for metaphor and symbolism. A simile would have totally ruined this poem, because it insists on things as they are, not things as they are as changed by the blue guitar.

At the same time, there is a metaphorical warning against metaphor: if things are not allowed to be what they are, and nothing more, then there will be no room for the tomato paste in the pantry. The poem says yes, feel these things for their emotional weight, but don't overinterpret them. The pantry moth doesn't symbolize a thing, it is just an example of a trivial domestic problem. The tomato paste just returns us to that immanent situation.

A fourth expectation, for rhythmic recurrence, is fulfilled but ironically so, in the trivial refrain, hate them with a passion. There are a lot of 'p' sounds, but not so many as to be obtrusive.

By frustrating all these expectations, the poem fulfills expectations of another kind of reader, one who generally hates conventional poems with an idealized speaker, an anecdote leading to an epiphany, and a couple of similes that serve to show off the poet's poetry-writing chops. It doesn't just frustrate those expectations by not fulfilling them, but by gesturing toward them and mocking them, in a way that aims for an understated wit.

Such a reader might also recognize, in herself, the prejudice against the supposed mis-use of the word "surreal." He is likely to know that there was a surrealist movement, and relate the non-sequiturs in the poem to a kind of "surreal" feeling. A reader could see the absurdity of the linguistic peeve, or say yes, I hate that too. Either way.

The poem also fulfills an expectation for statistically unfamiliar combination of words, like "Los Angeles with its petulant physicality." Post-avant garde poetry tends toward this kind of off-beat phrasing. Someone who liked this style might like my poem, or else recognize it as being in a style sh/e likes in genearl, but think it falls short.

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