Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Analysis of "Ibex Have Evolved for Life at the Top" by Lisa Olstein

Original poem reprinted online here: Analysis of "Ibex Have Evolved for Life at the Top" by Lisa Olstein
Originally read: July 15, 2013
More information about the Poet: Lisa Olstein


So this is an Ibex:



Past me wrote an encompassing idea of the poem: "Transition to choices to simulate Darwinism."  Well, I don't know what past me meant.  But I do know that there's a scientific feel to the poem because of the cumulative deconstruction of definitions in the majority of the stanzas.

And even though the poem is a single stanza, there are three parts to this poem: 1) cumulative deconstruction of definition 2) the illusion of choice through the usage of "if", and 3) Choices laid out in the form of rhetorical questions.

Part 1: Cumulative Deconstruction of Definition

The title serves more as a tone setter.  The poem starts out with an interesting statement in which there's a more likely chance that the speaker will look at how the Ibex has evolved for life at the top.

So when the poem starts out with a cumulative definition with the opening lines of, "When we say specimen / we mean you" the tone is expected, but the speaker defining "you" and "specimen" at the same time isn't.

And with each definition, it's not the simple "word signifies this" rather the speaker implies certain aspects for each definition

     [...] By you
     we mean whatever
     collection of night sweats
     and shopping lists accumulates
     in the bed by dawn.

Theoretically, the "you" could be about the speaker since the actions are so specific, but general at the same time -- night sweats, and shopping lists.  This doesn't create meaning since there's no contexts -- it seems more like an appeal to make connections.

     [...] When
     we say dark we mean pitch,
     moonless, starless,
     don't even open your eyes.

This is a tricky definition.  The "dark" part refers back to  actions done in spite of the list above which is common. The dark presents more of a foreign sense.  With that sense the negatives pile on, "moonless, starless"  There's no nature there rather the focus is on "pitch" which has multiple meanings and definitions, but the automatic assumption is the phrase "pitch dark" (extremely dark) for me.  The other meanings like throwing a ball, or regarding voice doesn't fit that much, but it could work.

"When we say he has your eyes / we mean we see nothing / of you there."  The the connection here is with eyes and by the language -- it seems that there's a parent/child relationship going on here in the most visceral sense.  But after rereading this, it's not.  Rather the above "evolve" fits here.  Theoretically, the parent shouldn't have the child's eyes "we mean we see nothing of you there" -- individual based on evolution.  But that tone still lingers which brings us to part 2.

Part 2: The Illusion of Choice through the Usage of "if"

There's only two if questions here:

     [...] If you want
     someone to come for you,
     you'll have to cry harder than that.
     If you want to be prepared,
     practice: blizzard, fire, famine.

So I wrote this is the illusion of choice because of the "if."  "If" implies that the you wants something.  And with these limited choices, again, the "you" looks more like a reference to the self or a concept rather than the audience.

Regardless, the first if puts the "you" in the position of defeat.  To have someone come for you, you have to cry harder.  Note, not louder.  Rather the cue is more visual and sonic.   So there's multiple layers of defeat here.  And also note, the someone is not a savior; rather someone who will come -- the poem seems more like an observation in the scientific sense with a tone that plays on cruel on one hand, to knowledgeable with the other.

The list of disasters the "you" has to prepare for adds back to the quality of evolution.  How can one "practice" blizzard, fire, famine?  These tactics are never explored.  This is the illusion of choice.  The choices are presented -- cry harder, practice to prepare -- but these are dire situations.  There is no practice, there is no someone.

Part 3: Choices Laid out in the Form of Rhetorical Questions.

It's not a losing gambit if the "you" loses everything.  The "or" conjunction feels cynical here with, "Your shoes or your coat? / Your cat or your dog?"  since the subject matter is pretty surface compared to the dire situations stated above.

But the last line, "Sister, daughter, mother, wife?" shows the loss here.  To evolve, in a sense, these definitions become static when the other definitions are dynamic -- changing, becomes more.  The "woman" definition here seems like the loss comes not from evolution, but the inability to change and go forth with them.

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