Monday, September 9, 2013

Analysis of "Living in Numbers" by Claire Lee

Original poem reprinted online here: "Living in Numbers" by Claire Lee
Originally read: April 15, 2013
More information about the Poet: Claire Lee






Read the poem first.  Take it in.  Now this poem was published when Claire Lee was a (if I got my timing and information correct) a sophomore in high school and was the one of five winners for the National Student Poet's Program.

Does this matter to me?  I guess.  It's more of the content that matters.  I also want to tie in this article, "Gimmicks," by Ron Padgett into my analysis of this poem.

The poem is in a parallel structure and the list is a count of things like "friends," "scars," "funerals attended" -- events that should have significant emotional impact, yet are reduced to a statistical influx akin to the stock market.

Once understanding this, then what?  Is this poem a gimmick?  Yes, it is, but it's not only a gimmick.  I think I read this poem in conjunction with reading "Gimmicks."  Padgett demonstrates two ways of looking at gimmicks in poetry with one side:



"devices encourage kids to be thoughtless smart alecks, witty at the expense of substance, satisfied  with a glib surface but insensitive to depth of feeling. Such critics usually emphasize the importance of meaning."

devices encourage kids to be thoughtless smart alecks, witty at the expense of substance, satisfied with a glib surface but insensitive to depth of feeling. Such critics usually emphasize the importance of meaning. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16099#sthash.zBzNUm1T.dpuf

Or another way of looking at this argument is that technique comes to the forefront and, if done improperly, would appear to be,  "worn-out surrealist imitation"; however, the flip side to the argument is that a poem overly dependent on meaning, "narrow insistence on self-expression will produce baloney."  Well that's not a great argument, how about this?  A poem overly dependent on meaning lacks the appeal to be reread.  Once meaning (or technique) is found, what's the point of going back?

Before showing examples of how to use gimmicks, Padgett points out:

"Self-expression is therapeutic and flashy technique is entertaining, but neither is necessarily good writing. So don't let anyone hornswoggle you into thinking you should teach one to the exclusion or detriment of the other!"

I find that this poem holds both an entertainment value and  -- not necessarily therapeutic -- but the meaning shifts when read again and again.  Why?  Context.

The count I mentioned above can be seen as the implementation of social media tracking devices (how many friends a person has, how many pictures of a funeral attended, how many regrets) that show how many, but not the how.  For example, "Number of things I regret: 11" in the first stanza versus, "Number of things I regret: 13" in the last stanza.  Do I wonder what the added two regrets are?  Yes and no.  Yes that it'd be interesting to know, but no since the poem is set up as a gain/traction meter on a daily basis.

Also another way of looking at this poem is the mindset of the speaker who tracks down improvement statistically and daily.  It's the act of in-expression that creates a comedic tragic element to the poem which is compounded with the anonymous first person speaker. "I" this and "I" that, but who is "I"?  A statistical distance from emotion, or measurements using statistics to remember.

devices encourage kids to be thoughtless smart alecks, witty at the expense of substance, satisfied with a glib surface but insensitive to depth of feeling. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16099#sthash.zBzNUm1T.dpuf
devices encourage kids to be thoughtless smart alecks, witty at the expense of substance, satisfied with a glib surface but insensitive to depth of feeling. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16099#sthash.zBzNUm1T.dpuf

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