Monday, June 24, 2013

Analysis of "Surface Tension" by Chelsea Rathburn

Original poem reprinted online here: "Surface Tension" by Chelsea Rathburn
Originally read: March 8, 2013
More information about the Poet:  Chelsea Rathburn




The poem is in quatrains and there is no particular rhyme scheme.  There are moments of sound in this poem that has a lingering effect, "close" and "lows" in stanza two; however, there's also some repetition that doesn't fit for me, "pleasure."  And this is what I think the goal of the poem is in a sense, that there's some sonic good times that pushes the theme of awkwardness, but there's awkwardness in the repetition which comments on how the theme is utilized.  Awkward.

Any the set-up the poem is a 1st person collective we narrative and this is why I find the form interesting.  With quatrains, there's always a sense of togetherness, balance in a sense -- with the awkwardness there's also the comfort (familiarity? complacency?).  So I feel the quatrains strengthens and foreshadows the tension between both ideas.

And then the narrative starts.  The setting is at a park, and, somewhat predictably, the couple (introduction of "us") decide to delineate from the path.  Then in stanza 2, there is a slight sense of hyperbole with, "less a pond than a low, / wide fountain, and the boats / elaborate miniatures" I only note a slight sense because the change of the pond to a fountain -- but here's the awkward part.  The focus in this stanza is constructions -- fountain, and miniatures in a natural setting.

I'm making something out of a small detail (ha), but then again there's that at odds feeling in stanza 3, "girls in ruffles and boys / with serious faces."  Sure the description focuses on the physical (material and bodily), and the descriptions aren't necessarily at odds with each other -- just the descriptions don't fit right -- as thought they supposed to fit, but not really.

Then the ubi sunt in stanza 4 "How often, how needlessly, / we complicate pleasure / with the pursuit of pleasure," There's the attempt to drag the reader into the grand metaphors of "pleasure" so much so that the concept is repeated twice.  And here i feel the line is forced -- the most artificial. And in a poem like this, I think the exposing of the artifice exposes more of the couple than technique actually.  Note how the speaker brings the other with "we" -- and, true, the "we" could refer to all mankind, but there's something deeply personal with the repetition of pleasure -- also the lead up to this point in the poem has ideas, images, and metaphor that discuss the idea of a couple (note the items listed above, okay recap) -- most obvious being boys against girls, but more subtle nature versus artifice, path versus deviation.

Tben this idea drops and we're back at the boat races which means the question is a) going to be dropped all together or b) the answer is found through even more metaphor.  It's going to be b.

There's an awkward construction in the fourth stanza, "We clamber on / the banks with the children / we are not"  This is the second most artificial line in the the poem since the emphasis in the line break, "we are not" forces the reader to think about the multiple meanings of "we are not" (a couple, children and the implications).
 
Talking about parenthetical, the last stanza points out something as well -- they both enter the boat race and, "(although we know / there's nothing really to lose)"  There's a sense of cynicism with this line -- or maybe I'm placing too much in it.  Yes, in a game there's little to lose -- but the couple that only has one voice loses the other. 

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