Friday, June 17, 2011

Mutually Deaf - Chris Hart

Late last night I listened
to the sounds of the house
wondering if it might have ears
with which to hear me.

Air vents exhaled their climate-controlled breath
as I heard the metallic clink
of the bathroom lock snapping shut behind
my naked form under the squeaking shower head.

Pattering down, the water whispered to me,
or so it seemed.

Puzzled by this unexpected speech
I cracked a half-smile
wondering if perhaps it was I
who had lacked the ears to hear you.

In talking about my own poem, I am going to take a two-fold approach: I will talk about the things I wanted the poem to convey, and I will talk about what I wish I could better convey.  I think it's somewhat inappropriate to break the poem down in the same way I would with another poet, since in this case, I am fully aware of the author's intent.  If someone else would like to offer an alternate interpretation to my own, I would really appreciate it.  I could think of no higher compliment than a poem speaking to another person in a way I could never imagine.

When I wrote this poem, I hadn't experienced anything coming close to heartbreak.  I had experienced breakups, or disappointments, but never anything that really shook me as a person.  I wondered what it would feel like to have, effectively, part of your identity wrestled away from you, and the conclusion I came to was that it must be a very stark feeling of loneliness.  I saw a shower as a good expression of solitude and as a good place to capture thoughtful sadness.  I transformed the lover, who was now out of the picture, into the house, whispering various things to the solitary figure.  The figure cannot hear these whispers, much as, I imagined, a couple on the verge of dissolving must be unable to hear one another clearly and fully.  In a moment of sad revelation, the figure understands the house's whispering as that of his lover, and realizes all too late that he equally deaf as his lover.  The only thing to do in such a situation is to smile, even if it is a rueful, painful smile.  The poem is paced as moving through tenses continually, with irregular or absent punctuation to control the flow.  I want a real sense of motion right up until the water of the shower coming down.  I think this was best achieved in the second stanza.

The regrets I have with this poem are split between formal characteristics and content.  Formally, I wish I could have been somewhat more strict in structuring the poem.  I had been reading a lot of Billy Collins while I wrote this poem, and I tried to imitate his flow, though I don't think I succeed on his level.  And being free from any formal structure, the poem cannot fall back on structure to convey meaning, level the words very much to speak for themselves.  I do not think I approached anywhere near Billy Collin's level of profundity, and as such, perhaps utilizing a stronger traditional format would have been more suitable.  Additionally, I would have liked to utilize a stronger element of rhyme.  Sonically, the most interesting thing I have going are alliterative passages and contrasting consonant and vowel sounds.  I do not think rhyme is dead, or cliche, or trite, but rather, that it can be very powerful when used to draw attention to particular words or rhythms.  Content-wise, looking at the poem after having experienced some degree of heartbreak, I realize that the picture I painted was incomplete.  To be sure, solitude is an element of heartbreak, but I feel that I failed to capture the agency of heartbreak.  The active participation one puts oneself through.  You are never the only one hurt in a situation like this, and I wish I could have captured better the awful feeling of knowing that your actions and words hurt someone.  It's a feeling that everyone knows, or will know, and I wish I had found the words for it.  Because taking that solitary shower and realizing what an idiot you are for being unable to hear has a flip side, and that flip side is realizing how very worthless your words had been.

Does this poem speak anything to you apart from those things I identified?  Is it successful, or as I fear, an uninteresting slice of something everyone is already familiar with?  Let me know what you think.

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