Sunday, November 17, 2013

Analysis of "Metamorphosis" by James Richardson

Original poem reprinted online here: "Metamorphosis" by James Richardson
Originally read: May 28, 2013
More information about the Poet: James Richardson


There's a little blurb on the poets.org site where Richardson explains, "'In Ovid, desire can change anyone into...anything. In the supermarket, it happened just the way the poem says: I’m afraid I met her eyes an instant too long. (When I glimpsed the same woman a few weeks later she didn’t look like my mother at all.)'"

And I'm glad I read this, and in some ways I'm not so glad.  I want to refer to this article here, "Based on a True Story. Or Not" by Kathleen Rooney where I found this quote relevant to this poem in particular, "In short, if we are angered, confused, or disappointed upon discovering that a poem we took as autobiographical is not, then whose liability is that? If we feel as though we’ve somehow been cheated, is that on us? I’d argue that it probably is"

So the article mostly talks about how the reader interprets the author's work as autobiographical, and how the reader sees the work written in first person.

However, I felt the reverse with this poem.  I was more disappointed that this was autobiographical than not.

The situation is so mundane, but the thoughts are so complex in the poem that giving it a personal attribute detracts from the expansion of the metaphors -- or rather, each image means something on a personal level when I saw the poem as a comment on loss.

In the first line the speaker addresses the mom in a straight forward manner, "The week after you died, Mom," but then next couple of lines go a surreal by forcing the "mom" character into existence:

     you were in my checkout line,
     little old lady who met my stare
     with the fear, the yearning
     of a mortal chosen by a god,

Some notes about these lines, note that the introduction of the "I" speaker has him in a "checkout" line -- the diction foreshadows his further escape from reality when he describes the "mom" figure as an old lady, a mortal chosen by god."  The "chosen by god" line holds duplicitous intent with being "the one" of importance and in death.

The last three lines tells me more about the speaker instead of the "mom" figure:

     feeling herself change
     painfully cell by cell
     into a shadow, a laurel, you, a constellation.

The surreal is happening within the mind of the speaker as the reference to "painfully cell by cell" brings a sense that the death of the mother happened through something cancerous, but here the cells are changing into something different, beautiful, too quickly.  The shadow could correspond to the Jungian shadow, but also to the beginning of the transformation positive or negative.  The laurel could be reference to plaudits or a funeral.  You is so direct, but who is the "you" referring to -- the mom, the old lady, or the audience.

Constellation is the most concrete image here -- something beyond and expansive, and far away from the original image.

Lastly I do want to write this which I didn't write earlier -- because the poet admitted the autobiographical nature of the poem, I am disappointment on how I read the images, but that doesn't mean that this poem is powerful regardless of autobiography.  I am mostly disappointed in myself.  What's new?
 desire can change anyone into...anything. In the supermarket, it happened just the way the poem says: I’m afraid I met her eyes an instant too long. (When I glimpsed the same woman a few weeks later she didn’t look like my mother at all.)"
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23554#sthash.2jJhuVlm.dpuf

"In Ovid, desire can change anyone into...anything. In the supermarket, it happened just the way the poem says: I’m afraid I met her eyes an instant too long. (When I glimpsed the same woman a few weeks later she didn’t look like my mother at all.)"
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23554#sthash.2jJhuVlm.dpuf

"In Ovid, desire can change anyone into...anything. In the supermarket, it happened just the way the poem says: I’m afraid I met her eyes an instant too long. (When I glimpsed the same woman a few weeks later she didn’t look like my mother at all.)"
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23554#sthash.2jJhuVlm.dpuf

"In Ovid, desire can change anyone into...anything. In the supermarket, it happened just the way the poem says: I’m afraid I met her eyes an instant too long. (When I glimpsed the same woman a few weeks later she didn’t look like my mother at all.)"
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23554#sthash.2jJhuVlm.dpuf

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