Monday, January 7, 2013

Instrument of Choice - Robert Phillips

She was a girl
no one ever chose
for teams of clubs,
dances or dates,

so she chose the instrument
no one else wanted:
the tuba.  Big as herself,
heavy as her heart,

its golden tubes
and coils encircled her
like a lover's embrace.
Its body pressed on hers.

Into its mouthpiece she blew
life, its deep-throated
oompahs, oompahs sounding,
almost, like mating cries.

In all honesty, I am not sure what the poet was going for with this poem.  Is he trying to make us feel bad for this apparently unlovable girl who chose the tuba?  Is he satirizing the popular culture image of a tuba player or "band geek?"  Are we supposed to laugh?

I think he was attempting to paint a serious picture, but the comparison of oompahs to mating calls is so patently stupid that I can't take it seriously.  As a farce, it's a bad one, since the tuba is one of the most in demand instruments.  If he was talking about Eb clarinet, sure, but tuba is both common and often much needed.  Also, encircled?  That describes a sousaphone.

Really, every aspect of this poem falls flat for me.  Perhaps it is aimed at the hearts of non-musicians who believe band nerd stereotypes, and would actually feel bad for a girl playing the tuba.  In my experience, all the girls I've met who play tuba are lovely people, and not strange social outcasts or malcontents who construct a twisted lover's fantasy around their instrument.  For shame, Robert Phillips.


  1. I remember reading this poem in an anthology while traveling in China. I wrote it down in my journal. That feeling of being large and clunky, lacking grace, taking up more room than anyone else, I understood instantly. The poem isn't about the tuba, it is about feeling out of place in life's symphony.

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