Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Mean" Poets

This from a 2007 Amanda Earl blog post:

"Zio performed an old favourite, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, and also a love poem that was full of sound play and rhythm. Martin Levine read his usual e-mail to his sister; one woman read a “funny” anti fat poem. i have to say that there’s usually always one person in an open mic who will use the precious time on stage to be mean or make fun of people. fat is the last acceptable hate it seems. i love sitting in an audience and hearing my body and those like mine referred to as lard. why is it that these kind of poems always seem to rhyme?"

The "old favourite" is so for a reason: the audience members and membresses can sit back and experience a misty, agreeable, vague sensation one otherwise associates with a cocker spaniel puppy staring at you -- mouth stuffed with slippers -- from the carpet as you sip lemon verbena, peek at the slowly waving willows against the blue backdrop, and knit a sweater with an emblem of fuzzy heart, all while Oliver's "Meanwhile the world goes on .... Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/the world offers itself to your imagination".

There's nothing wrong with experiencing those sentiments, except, of course, when the words that manipulate that desired effect are confused with verse -- even poetry.

And this takes us to the contrast, with this "you tell those meanies, sensitive soul!" resume set-up now sympathetically behind the reader: Earl obviously loves emotion (I'd rather peg it as what it is -- emotivity and pleasing sentiment), but only when those emotions are agreeable and "positive" ones. But I didn't get the memo that only certain emotions were allowed into poetry. Rather, I thought that honesty was important, even when the emotion(s) depicted were and are difficult to undergo and process: envy, pettiness, boredom, selfishness, disgust, confusion, depression, and yes, even hatred, as long as it's not framed as authorial, inciteful propaganda.

Earl took the poem personally, and she arrogantly spoke for the rest of the audience when she stated, "hearing my body and those like mine referred to as lard".

Of course, the kicker is that nothing was imparted to the (in?) curious blog reader as to any evaluative measure on either the Oliver religiose esophagus-tightener or the "anti-fat" effort. For all I know, the narrator of the latter piece may not have been the reader, or it MAY have been, but was purposefully self-recriminating. I don't know. But even were the speaker's words insensitive or "hateful", the verselet still needs to be judged on its own merit: were the metaphors (if any) effective and surprising? Were the images ironically humourous? Did the surface issue of rampant social obesity point to a deeper "message" on the issues of tolerance of free speech vs the intolerance of politically correct behaviour with its passive-aggressive bullying in order to silence those unpopular views?

I don't know, of course, because the verse wasn't discussed. And for those who may say: "well, it's an open mic, what do YOU think the worthiness of her 'poem' amounted to?", I'd say that Earl, herself, enjoyed the other open mic participants, and that I have no problem with that experience since I've been happily surprised by good verse from other spontaneous readers, myself.

No, these reactions stem from a communal emotional group-hug aesthetic, one in which rooting for the "underdog", the "sensitive", the "quiet", the self-deprecating, is the exclusive oppressive orthodoxy.

And why rhyming, asks Earl? Rhyme is an effective strategy of form for the mocking tone, one of many reasons being that the sing-song nature of it, when effective, acts as a disarming, surprising shiv of contrast with its acerbic content.


Zachariah Wells said...

From Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes (it sounds better with music...):

I hope you got fat
I hope you got really fat
Cause if you got really really fat
You just might want to see me come back
I hope you got fat

I don't care I don't care
How heavy or how skinny
I don't care I don't care
No how heavy or how skinny

Just gimme gimme something to love
A little extra weight would never look
No nicer on nobody else but you
And I could always use a little bit more to hold on to

And if I get a fright in the middle of the night
I'll cling to you
I hope you got fat
I hope you got really fat
If you got truly fat fat fat
You just might want to see me come back

Zachariah Wells said...

It should also be noted that "lard" is, by definition, animal fat. Specifically, it is rendered pork fat. Human flesh is supposed to taste very similar to pork, because both animals are omnivores. Some cannibals, in fact, referred to human as "long pig." So "lard" isn't really an inaccurate term for surplus adipose tissue on a human.

Anonymous said...

Damn, now I can't use "lard-ass!" at boring cocktail parties.