Original poem reprinted online here: "Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Originally read: June 26, 2013
More information about the Poet: Aimee Nezhukumatathil
I envision this poem as an Italian sonnet. not because of the fourteen lines, but because in the octave there's definitely a question (played with) and there's definitely an answer (serious in taking into consideration the humor).
The title isn't the question though...even though it's in the form of a question. "Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?" Ah, this question and the cousins of this question, "Is that poem based on a real event?" or "how much do you put of yourself in your work?"
The question is how far can the personal question go in regards to literary work. The first lines represent straight-forward actions and scenes, "If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck / in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick, / the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse--" Note that these images are so specific that they edge on fictitious. Not that these actions and scenes can't happen in real life, but in a poem (and in writing in particular) -- the more specific, the more I question. Why this specific moment? In so much detail?
"Yes, every last page is true, every nuance, bit, and bite." But whom is it true for? The more involved the reader, the more the reader takes the actions and scenes and builds meaning or theme from them.
But the speaker recants, but implants a seed of redefinition, "Wait. I have made them up--all of them--/ and when I say I am married, it means I married / all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves." The key words are "past loves." Not so much the person, but the moment. The speaker is playing with the audience interpretation and takes it further. Past me stated, "mocking the question" and on one side the speaker, but on the other, the speaker, by writing and publishing the break-up is married (defined as a binding contract) to the moment -- recognized hand and hand down the street as "this break up" poem and "that break up" poem.
"Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many / slices of cake?" And her's the "question" in the octave. It's not what is stated, but the purpose. Here the speaker is taking control of the questioning, turning the question on its head. And instead of addressing the "truth" and "sincerity" as to define poetry -- the speaker is turning more towards the absurd to define the rest of the poem. Now the answer portion relies on this question.
The funny parts here are how obedient her husbands are, "one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot / on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps / in a fat chair." Note the lack of names here which adds an illusion of control, but also anonymity. Not who they are, but what each individual can do.
"and every single / one of them wonder what time I am coming home." This last part of the poem brings the control back to the speaker -- not the reader or the moments -- in a fun and humorous way. Also note the cheeky line break of "every single" in which the speaker leaves each one...wondering.