On the Road to Misery

This is a serious poetry forum not a "love-in". Post here for more detailed, constructive criticism.
Post Reply
Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Mon Oct 01, 2018 8:37 pm

Someone has just said “I love you”, and, in my
best comic fake, I look over my shoulder
because, surprisingly, he has said it to me.
This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life,
the words that I believed would set me free.

I’m waiting for something. Since birth, it seems,
I’ve felt frozen in place with expectation.
Having been reared by hostile automatons,
I figured that love was my ignition key,
the missing element that would turn my dud
of a life into a bomb. But now that
I’m hearing the words, they don’t transform me.

He’s handsome enough; not the mental giant
I think I deserve; not physically endowed
as a man ought to be. He’s human enough,
someone that I could possibly mold, although
I’m not looking for a formless lump of clay.
I want such power in a man that he
propels me to the moon! Of course, a man
like that might choose someone else to propel,
someone like himself, not a moody artist
with skinny limbs and love handles needing hands.

And so I pause and think hard for the brief
moment that I have. I recall the porch
where I stood shivering after arguing
with my parents and escaping the dungeon
of their house. I remember fight after fight
with jealous siblings, all of them angry,
seemingly all of the time. I recall
my father beating me for some small reason,
but really because I didn’t reflect
his hyper-masculine self-image (this man
who avoided service in World War II).
I recall my brother, the one more daring,
more manly than me, shoving me about
while I slashed at him with my nails, like a girl.
I recall my horrid mother breaking my
new record into shards because I chose
to listen to it before doing my chores.
I recall her telling me, in a moment
she deemed honest, that plastic surgery
might give me a more forceful face. —
I remember every slight and every disgrace.

“I like you too, Paul”, I finally respond.
And, in so saying, the search for the Great
Transformative Man goes on. I go home
and put drops in my eyes that are always puffy.
I’d rather be alone with a dream than settle.

-end-

I wrote this poem from the perspective of myself as a young man. I think of it as a "psychological narrative".
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

ray miller
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 6169
Joined: Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:23 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by ray miller » Tue Oct 02, 2018 9:29 am

I'd prefer it without the 4th stanza. There's a lot squeezed in to that brief moment that you have and it serves mostly to diminish the argument and the effect of the 3rd stanza.
Why are love handles needing hands?
I'm out of faith and in my cups
I contemplate such bitter stuff.

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Thu Oct 04, 2018 2:39 am

Thank you for your comment, Ray.

This poem is a psychological drama. The fourth stanza gives the background that explains why the narrator is dysfunctional (i.e., why he is rejecting love) and is "on the road to misery". If I remove stanza four, then the poem has a lot less meaning.

Regarding the specific text you questioned in stanza 3:

... a man
like that (meaning a powerful man) might choose someone else to propel,
someone like himself, not a moody artist
with skinny limbs and love handles needing hands.
(meaning, would not choose a man with an imperfect body who is needy)

I think this poem will make some heterosexual men uncomfortable. Gays and people sympathetic to gays are the intended audience.

One of the reasons the narrator sounds like a namby-pamby is that all gay men of my generation were made to feel like they weren't real men. Also, as the poem explains, the narrator's father was violent. Since this poem is largely autobiographical (although there are fictional embellishments), I might as well say that my father and at least two of my male siblings treated me in a way that was emasculating, and I internalized that.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

David
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 13237
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2006 4:40 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by David » Thu Oct 04, 2018 7:38 pm

Perry wrote:
Thu Oct 04, 2018 2:39 am
I think this poem will make some heterosexual men uncomfortable. Gays and people sympathetic to gays are the intended audience.
Re sentence 1: I hope not, but I suppose it's quite possible.

Re sentence 2: are you sure you should be ghetto-ising yourself like that? Although you might reasonably argue that you've been forced into that ghetto - of perceptions - against your will anyway.

This is indeed self-expression, which is one of the great things about poetry. But is it poetry? People have gone mad discussing that question. I can just say that I enjoy reading what you write, without worrying about the P word. (That's Poetry, not Perry, Perry.)

If you enjoy writing it, or find relief, or succour, or anything else in writing it, and I - and others - enjoy reading it, does it matter what we call it? It is a dialogue, at least.

Cheers

David

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Thu Oct 04, 2018 9:09 pm

David, I don't understand your comment. What's lacking that keeps it from being poetry? And if it isn't poetry, what is it? A short story?

Are you saying that it is prosaic? And if so, why?
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

David
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 13237
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2006 4:40 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by David » Fri Oct 05, 2018 6:25 pm

Ah okay. Well, can I say it's prose poetry? (Please note: I'm not saying I don't like it.)

I see a few rhymes, but are they intentional or just coincidence? Is there an overriding metrical scheme? I can't spot one. And what has triggered the line breaks?

There is an awful damning comment sometimes about some poem or other being "chopped up prose". I don't really mind that, provided the prose is good. Here, I think it's good - or interesting, at least. I want to read on. . I just don't think it's very poetical, but that's not always a bad thing.

I think, if someone (e.g.me) enjoys a piece of your writing, you shouldn't get too stressed about how they, or you, want to classify that writing. Enjoy the enjoyment.

But this is just me. Other opinions may differ. Other opinions, anyone?

Cheers

David

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Fri Oct 05, 2018 7:47 pm

I'm sorry for reacting the way I did, but I went through this on another forum -- people telling me that my poems are not poems. Frost ended this argument 80 years ago when he published unrhymed poems like "Home Burial" and "Birches" which, when you stretch them out like prose, read exactly like prose.

My poem is definitely a poem by any objective standard. It is written in a rough form (most lines are ten to eleven syllables). It has line breaks. It has more rhythm than prose does. It has alliteration in places. The language is dense. Et cetera.

But you were saying more than that. You said, "If you enjoy writing it, or find relief, or succour, or anything else in writing it, and I -- and others -- enjoy reading it, does it matter what we call it?" The implication is that the subject isn't suitable for poetry. But personal, psychological issues, revealed by an incident in one's past, are a perfectly fine subject for poetry. In fact, Mirrorball's poem "an outside perspective", which is a psychological poem, is far less conventional than mine is. Nor does the fact that I write very clearly make my poem less poetic -- lots of poets (Frost again) write poems that are so clear that you only have to read them once to understand them. Most formalist poets write with that level of clarity.

Nor did I write this poem as a form of self-therapy, but to communicate my ideas to the public (if I ever find one).

As I've said in other threads, poetry is subject to trends. One current trend says that poems have to be enigmatic and obscure. Another trend (possibly the same one) says that ungrammatical language is more poetic than grammatical language. The thinking goes: If a poem is clear and grammatical, and isn't rhymed (the one feature that always identifies a poem), then it must be prose. But that's just a limited idea.

===============

I've decided I want to respond to this too: "Is there an overriding metrical scheme? I can't spot one. And what has triggered the line breaks?"

What about free verse? I wrote this poem in the rough "form" of 10-11 syllables per line, which makes it more "metrical" than free verse is -- yet you would never say that a poem isn't a poem just because it is written in free verse, would you? After all, free verse has been the established norm for the last century, and all those billions of published free-verse poems are all considered to be poems.

There is a double standard here which you don't seem to recognize. If a poem is written in free verse, then the issue of form is just ignored. But if a poem is written in a rough form, then the poem is compared to more perfectly metered poems, and the question arises as to whether it is a poem at all. I guess you don't see how ridiculous that is.

As for the line breaks, I tried to coordinate the ends of phrases and/or sentences with the ends of the lines as much as I could. However, even formalist poets write through line breaks. Here are some lines from "Birches":

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
after a rain. They click upon themselves
as the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
as the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

Out of six line-endings, Frost wrote through four of them. Furthermore, lines 2 and 4 have a caesura which is off-center (something that I do also). What Frost did that I don't do (at least in this poem) is he wrote with much more regular stresses. When writing ten-syllable lines, I tend to switch back and forth between five and four stresses per line, whereas Frost always has five.

So let's do this: Let's just call my poem free verse. If we call it free verse (which means that form isn't an issue), then you'll have no reason to claim it isn't a poem.

Sheesh.
Last edited by Perry on Thu Oct 11, 2018 7:58 am, edited 2 times in total.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

David
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 13237
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2006 4:40 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by David » Sat Oct 06, 2018 12:58 pm

Perry wrote:
Fri Oct 05, 2018 7:47 pm
The implication is that the subject isn't suitable for poetry.
No no no. That is not what I meant at all. I'm not sure how you got that reading from it.

However, I clearly touched a nerve, and I'm sorry about that. It was rather socially inept of me to start the whole "is it poetry or is it not?" debate over your poem.

So let's forget I did it. I won't mention it again.

Now, onwards and upwards.

Cheers

David

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Sat Oct 06, 2018 7:23 pm

Yes, I'd say you hit a nerve.

I've been posting too many poems, and people don't care for my poetry much anyway. I'm going to take a break.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

User avatar
Mirrorball
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 251
Joined: Thu Aug 09, 2018 6:45 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Mirrorball » Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:50 pm

Perry I hope you don't take a break. I find your poems quite enlightening and you spend a lot of time doing detailed crits on nearly all the poems recently posted. I think forums can be dull places without a few opinionated folks.

I view this poem in a similar way to your others, a hard life's experience shared and bought into some semblance of order to convey a moral or a lesson learned. I'm not going to get into the debate about what makes a poem. For some it's simply line breaks. I'm intrigued that you draw comparisons with my outside perspective poem. That poem was a reflection on external reactions to the chaos of severe mental illness whilst treating narrative detail as irrelevant. Mine was more psychiatry to psychology. Any form would be a distraction.

Your piece it more internal voice presented in a tidy and rational manner. It's engaging like your other poems with a recurring theme (interactions with lovers). I can relate even though I'm hetrosexual because my dad's family are macho.

I have a question about Great Transformative Man. Is that meant to be ironic? You didn't meet the expectations of your family but you expect other men to meet your high expectations. You want to mold them. It's interesting how mum and dad can fuck us up.

I'm probably missing something but can you have skinny limbs and live handles at the same time?

Thanks for sharing and I'm enjoying my subscription. Please keep 'em coming.

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Sun Oct 07, 2018 9:27 pm

[duplicate post]
Last edited by Perry on Wed Oct 31, 2018 10:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

Perry
Prolific Poster
Prolific Poster
Posts: 324
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:26 am

Re: On the Road to Misery

Post by Perry » Sun Oct 07, 2018 9:27 pm

Thank you, Mirrorball. I needed SOMEONE to say something positive about the poem. I consider it to be one of my best and most sophisticated efforts, dealing with deep psychological issues as it does. The lack of comments surprised me because I took such pains to write it with a logical thread throughout that even a person without these issues might understand it.

Thank you for appreciating my opinionated nature!

About the Great Transformative Man -- the narrator is looking for a perfect man to be his lover, though he himself doesn't offer that kind of perfection. He is looking for a man, a lover, who is so powerful that his life will be transformed. But the experiences of his childhood have left him unable to accept love, which is why he is rejecting Paul's love (the love of someone imperfect like himself). Paul doesn't represent the ideal he is looking for. (You'll note that in response to Paul's expression of "love", he answers with the word "like", a response which would send Paul packing.)

I thought the line about "a needy artist with love handles needing hands" would be self-evident. The narrator is describing himself as skinny (i.e., not powerful) but with a roll of fat around his middle (love handles). "Needing hands" is merely a play on the term "love handles", and it is a way of saying that he is needy. He is looking for someone who will love him despite his imperfections, though he can't offer such love in return.

So we have a narrator who has little to offer a powerful man, yet he won't settle for anything less. But all of that, in my opinion, is made clear in the poem. If people haven't grasped the entire meaning, it's probably because they don't share this psychological dynamic. Essentially, the narrator is looking for a man who is out of his league because his need for love and fulfillment is so intense that an ordinary guy can't fill the need (or, at least, he won't give an ordinary guy the chance to try).

By the way, the narrator is saying he doesn't want a man who needs to be molded.

Stanza four is the background that explains how he got to this psychological state, via the emasculating treatment of his family. His father, being a brute, left him with a need for father love that set him on a search for a substitute father, the "transformative man" he is now seeking. The brother and the mother compounded the humiliation.

The poem, of course, is largely autobiographal. When I was a young man, I was interested in only the hottest-looking guys, though my own looks were fairly ordinary. Now, as an ugly old man, I'm still focussing on those hot young guys (the rug man was just such a hot man). How pathetic is that? As a result of all this searching for perfection, I've spent my life mostly alone -- with "puffy eyes" from holding back the sorrow of being lonely.

(Please note that I'm not looking for sympathy, and don't want any -- I'm just being honest.)

I'll go ahead and post another poem. Thank you for being supportive.

==========

After writing this explanation of the poem, I had an insight. What I'm actually describing in this poem is a common dynamic among all kinds of people, heterosexuals included. A child is hurt by the people who should love him (or her) -- his parents and siblings -- and that results in an inability to relax and allow himself to be loved later in life. It would also put him in a position of looking for partners who are better than his family members were -- i.e., looking for a partner who is "perfect". But I have couched all this within the context of being gay, and only about 8% of the population is gay, so that may limit the poem's appeal. But that's what I am -- gay -- so that's what I have to write about.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

Post Reply