Original poem reprinted online here: "Demonstrated Melancholy" by Nate Pritts
Originally read: May 30, 2013
More information about the Poet: Nate Pritts
So I just read Nate Pritts bio on Poetry Foundation, and, yes, this poem harkens back to the humor and play of Frank O' Hara, but this poem has something different about it. Not really like a sinister undertone per se, but this poem definitely straddles the line between actually saying something too serious and/or mocking the subject too hard.
With the first stanza, the speaker dictates a sense of command with, "I would like to request a volunteer. / Please raise your hand" and this is normal enough, but then there are requirements that don't necessarily contrast each other, but brings new perspective on the requirements. For example, "only if you are a lovely singer / in possession of your own voice." There's a physical requirement, but also the idea of possession and ownership comes into question; however, these ideas shouldn't be thought about too long because the next requirement comes in.
"Please raise your hand only if your hand / is actually a sunflower." The key word here is "actually" there's as though to state, "don't look into the metaphors, just enjoy the surreal and the language." But in doing so, my mind is like, "there must be something more there."
Yet the commands and the tone of the poem shifts quickly with the focus back to the "I," "I need help reconstructing these crayons / that broke in half after she told me / what I kept drawing wasn't right enough." So at this point there's something weird that happens -- there's a narrative which attempts to justify the requests, but then the narrative edges on being too serious, "I was trapped in a mythical past; I was imagining / an improbably future." and "I am going to put you in this box / & prove that I understand the finality / of separation."
The lines I quoted has emotion weight behind the logic with the diction of "trapped" and "separation" ; however, the tone reverts back to the "you" with, "You're going to need to bring some replacement parts / for the parts of you damaged in the performance." Past me stated that the return to this tone is "extended humor -- turn of the surreal onto the normal to the surreal line."
However, current me sees this as, well, as the title stated "demonstrated melancholy" -- not only is the tone different, but the situation, the style, the focus, changes without being too dramatic or point out "hey this is melancholy." What this poem does is tie in these elements so they seem connected, but not really. The poem can make a "strong point" if it goes in one direction, but doesn't. The questions for me isn't "why." The question for me is "how far can these threads separate and weave together before the construction falls apart?"
So back to the poem. The "you" and the "I" are established and working on a surreal performance, these four lines play with the humor, but also the seriousness the poem has brought up:
& when you disappear you will need to yell
indicating to the congregation
that you are disappearing. Can you yell
frantically? I may need to say "I am in love with you"
The diction of congregation has a religious quality to it which is somewhat dispensed with the idea of the "you" disappearing -- the actual trick, not the metaphor. However, there's the lines, "Can you yell / frantically? I may need to say 'I am in love with you'" has this weird surreal effect in which the speaker plays on the emotional weight. On one hand, the "you" is going through something probably horrible, but the "you" is the manifestation of the "I" which places weight with him probably needing to say, "I am in love with you."
But before these ideas could be expounded on the couplet undercuts the intent, "but trust me: it's only temporary. When I snap / my fingers, you'll wake up & forget all this." Past me was pretty angry when I got here, "cop out ending, but the focus is on the 'magic' aspect -- surreal, illusionary."
Current me though understands that the final lines are the ultimate act of melancholy -- the actual ultimate trick is that the meaning of the "you" shifts from the illusory to the self-reflective. In that when the speaker writes about "you" is referring to "I."
How did I come to this conclusion? The "you" disappears two lines before -- then what is left? The "I" and remnants of the "you" that needs to forgot; therefore, the greater impact is to the speaker on multiple levels.
The poem stops at the time before any recognition could be found which is a cop out in a sense, but the more "realistic" the more "actual" ending. Escape from the situation, is sometimes abrupt.