Original poem reprinted online here: "Tang" by Bruce Cohen
Originally read: June 26, 2013
More information about the Poet: Bruce Cohen
Puns, puns everywhere. The usage of the word "Tang" varies with each stanza; however, with each pun, there's always a reference to the speaker. And to make sure the poem isn't about the puns, the speaker mentions himself in the beginning of the poem.
"If I do not witness these leaves turning orange, who will? / I stir myself / I like to think." So these lines set the mood of the poem based upon rumination. Here the speaker is thinking of the multiple definitions of "Tang" (puns, puns everywhere).
of myself as a reincarnated Poet from the Tang Dynasty,
Dehydrated orange drink
Astronauts gulped orbiting the planet
That became a fun '60's staple.
So here the speaker describes "tang" as Tang dynasty poets, and the drink. If you can see, past me tried to put numbers next to the multiple definitions in order to find which relates to what. The third definition is based on sound, "The bitter tang of a car's squealing tires as it peals out".
After this line, there's an expectation of more play -- of more pun usage; however, as the first part set-up for -- it's not about the puns, it's about redefinition of the word, and, for the speaker, the self, "Any distinguishing characteristic that provides special individuality." This rhetoric plays more with the idea of redefinition in a more cynical way, which kind of foreshadows the rhetoric the speaker makes.
Isn't it a very personal moment when each of us
Recognizes we are failing,
That we're incomplete, outdated perhaps,
& need something new to make us valid.
This shift in tone -- a sort of self-help tone seems genuine to me. Why? The poem up to now appears to be a funny rumination to be taken lightly -- the techniques are proof of this -- the multiple puns, the title and the parts have a humorous undertone. Why do I take this stanza a little more seriously. It's the shift. It's too drastic, and I know there's a fine line between dramatic and parody -- but since this stanza refers to definition, I'm more inclined to go with the dramatic.
The next stanza, "Sobbing on the mudroom floor, / Praying hands through a broken screen door, / Begging the aftermath of someone to come back," It's sentimental -- an emotional turn that was ordained to come. Past me pointed that this stanza could refer to the "Tang Dynasty Poets" -- but the images seems more personal, but not necessarily based on the speaker's experience, more emotional in which the line, "The bitter tang of a car's squealing tires as it peels out" seems, to me, to fit more of.
The stanza focusing on distance refers to the tang the astronauts drink. It's not about discovery in this stanza, it's the realization that it is, "Impossible / To ever become / One hundred percent reconstituted."
Now remember this is all the thoughts of the speaker. But note how he links humorous play to serious philosophy as though trying to escape the paradigm of the signified and the signifier. Or rather, the speaker turns not inward, but expands to the facade outward -- the type of outward which fringes on pinpointing what is really wrong on a cursory glance, "I am not where I am right now, in this autumn"
Not reconstitution, but place -- a center, "My mind is not what i used to be either." which is then dismissed with the humor and play introduced in the beginning, "There is no more just-add water."
The last two lines though mix the play and the serious by configuring definitions, " None of us can prove our previous lives. / I mean pervious: I meant disprove:" The mind playing tricks. Here the speaker is trying to recant (not redefine) what he meant. Disprove our pervious lives. Past me stated this was a "redefining trinity." No...what this does is introduce the concept of backpedaling -- of wanting to go back and either forget what is said (I meant) or change the now (I mean) to this sort of concrete definition -- the center that's not really there.