Monday, September 05, 2005

Disasters aside

Enough politics.
Back to poetry.

I've already started revising "My Brush Has My Name", and the first thing I did was take out the line that seemed to snag most people: "boar and lobster bloated parliament." You see, I carry one of those cool, black Moleskin notebooks(a gift from Blade), and I jot all kinds of nonsense in it. Things pop into my brain and I store them there as a little "image bank." I must've been flipping through it right before writing that poem because the image doesn't really fit. I had questioned it before, mainly because the vegetarianism of India--the Parliament may be bloated, but certainly not on boar. Chapatti? Well, maybe a few of them eat mutton... The two most asked questions of me in India were "Are you married?" and "Do you eat mutton?" Shows how unthinkable beefeating would be--too rude to even suggest, akin to cannibalism.

But "a lobster-and-mutton-bloated parliament" doesn't quite radiate the same decadence, huh? Either way, I canned it.

Someone asked about the Milk Powder Scam. I'm going to clarify that in my revision as well--there was no actually shoving or pushing involved in that. It was my first full day in Mumbai/Bombay and I'd already been approached by several hundred beggars wanting a rupee or two. That was overwhelming of course, especially since a sizeable percentage of the beggars (the woman with the monkey in the poem, a little boy who would not let go of my hand) were exhausting in their pursuit. So when these two little girls, geniuses of flattery and charm, told me they didn't want money,and in fact seemed insulted when I even implied they wanted money, told me that all they wanted was some milkpowder for their baby sister...I was sucker number one with a bullet. They were such likeable kids, and here they were wanting to save their little sister's life, and it must be true because what else are they going to do with milkpowder. True, I was shocked by the price, but I've never bought milkpowder before. Maybe it was a steal! And it seemed wrong to bargain while making such a generous gesture. Oh, Pete,you foolish, foolish man! Ugh, did I feel dumb when it all came together in my mind the moment they scampered away. A lesson. All I could hope was they got to keep some of the money for themselves, that the shopkeeper didn't beat them for every last smidgen of it.

Now that I've told that story, I do want to make clear that character in the poems is not ME. I mean, of course it's me, but it's really "me." As "the American." A person who consideredof getting his parents' dog's name engraved on the toothbrush, but thought that was too disrespectful and instead got this:


And that's a bag of Cheetos "Masala Balls." With one free Scooby Doo "Tazo."

There's also a lot of rupees there.


At 9:43 AM, Blogger Slick said...

I'm not quite sure you need to revise simply because the language causes a snag in places. By reading carefully I understood you were not pushed, "you" were "falling hard" for the scam "as though" pushed. This is a simile, as you know, that, for me, creates this great sense of vertigo in the transaction. If I were to suggest revision, which I guess I'm doing here, I would suggest turning this sense of vertigo, displacement, into the poem's focus. Though, I can see that maybe this is what you were after to begin with--the image comes almost exactly in the middle of the poem, and the line about being pushed is hanging out over the rest of the stanza, as if on a precipice looking down dizzily. And this dizziness is the rest of the poem--the crazy carnival of images and juxtapositions is the central point of the poem, bookended by the solidity, the solid sense of identity, in the first and last stanzas. It almost asks the question, "Who am I?" Are we the same people when displaced? What's the relation between identity when at home with parents the family schnauzer and the loss or confusion of identity in this India-bazaar? Does it help to have your name engraved on a toothbrush? Seems a meager compensation for the loss you feel as a tourist (and I like the foolishness of the tourist--whereas we have this idea of tourists as wealthy, as somehow in charge or demanding a certain kind of attention, here your tourist has so little grounding, so little ground, that he's in a constant state of "falling hard as if pushed.") This sense of tourist is further highlighted by the bossy Aunt in New Brunswick, who, from her comfy kitchen and solid sense of identity in New Brunswick can easily make such a pronouncement. The toothbrush, or its possibility of having your name carved in its handle, is a joke, which is highlighted both by the inability of the engravers to do it correctly and your having your dog's name carved in its handle--the dog has a surer sense of its identity than you do at this moment.

So, to return to "boar-and-lobster bloated parliament", the question for me is not whether the image needs to be more clear, but how does the image strengthen the contrasts being developed in the poem, of solid identity vs. dizzying ungroundedness. And do you want that sense of dizzyness in this particular stanza . If so, let it, or another perhaps more appropriate image (if you decide there is one), create a sense of dizzyness for the reader. This is one of your strengths, Pete, this ability to create dense, beautiful images that can spiral out meaningfully if given the opportunity. Don't flatten the image, or the entire poem, just to make it easy to read and identify, use these dense images in conjunction with more straightforward, identifiable language. If you feel like readers will get too lost, provide jumping off points or the occassional solid, identifiable image for them to reorient themselves. You're not writing an essay on India, after all, you're writing a poem--use the possibilities of language to heighten the poem's meaning--both the ability of language to create clear sense, and it's real, unavoidable tendency to confuse, to spiral away every time you think you're in control.

And, finally, I'm not quite sure if you meant this or not, but "boar" is not beef. Boar is wild pig.

I hope this helps,


At 12:53 AM, Blogger pete. said...

It helps a lot, Slick, thanks. The issues you address have been a long time struggle for me in my work. I'm torn between my love of knotty clumps of words that beg to be repeated a hundred times on the tongue (my tongue at least) just for the pure taste of them away from solid Earthly meaning, and a love of fluency in verse. I've treated my revision process as bulldozing--I'm trying to smooth out these syntactically knotty little bumps to create a road the reader can just floor it on. Vrrooom. But those horrible little knots of language are what gets me writing in the first place. So maybe I need to trust the readers to do a little work. And to do a little more work myself so they aren't tossed in a ditch by a sudden speed bump, and instead (to murder the metaphor)offer some interesting roadside attractions that don't keep them from their final destination.
Having written by myself for so long it's fascinating, if not a bit scary, to have people pointing out what I'm doing. I'm aftraid it's gonna be like that famous baseball player (who was it?) whose streak stopped dead after a fan pointed out his stance. But this is about getting to the next level.
Oh yeah, I know boar is pig. I was just trying to make a more general point about the depth of vegetarianism in India.


At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't know anyone who's opened their window like this to interactive feedback, but after Slick's deep and careful feedback, i'm getting the sense that you are managing to turn the lonely art of poetry and the 24/7 prime-time buzz of internet on their respective heads. plus, getting your on-the-fly, real-time commentary on working a poem is, let's face it, a rare treat.

more, please.

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pete is a rare treat! PETE rocks!


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