Monday, June 17, 2013

Analysis of "The Americans" by Elizabeth Hughey

Original poem reprinted online here: "The Americans" by Elizabeth Hughey
Originally read: February 28, 2013
More information about the Poet: Elizabeth Hughey




I think the stream of consciousness technique has it's positives and negatives.  On one hand there's the ability to think and see different connections with things that haven't been thought to connect.  I guess the pop culture equivalent would be the 6 degrees of Bacon, where any actor is connected to Kevin Bacon in one sense or another (I actually wrote that...well then).  The other side is that the connections can be looked at as superficial (see above) or so convoluted that the connections, although linked together, become overly forced and predictable conventions (talking about death of planet, then death of someone, those type of poems).

Now, with this poem, I feel the speaker is playing with this idea -- toying with the positives and negatives of stream-of-consciousness -- not only on the image level, but on the technique level.

Here the title sets up a definition "The" changes the circumstances of "Americans" set us up. There's a specific type of "Americans" that'll be defined here -- not that broad general "we are all Americans."   However, I can see why someone could focus on the "Americans" part -- it's a touchy subject -- and  highly political one too.

I the speaker will goes on with on the extremes with this definition.  But it doesn't start that way there's the connection between life/death and want

"The slippery way of arriving is in one's own departure." ---> "Americans want the door / back open"

So the first line in this sequence is a bit humorous.  I'm trying to think of other ways of reading the first line but I see more of the tactile way of entering the world "birth"  and   "departure" is kind of contextualized with "cold and gin," but I feel the image is so strong that it's just outlandish (one extreme).  Yet, there is a connection between the "Americans want the door / back open."  The line break changes the context to have multiple levels -- wanting to have the door (opportunity) back open (assured opportunity).  This line defines the type of Americans that the poem addresses -- the ones always seeking opportuninty.

"black-walnut New York" --> "girdle of gray seas / tapers the nation" --> "  We are cinched in and ready / to belt out a new anthem" --> "we have 20 ways to sing"

So the connection here is one of color that changes to sound.  The colors start off pretty serious and deep with the "black and gray."  Also the allusion to "New York" in a poem like this refers to 9/11.  Yes, I write this a lot (the allusion to 9/11) and I wonder if there will ever be a time that any contemporary poet can refer to "dark" and "New York" and not have the automatic assumption be 9/11. 

Anyway, the change in the stream is the sonic focus.  New anthem, and sing.  There's a forced change here to find a "new anthem" (not one of those 80's power ballads).  Basically there's a call out for a change.  But here's where I find the technique of the poem talking about the form of stream-of-conciousness:

"[...]Like, I could care. They all sound
 faintly like, I could care.  The way olive juice

may be mistaken for  I love you"

So, ultimately, stream-of-consciousness  (the technique) is based on misinterpretations that sway from the direct point.  And the point of stream-of-consciousness is the misinterpretations, not the point (or at least this is what I read from these lines here).  And look at the range of misinterpretations  "Like, I could care," and "I could care" -- where a single word adds tone.  "Olive juice" and "I love you" -- two different words with different meanings, but sounds similar.

Then there's the Olive juice train of thought being "dirty" "filthy" "salty' and "spilled" which I think is funny not because of the adjectives alone, but also the riff on the not stated "extra virgin" part. 

Oil to "flammable" to the world to the chandeliers dropping to the "generations ago"  which is a stream that I would fit together-- world, generations.  And I think the speaker is sincere here with the connection.

I think when the speaker tries to tie in too much of the previous lines, then the connections feel more like constructions -- where there has to be a reason whey this is connected to this, for example:

"hunched over our desks," --> "stooped over my own desk"
"a wooden planet"  --> "leaf push through black dirt" (overly symbolic)

I'm not sure if this is a riff on the established linking technique or if this is sincere.  I think the ambiguous nature of the sentimentality works against the poem in a way where the connections are overly obscured and the concepts come full front like the end is predictable in a sense.

"there is really no America.  I still can't stand up"

Where the speaker is bound to follow broad generalization because the track was set for generalizations leading to the personal which differs from the more of a observational stream-of-consciousness .  The strongest statement comes from the middle then tapers out in the end.

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