Monday, December 16, 2013

Analysis of "Pittsburgh" by James Allen Hall

Original poem reprinted online here: "Pittsburgh" by James Allen Hall
Originally read: June 18, 2013
More information about the Poet: James Allen Hall






A singular stanza, I find that the power of this poem is how the speaker is trying to vent out a certain kind of hatred, but keeps in another kind of hatred.  I ask myself if the angry tone ever gets over the top, and, yeah it does.  However, the fluctuation of the level of anger and the naming of landmarks bring dimension to the speaker as a character.

"I burn your Highland Park. I acid your Carnegie / car dealerships.  Your Squirrel Hill, sheer terror / in winter.  But most of all, I hate your Liberty Avenue,"    Short declarative sentences with these verbs "burn" "acid" "hate."  Simple visceral statement, but note that this is in the present tense as though the speaker is either seeing the landmarks now or is thinking about it.  Also note this is a good example of  "in media reas."  As a reader, we're in the middle of this anger, but don't know why or if the reasons are even there.

The poem goes into a narrative after describing the hatred of Liberty Avenue "the last place, one night, I saw my closest friend / saying, Wait here, outside after the after-hours club."    The personal here is not described in as much detail.  Nor does these lines indicate a reason why the speaker is angry at these places.  However, there is an implication that the wait further drives the anger when the speaker continues to list his hate, hating your Strip, half your Shadyside, all of Bloomfield."

And at this point, the anger seems unwarranted and treads the line of going too much.  I think for me, the first reading I thought this would be the place where I'd go to the next one, but then this line, which refers to the personal brought me back, "the bluffs and flats where my friends trades himself"  very specific action, but not specific places.  It's as if the surrounding area adds the detail of the situation, or should, but doesn't rather -- the quiet nameless actions define the places -- seedy, vile, warranting a certain type of hatred according to the speaker.

"I wait hours, then trace your Mexican War / Streets looking for his car, so I could declare a truce / in the battle he was fighting against himself."  I think this line sums up the style of the poem up to this point -- the personal once again is used to drive the poem and the specific becomes more and more a backdrop.  Yes, these places matter and are important; furthermore, the speaker doesn't change the meaning of these places, but starts, slowly, to show his hatred for the place, but not the person.

The poem continues this style and the lines that stick out for me now are the personal when, in the beginning, the landmarks, places and speakers anger intrigued me, "In the morning he's home. / He cannot tell me where it hurts. I help him shower / off the Duquesne residue."   The places have transformed as adjectives rather than nouns.  They describe the other now, the relationship, and the speaker. 

The final mention of place is of "Pittsburgh" itself (this'll be a long quote):

     [...] Pittsburgh, you're all grit and gristle turning crystal
     track marks, turning a man meth mouth.  I feed him,
     put him to bed.  I'll keep watch tonight in a cable car
     ascending Mt. Washington, your smokestacks
     blowing clouds over the confluence until all you are,
     Pittsburgh, is a sleepless shimmer I will watch
     diminish down to the savaged seed of morning
     as impossible to watch as you are to name.

Why the long quote here?  Up to this point the varying levels of tone -- the anger of place, made the speaker feel one dimensional.  Then when place and narrative combined -- the focus was on the shift of place and other and relationship.  Here is the definition.

Here the definition is not only of the place, but also of the speaker who seems calm in his description.  As a reader, I can sense the calm after reading thins line, "turning a man meth mouth" the alliteration (which also is frequent in this section of the poem) is not the "funny alliteration" rather the alliteration to punctuate the moment, as though to remember to specifics.

Specifics like, "cable car /ascending Mt. Washington"  note the upward momentum in which the speaker goes above the clouds to see the whole place -- the bigger picture in a sense as the specifics don't define the speaker.  "Pittsburgh, is a sleepless shimmer I will watch" also note that the speaker used "watch" in the previous line "I'll keep watch tonight in a cable car." 

The speaker has to be calm and observant for the other.  The parallel watching of Pittsburgh and the friend now blends together -- Pittsburgh is the other.

"I will watch / diminish down to the savaged seed of morning / as impossible to watch as you are to name."  The last line should refer to Pittsburgh, but with the shift of place and person -- the line, now, has a stronger impact when thought of the other -- nameless while speaker watches "diminish down."

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