Tuesday, February 1, 2011

            Of the four poems, the first I read was John Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. I had to read it a few times in order for the material to sink in, and was immediately struck by the serenity of his diction. For a work in which “valediction” is in the title, there was a notable absence of traditionally-described sadness. It is clear that even though the two characters depicted in the poem are going to be physically far apart, John Donne wanted to illuminate their spiritual connection, and perhaps the idea that their beings are so intertwined that no matter what, the two could never truly be separated. Rather than a clean break or a neatly-packaged goodbye, Donne depicts a sort of gentle pulling apart or disintegration like sand falling through one’s fingertips. The woman in question is described as the center of his life to whom he harkens and returns time and time again. His life orbits around this woman, and everything he is begins and ends with her. It took re-reading the poem for me to truly grasp what a deep and complex love Donne was illustrating.
            Fox Trot Fridays was decidedly lighter fare than the aforementioned poem, and its imagery was vivid. From the diction, it is clear that the author Rita Dove is describing an escapist activity. We all have that one event or ritual which centers and re-energizes us: whether it be a lengthier weekly activity like the ballroom dancing depicted in the poem or something as simple and minute as reading a few pages from a pleasure reading book every day. The setting described in Fox Trot Fridays is perceptibly free of pressure. The dance classes do not seem to be a place in which men and women have any sort of agenda or ulterior motives to meet a member of the opposite sex; these are people who simply want to depart from the minutia of their lives for a spell and immerse themselves in a love of dance and music. As an unabashed fan of Nat King Cole as well as an admirer of the terse but rich descriptions, I have a great fondness for this poem.
            Memorandum by Billie Bolton is an unexpected find, especially in a poetry book. In fact, I wondered if this work accidentally slipped through the cracks, because what else could explain essentially a list of categorical grievances in a book of poems? Apparently, poetry can be just about anything you want it to be, and the editors of this anthology believed it was fit to print among more traditional-looking poems, so my judgments ended there. The piece was decidedly funny, and I really enjoyed the biting, mean undercurrent; it’s brave to be mean in print. Witty as it was, I did not really see it as a poem and still don’t. I imagined it being a humorous little blurb in a newspaper, the kind that an advice columnist might pen. More than anything, it absolutely made me think about what a poem is and what it can be, and the ubiquitousness of poetry in our lives, even some that we may not be able to see.  
            The final selection was another by John Donne entitled The Flea. Even after reading through the work several times, I still was not totally clear on the subject matter. Clearly, the flea is a metaphor for something destroying a relationship or the well-being of its host, which is why (as morbid and pessimistic as it is) I speculated that the flea was representative of the idea of children. The only other possibility of which I could think is that the poem may have been strictly about a marriage gone sour. Either way, the flea is a metaphor for someone who drains the very life-blood from its host. Marriage requires a great deal of work to begin with, so a quarrlesome union would be exhausting and emotional. In the same vein, raising a child has been described as a most difficult job, and devoting all of one's time to nurturing and protecting this child could ruin a marriage or the parent themself. This was probably my least favorite poem, as it was incredibly morbid and even a bit grotesque at times. Still, the subject matter and the idea of relationships as blood-sucking fleas is an intriguing concept indeed.
                The common thread of the four poems was an undercurrent of sadness or somehow a lack of quality of life. The motif was more pronounced in some of the poems than others, but they all had a sort of twinge of melancholy. For my activity, I chose to partake in CELL OUT for the Congo in which participants shut off their cell phones for one hour to spread awareness about human rights there as well as the civil war over coltan which is an essential component in the manufacturing of cell phones. One hour did not seem like enough time away to be truly impactful, so I turned off my cell phone for twenty-four hours. While I like to brag about my lack of dependence on technology, I realized how often I truly use my phone.  I couldn’t call my parents, communicate with my friends unless I was in the room with them, and by the next day I had two voicemails and four unread text messages. Still, I think it is important even existentially to unplug oneself once in a while to get some perspective and refresh, like the ballroom dancing in Fox Trot Fridays does for its participants. As in The Flea, our technological devices, however useful, can sometimes have a parasitic effect on our mental health and relationships. The readings and my activity for the week connected much more seamlessly than I had anticipated, and it was really surprising how applicable little segments from each poem were to what I learned this week.

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