Friday, March 18, 2011

"you fit into me" by Margaret Atwood

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

I love this poem. It made me laugh out loud. I've never read a poem that I love as much as I love this one. It's brilliant.

When I first read the title, I thought its was going to be one of those sappy or slightly creepy poems like Shakespearean sonnets or modern pop songs. I know at least one song called "You Get Me," which is entirely sappy and romantic, and it was the first thing that popped into my head when reading "you fit into me." This romantic beginning makes the irony of the second that much more powerful. I was laughing then and just kept laughing harder as I read the rest of the poem. The poem has brilliantly continues the sentence through not just lines, but also stanzas to produce the desired effect.

This poem also has a rhythm to it. Although it is not in a specific meter, certain words, like "hook" and "eye" are clearly stressed. The other syllables dance around the poem, pointing to those two curial words. The poem sounds pleasant. It doesn't trip up the tongue, the words could be sung -- which just furthers the irony. Some that sounds so sweet, is really so cruel.

The simplicity of the poem makes it stunning and humorous. After all, a witty joke with a powerful punch line is normally preferred to a long, drawn-out and weaving telling of the same joke. Atwood makes her point and leaves.

As will I.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Cottonmouth Country" by Louise Gluck

Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras.
And there were other signs
That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
By land: among the pines
An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
Reared in the polluted air.
Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
I know. I also left a skin there.

When I first read this poem, I stupidly confused "cottonmouth" with "cottonwood." You can imagine my confusion as I tried to figure out what an "uncurled" tree had to do with anything. However, some quick research quickly told me that a cottonmouth is not a harmless plant as I had assumed, but a notorious, venomous snake, which change the meaning of the poem for me drastically. I also learned that Hatteras is a small island off the coast of North Carolina. Apparently, it saw some action in the Civil War, but for all I could tell, it's just a collection of small towns trying to attract tourists.

"Cottonmouth Country" has a large amount of strange irony. From fish bones walking -- which should be impossible both because they're dead and because they're fish -- to Death wooing to polluted nature, the poem has strong, jarring juxtaposition. It adds a sense of dry humor to the poem about death, pollution, and other unpleasant topics. It this way, the poem leaves the reader with a more open mind than might have been possible if the descriptions had been all dark.

Gluck uses ironic comparisons to lighten dark topics and darken light ones. The poem is set on a beach, but it is not the pretty beach of California or Hawaii. Instead of turtles, there are fish bones. It is also an East Coast beach, and I have to admit that I don't think of those beaches as exactly clean. Mostly, I just think of all the trash New York used to dump into the ocean. This marred paradise leads exactly into the idea of Death that "wooded us, by water, wooed us/ By land." If life is the beach, death is its trash. The fish bones litter the sand, and death tries to pull you away from every direction. It even sneaks up in the form of a cottonmouth.

This snake seems particularly important. It not only names the poem, but gains more "time" in the poem that anything else. Because of the colon after "By land," it seems likely that the cottonmouth is either one of the signs of Death or Death itself. It makes sense, seeing as cottonmouths are poisonous. They are also sneaky and easy to miss, just has death may be where we would never expect to find it. An interesting thing about death in this poem is that it's capitalized. This indicates that Gluck is referring to it either as a place or a person -- or just something to be respected. I think of it as some sort of person, represented by the cottonmouth.

The last two lines of the poem are the most confusing. "Birth, not death, is the hard loss./ I know. I also left a skin there." The last line seems easier to understand. Loosing skin automatically made me think of snakes (even when I thought a cottonmouth was a tree). They shed skin in order to grow, something I don't think any other animal does. So somehow the speaker is like a snake -- or the cottonmouth. As I thought about how in the world a human could lose skin, I thought of birth. After all, weren't we within our mother's skin before? So when we were born, we essentially "left a skin." We left a protection.

Before we were born, we were protected, safe. But just after, we were introduced to a world of sorrow, suffering, and imperfection, just like the dirty beach in the poem. Death is all around, like a sneaking, venomous snake, and we never know when we will get bit. Death is not hard. It is only an end, the poem seems to say. It is living, with its uncertainty and its pain, that's hard. Losing the security of the womb is far harder than losing life.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Questions We Have About Ourselves"

Is my self confidence really arrogance?
What is my purpose?
Is my self anything other than what I see?
Why can I never seem to change the elements that define me?
Do I really want to change or am I afraid to lose myself?
Am I really ready for the changes that are about to come?
When you embrace the self, does its distinctness fade?
What is the power of the individual?
Does the individual even matter when my hair looks like a haystack?

By myself, Josh, Conrad, and Mandee