While being educated upon literature, one of the most marvelous assignments I received was to conduct a close reading of a poem of my choosing. Though 99 percent of the people who associate themselves with literature nowadays probably perceive poems as mere documents that they’re coerced to comment upon in workshop, I am mesmerized by beatific poems, and I believe each one necessitates thoughtful evaluation. After all, when you see a beautiful look by, say, Calvin Klein, you shouldn’t just mumble “Nice job, Calvin” and then zip right along to the next one — that’s inconsideration. What everyone should do is concentrate on the look exclusively in order to notice the particular shade of grey and the way in which the squiggly white stripes contrast those of the grey ones.
The same should be so for a poem.
The poem I selected to do my close reading with was Charles Churchill’s night. An 18-century poet who didn’t like gay people, Charles is often ignored, while poets like putrid pragmatist Alexander Pope are emphasized. But, really, Charles needs ten times the heed of Alexander, as Charles is ten times as terrific as Alexander.
For Charles, the greater public views the daytime as the place of hardworking humans and the nighttime as the space of a sordid species. But in his poem, Night, Charles says that daytime is much more foul than nighttime. Using heroic couplets, Charles explains why the daytime is contemptuous, calling its denizens “slaves to business, bodies without soul.” In contrast to the spiritless stupids, those who wander in the night have an “active mind” and enjoy “a humble, happier state.” Near the end Charles states, “What calls us guilty, cannot make us so.” While I concur with Charles that just because the 99 percent say it’s true doesn’t make it true, I don’t agree that the nighttime is so wonderful, as gay people go out at night a ton, and gay people aren’t a thinking bunch.
But Charles’s poem is still bold, bellicose, and abrasive, and all of those traits are laudatory, and, through my close reading, I became much better acquainted with them.
Also disseminating a decided amount of close reading are the baby despots of Bambi Muse. Baby Adolf did one on Emily’s “Presentiment,” Baby Marie-Antoinette did one about Edna’s “Second Fig,” and Baby Joseph did one concerning William’s [“so much depends”].
Close readings appear to be very vogue. So, having already summed up a close reading of a boy poet, I will presently present a close reading of a girl poet.
Sometime this year Fence Books published Inter Arma by Lauren Shufran. The collection of poems swells with stars, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (who, nope, isn’t interchangeable with Baby Napoleon), and Roman poet boy Ovid. There are also a lot of animals, which is admirable, as it sort of gives Lauren’s poems Disney-like parts. Chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigeons, and gooses receive roles.
Although, sometimes it’s difficult to discern which is animal is which. Just as the sordid sea witch, Ursula (who would go on to inspire Adrienne Rich and VIDA), is able to morph from a fat ugly girl to a pretty mermaid, these creatures seem to have little to no struggle switching species. As Lauren says in one of her poems, “If you think / You’ll tap the wrong goose you can announce they all are.” In these poems, labels are malleable and roles are almost effortlessly amendable. Lauren herself points out: “The very lad who swore he’d never bend / For sex is bending over ovens.”
Amongst all the topsy-turvy and provocative poems in this book, the one that’s captivated me the most as of this moment is the one that’s on page 9 (many of these poems don’t possess clear titles, like this one, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing), and that’s the topic of my close reading.
Some of the poems in Inter Arma are in metered verse, others are in prose form, the one that resides on page 9 is styled in the latter, which, as with a great deal of prose poems not separated by paragraphs breaks, looks like a mishmash of words (this, too, isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
Due to the sentence “don’t think ’cause I’m a duck that I don’t comprehend your logic” I know that this particular poem is narrated by a duck (who, according to me, looks like Donald Duck).
The duck is in a cage, and he has “some awareness” that beyond his cage is a “bigger cage which some call a cage and some call a city.” The similarities between being trapped (like in cage) and freedom (like being out and about in the city) has been remarked upon by a lots of other boys. In This Way For the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman, Tadeusz Borowski notices the corresponding qualities between concentration camp world and non-concentration camp world. Before that, Charles Baudelaire compares the entire earth to a “sweaty cell” and the sky to a “low and heavy lid” in his 4th “Spleen” poem.
Having seen Zero Dark Thirty more than four times, I’m cognizant of what occurs in cages. And, truthfully, I’d rather be in that situation than in a city, where one is most likely to be surrounded by Timothy Geithner, as all those types are basically average Americans. But in a “cage” there’s violence, torture, yelling and screaming all night — it’s quite theatrical.
As for the duck’s specific city, he describes it as “covered in men who are figures of men and some who are images of them.” This populous seems much superior to the city I described. Terms such as “figures” and “images” make me recall the entertainment industry, and it presents the picture of a whole bunch of men tying to copy the figure of Humphrey Bogart or a picture of John Wayne and so on. These boys were tough and aggressive. They played cold-blooded private eyes and no-nonsense cowboys. A city where boys base themselves off these types is thrilling.
According to the duck, observing these men (who may or may not be basing themselves off of John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, &c) helps him realize the “unequivocal association between terrorism and anal penetration.” Neither John or Humphrey were gay, so, obviously, if the men in the city are vulnerable to tushy s-e-x, then their imitation is corrupt, and, really, the duck’s city isn’t commendable since it’s filled with homosexuals, which, as with Timothy Geithner types, is nearly synonymous with average Americans.
Some of these men are force-fed pork and alcohol, which isn’t surprising, since, if they’re receptive to having things put in their tushies, then they’ll be amenable to having things put in their tummies, especially pork. According to Jonathan Safran Foer, meat in America is soaked in the animals’ caca, increasing the weight and therefore the price. So, to offset the caca, the meat has to be injected with all types of drugs. The grossness connotes the grossness of s-e-x, so it makes sense that these men are subject to both.
Near the end of the poem, the duck tells a sad story about how his daddy was stuffed inside a chicken and then stuffed inside a turkey, which engenders a new kind of species, the “Turducken.” In the duck’s world, it seems that someone is always trying to stick something into something else. It’s fleshy, bodily, and sexual, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a universe like that, and I feel for sorry for the duck for having to.