Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Analysis of "???" by John Surowiecki

Poem found here:  "???" by John Surowiecki


The title gives away the base conceit of the poem:  ??? or something is missing.  It's not a mystery in the first stanza, the question more is "why are such things forgotten."  The poem starts out with the multiple ways of saying mussel bear ranging from the scientific to the nick name, "its byssus, its sea silk or sea flax," and then what the actual things do in multiple ways, "penetrating, securing."

But the key idea is in the line after that, "It clings like what's her / name, a poetic name, but I can't recall it now."  Regardless of what's going on in the poem, the forgetting of a name -- specifically calling out the forgetting of the name, comes to the forefront to me.  Especially since the poem is titled "???."  Why?  if this poem was called something like "Mussels at the beach" then all sense of urgency is gone with thte poem.  The reader wouldn't be looking for what is named, but would look at the situation.  Again, the situations in this poem seem to lose gravity, another meaning, without the conceit.

For example stanza two:

           She'd scrub them
     with a brush, remove the beards, feed them cornmeal
     or something, discard the crap they produced.
     I think her name was watery: a naiad's maybe.

There's a poetic sense to these lines in the beginning with her making the meal -- a sense of alliteration with the "s" and the "b", the specific naming movement of the poem which is then taken away tonally with, "or something."  There seems to be a resistance to making this poetic, and furthermore, there's a resistance to making this personal, "I think her name was watery: a naiad's maybe."

I stated before that the conceit of this poem makes the poem -- the questioning of what's at stake, but there seems to be nothing at stake poetically or personally. "She added EVOO / and white wine and garlic and Herbes de provence,"  Note how specific these lines are, like the beginning of the previous stanzas, and how it goes further, "The mussels that didn't open were bad (meaning dead).  We chose linguine (little tongue) it was our little joke."  So the "little joke" seems to be personal, but isn't attached.

"We were complete slobs" -- in the final stanza the speaker somewhat arrives, "Her bed smelled like a harbor when we were done with it."  and then the memory of sex appears -- but it's not the act but rather the sense.

What's at stake happens in the last two lines, "And I must have called out her name a dozen times. / It flew off my tongue.  It seemed written in the stars."  This poem is not personal in the sense of attachment or emotion, rather personal in how it's composed -- a sense of meta-poetics.  The speaker reconstructs this scene "like a slob" through tonal miscues and breaks in flow, but the name, her name, or rather the lack of knowing her name is the thread in these poems creating an irony with "It seemed written in the stars."  Note that "it" refers to the name.

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