Saturday, August 30, 2008

What Do Women Want?

I just finished going through The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, and I didn’t hate it. I’ve been leafing through it for most of the summer trying to find ideas for and poems to share with my upcoming Creative Writing class, and I’ve found a whole gaggle of potential lessons. So, in honor of the book, I thought I’d post one of Addonizio’s poems that I really like.


by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.

I want it flimsy and cheap,

I want it too tight, I want to wear it

until someone tears it off me.

I want it sleeveless and backless,

this dress, so no one has to guess

what's underneath. I want to walk down

the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store

with all those keys glittering in the window,

past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old

donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers

slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,

hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.

I want to walk like I'm the only

woman on earth and I can have my pick.

I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,

to show you how little I care about you

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment

from its hanger like I'm choosing a body

to carry me into this world, through

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,

and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,

it'll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.

I guess what I find so appealing about this poem (and all that I’ve read from Addonizio so far) is the clear, specific voice of the narrator. Despite the utter lack of physical description, I can totally see the speaker as she searches for this dress, tears it off the hanger, and wears it proudly through the dusty streets. The imagery is very nice, as depicted by the “slinging pigs” and “slick snouts” at the midway point.

All of this, of course, leads to the obvious question of what women want. Having been happily married for five+ years, having a good relationship with my mother and my mother-in-law, and working in a profession where the male-female ratio is something like 20-1, I feel I am as qualified to answer this question as much as any man alive. The simple answer is: she wants whatever the opposite is of what she wanted yesterday. It’s that easy. I’m guessing the speaker of this poem wanted black jeans yesterday, or maybe a nice fancy pair of boots; whatever it was, it was NOT a red dress.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Second Skin

Here’s a poem about a lying kid. Since I have been known to make up some whoppers in my day, I have always felt a certain kinship with this poem.

by Theodore Deppe

It’s not true that the tornado stripped Billy’s father
before it hurled him to the quarry,

nor that his mother rode the same wind two miles
and was set down, alive, in a field of sprouting corn,

but this is what he told our fifth grade class.
Students raised their hands for details

and, as if he were the teacher, Billy called on us,
explained how firemen split he dress to treat

the countless wounds and found the storm had sealed
each cut with a second skin of weeds and rubbish.

For one day, until Miss Clemency phoned
his baffled father, Billy’s family was lifted

into neighborhood legend. And when she made him
admit his lies, when the red-faced truth

stood before our class with its nose pressed
to a little circle on the chalkboard,

I learned how the storyteller, when the teacher
turns her back, can wink at the audience,

then mime for the pure hell of it
the whirlwind and his mother’s flight.

For whatever reason, whenever I read this I just laugh and picture a younger version of myself as the kid in front of his classroom telling his classmates a wonderfully amazing lie. I guess that means something, though I’m not sure what.

First the kid invents this story about his parents and a tornado. Then he tells it so convincingly that his classmates not only believe him but they go home and tell their parents. But the topper has to be the image of the kid miming, “for the pure hell of it,” his mother’s flight through the air. I’m sure that this is going to be very popular throughout school, and probably grow up to be a game show host or a politician.

What makes this poem work is the completeness of the picture of the kid. Imagery is always something that I appreciate more than anything else in contemporary poetry, and this is a perfect example.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

*Tomato Piles

So I've been working on this poem in my head for a couple months now, and I know that it's still not done, but I wanted to get it out there because it has to be posted in the summer.

Tomato Piles
by Me

Scout died in the spring and that
summer was the first summer
that tomatoes didn’t grow all over
the yard. I was twelve
and confused.
I didn’t see the connection between
the death of our beloved German shepherd
runt, who understood English and
wore a bowtie in our family portrait,
and the random growths of
tomatoes splattered throughout our
For that matter, I didn’t understand
why my father always planted those
random little
plants, why he didn’t
just keep the tomatoes in the
vegetable garden where they belonged.
The plants got in the way of everything—we
even used one of them for
third base one summer.
But when I asked my father about
the lack of tomatoes that summer,
he just grinned and
pointed to the small tin urn
that sat on the top
shelf of a bookshelf
in the living room.
“Scout,” he said through
his unshaven orange beard,
“loved to eat tomatoes.”
I knew that already—we all knew that.
The running joke was about
how Scout’s only flaw was that he
kept eating the tomatoes out of the
garden, no matter how
much chicken-wire we put up.

I'm sad to say that, while the dog was real, the story is not (though I've been tossing the idea around in my head for so long that it seems real to me, so maybe that counts). I actually heard the story while having lunch with a couple friends (Billy and Wilbur) and one of them looked at me and said "that sounds like a poem to me." And I agreed.

I really don't know if the point of the poem is clear, because I never explicityly state, "the tomato piles are from Scout's poop." I'm hoping I don't need to, but this is one of those things that is hard because obviously I know what I mean, but will the reader? Well... do you???

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Husband Discovers Poetry

I found this on Okay, that’s sort of a lie. I found this in the book, but that really doesn’t matter. So now I’m wondering why I don’t just delete that first sentence and start over. Hmmm… I don’t have a reason for not doing that… I guess I’m just feeling defiant.

Anyway, title of this poem appealed to me right away because I love poetry yet my wife has never been a fan (well, I shouldn’t say never—I’m pretty sure she loved Shel Silverstein when she was a kid).

by Diane Lockward

Because my husband would not read my poems,
I wrote one about how I did not love him.
In lines of strict iambic pentameter,
I detailed his coldness, his lack of humor.
It felt good to do this.

Stanza by stanza, I grew bolder and bolder.
Towards the end, struck by inspiration,
I wrote about my old boyfriend,
a boy I had not loved enough to marry
but who could make me laugh and laugh.
I wrote about a night years after we parted
when my husband's coldness drove me from the house
and back to my old boyfriend.
I even included the name of a seedy motel
well-known for hosting quickies.
I have a talent for verisimilitude.

In sensuous images, I described
how my boyfriend and I stripped off our clothes,
got into bed, and kissed and kissed,
then spent half the night telling jokes,
many of them about my husband.
I left the ending deliberately ambiguous,
then hid the poem away
in an old trunk in the basement.

You know how this story ends,
how my husband one day loses something,
goes into the basement,
and rummages through the old trunk,
how he uncovers the hidden poem
and sits down to read it.

But do you hear the strange sounds that floated up the stairs that day, the sounds of an animal, its paw caught in one of those traps with teeth of steel? Do you see the wounded creature at the bottom of the stairs, his shoulders hunched over and shaking, fist in his mouth and choking back sobs? It was my husband paying tribute to my art.

While this is hardly an event I’ve experienced, I do find it very funny how the author manages to take a somewhat comical situation to a somewhat serious place, and then end it with an image of her crying, howling husband as he reads about her former lover. And it does make me wonder how a writer of any sort avoids offending/upsetting his/her loved ones when writing about awkward things.

The last line somewhat strikes me. The speaker has greatly upset her hubby, and then writes “it was my husband paying tribute to my art.” You hear that sort of mentality all the time from Hollywood-types: “there’s no such thing as bad press,” and I have to wonder how true that is. Is the speaker okay with the fact that her husband is feeling the part of the cuckold because it means that she has written a successful poem?

This question has been on my mind lately because of the movie Tropic Thunder. Today there was an article in the paper all about how offensive the movie is because of the use of the word “retard” and all it’s forms throughout the film. I remember seeing previews for it months ago and thinking that it looked terrible and wondered who would want to see it, but now it’s considered a box-office hit. And I have to wonder: is part of its success due to all the publicity it’s gotten from the many protests that have taken part all over the country? The article I read today was actually an editorial from a parent of a child who has downs syndrome, and how offensive she feels that the movie actually is. But I’ve seen multiple news stories on tv about the protests, and the internet has been full of calls-to-action from angry activists.

Has the publicity for the protesters helped fuel the movie to box office success? I don’t know the answer, but when I read this poem yesterday I immediately thought they were a good parallel.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jeep Cherokee

So it’s been nearly a month since my last post, and that’s pretty embarrassing. The only excuse I have is that I’ve been so immersed in finding poems for my new creative writing class (school starts in less than two weeks… ugg) that all my “poetry time” is spent on searching, reading, and copying rather than on posting on my blog. I hereby vow, however, to make at least one post each day from now until the start of school (Sept. 2nd).

I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before on my blog: I’m going to post a very long poem (I say “very long,” but you have to look at the relative scale of my previous posts. I found this poem while searching online for something else. The first few lines captured me right away and made me want to read the whole thing, despite the fact that I generally get bored easily by longer poems.

by Bruce A. Jacobs

You’ve never known
a single Indian
who wasn’t painted
onto a football helmet
or branded in chrome
on a tailgate, but there you go,
off mashing the landscape
like some edge-city explorer,
flinging yourself toward
new worlds beyond the driveway,
Lewis and Clark
with a seat belt.
Go ahead, you trampling trooper,
you goose-stepping little
Godzilla, you shining beast
of raging fashion,
riding the big teeth
of your tires as if you
would ever follow a dirt road
anywhere but to a car wash.
This is America,
and you’re free to drive
anything you can buy
but I will tell you:
Hitler would love this car-
a machine in which even the middle class
can master the world,
purchase their way through peril
safely as senators.
This is a car for
a uniformed strongman,
a one-car motorcade
through a thatched village
of strangers.
This is the car that will
replace Prozac.
This is the car that Barbie buys
with mad money
after the date with Angry White Ken.
This is the car that makes it safe
to be hateful in public.
Go ahead. Climb in. Look
at yourself, way up there
on the bridge of this
thick-windowed ship of enterprise.
Everybody knows
the only way today is to
buy your way through,
be bigger, be better,
be a bully, be a barger,
be sure you’re safe from the poor,
bustle your way through
each days bombardment
with the muscle of royalty.
You’ve got the power
to bring back the monarchy
four fat tires at a time.
Go anywhere. You’re entitled.
You have squashers rights.
Onward! Accelerate,
you brawny bruising winner,
you self-saluting junta on wheels,
you reclaimer of gold-bricked streets.
Democracy is for people
stuck in small cars
and God has never ruled
through traffic laws.
Get used to the feeling
of having your way.
Each broad cut of the steering wheel
is your turn at conquest.
The power-assisted triumph
of the me
in heavy traffic.
You are rolling proof
that voting is stupid,
that the whole damn machine is fixed
before it leaves the factory,
that fairness is a showroom,
that togetherness is for bus riders,
that TV has the right idea:
there is just you in a small room
on the safe side of glass,
with desire spread out before you
like a ballroom without walls,
and you will not be denied,
you’ve got the moves and the view,
you don’t need government, unions,
bank regulation, mercy,
the soft hands of strangers.
You’ve got 4-wheel drive
and a phone, you’ve got
the friendship of a reinforced chassis,
you’ve got empathy for dictators
without knowing it,
you’ve got freedom from read-view mirrors,
you’ve got wide-bodied citizenship,
you’ve gained Custer’s Revenge:
caissons packed with children and soccer balls
coasting across the plowed prairie,
history remodeled with one great
blaring of jingles and horns:

Hail Citizen King!
Hail the unswerving settler!
Hail the rule of logo!
Hail Jeep Cherokee!

“This is the car that Barbie buys with her mad money after the date with Angry White Ken”!!! What an image! “This is the car that will replace Prozac.” Oh, so true. Why do we buy these big, gas-guzzling cars if not for the thrill of driving up so high above everyone else? How many mothers and teenage rich kids really need the giant car for their off-roading habits?

The best line, though, comes soon after the two above: “This is the car that makes it safe / to be hateful in public.” Now I’ll admit that I have a touch of road rage but I really think that 99% of New Jersey drivers can relate to that. When I’m driving my small Honda Civic and get angry, I just lay on the horn and curse at the idiots in the other cars (usually from Pennsylvania); but when I’m driving my wife’s SUV, I have no qualms about honking, cursing, and then riding the tail of the aforementioned idiot—and I feel perfectly safe doing it. After all, “Democracy is for people / stuck in small cars / and God has never ruled / through traffic laws.”