Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Paternal Poem

Most of you will already know that our daughter Nora was born in perfect health on July 1 (Canada Day, as it happened), and you'll all appreciate that we've been utterly absorbed in her normal needs and our new responsibilities. The good thing about poetry, though, is that it usually happens quickly and intensely, sort of like a diaper change. I've been writing some fairly earnest stuff about how wonderful she is etc., as expected, but the last poem that she's inspired is more light-hearted, so I thought I'd post it here.


The Bubblegum Baby

Her cheeks are so full
of themselves, they blow
up to such succulent shapes,
so pink and palpably delicate,
packed with a truculent
sweetness that bursts
when her breath tears its shell,
that we must choose
not to chew her too hard;
meanwhile she gives us
such jowls for our kisses
that it’s deliciously possible
to forget there are any
bones in her at all,
though she gums her own fist
and finds there are limits
to malleability, even in girls.


I suppose there is a slightly sexist overtone in the last few lines, but I'm not sure it spoils anything, or that it's entirely unjustified. I've broken up the lines (which began as four-stress lines with many kinds of feet switching in and out) to disguise the regularity of the rhymes (slant though they are). I suppose it could work just as well to have the poem read as follows:

The Bubblegum Baby

Her cheeks are so full of themselves, they blow
up to such succulent shapes, so pink
and palpably delicate, packed with a truculent
sweetness that bursts when her breath tears its shell,
that we must choose not to chew her too hard;
meanwhile she gives us such jowls for our kisses
that it’s deliciously possible
to forget there are any bones in her at all,
though she gums her own fist and finds there are limits
to malleability, even in girls.


To me, the longer lines here seem unnecessarily ponderous; I prefer the first version, I think, but wonder what others might say.

Sorry for the lack of baby pictures; I'll try to rectify this soon with some help from the baby's co-author.

3 Comments:

Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

I prefer the first version as well. For some reason, the shorter lines are better suited to the whimsicality and jauntiness of the poem. The longer lines are more ponderous I suppose because they set up an expectation of a rhetorical flourish. But that never arrives. There's pretty much descriptive language which is tied up in the observations of the present moment.

The bone of contention I have is with how you abandon the extended metaphor of baby as bubblegum for a witnessing of the baby chewing itself (and therfore not really being bubble gum for her parents to devour). While normally I am in favor of twists to pursue some other discursive direction, this piece, as whimsical as it is and lacking in pretension as it is, seems to need to be of one piece. Why? I don't know. Call it an aesthetic hunch of mine.

So the last three lines throw me off (especially when there is potentially more to explore along the lines of baby=bubble gum). But are they sexist? Only so slightly that it forces me to rethink what the term may mean. That is, malleability does belong to the feminine regime more than the masculine one. I suppose somebody would take issue with that because it may discount the female presence within the particularly thorny system of male-female power relationships. However, it might just be true (as you point out). And it might even be a compliment; it might imbue the feminine with mystique, and therefore power.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I agree that a sexist overtone exists, but given the poem’s context of parental adoration, and its tendency toward hyperbole in acquainting us with the charms of “The Bubblegum Baby,” a.k.a. Nora, I don’t think the poem runs much risk of being labeled as sexist, whether or not it's justified. A more interesting line of exploration for me is found in the idea that she not only sees limits to her malleability, but that she already recognizes her femininity, but I don’t have nearly enough background in Freud to tackle that one.

I must confess that, with exception given to “succulent” and “truculent,” I probably wouldn’t have noticed the rhymes if you hadn’t mentioned them, so they are pretty well disguised.

As far as the form, I too like the flow of the shorter lines. However, I prefer the second version, and here’s why: the shorter lines of the first version allow the “so” and “such” intensifiers in the early lines to stand out too much for my taste, while in the longer lines of the second version they seem to go unnoticed. Donc, a mon avis, you should go with the longer lines unless you’re willing to prune back the intensifiers.

I’ll finish by saying that you’ve managed more excellent imagery, particularly in the lines that talk about her cheeks’ “truculent / sweetness that bursts / when her breath tears its shell.” Good stuff—and it ties the bubblegum theme to the reality of how quickly a baby’s sweetness can explode into wailing and gnashing of gums. It does, however, occur to me that those without a recent familiarity with the shell-tearing feature that comes standard in little girls might not realize just how good an image it really is.

I’ll look forward to your next posting, and I hope we’ll see you back at Friday Night Writes in September.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely, the 1st version is superior. The 2nd, insists on combining two thoughts in one line and doesn't work well.

Sexist lines are great when they work well, but in this case I think the credibility with the reader/audience is lost, because you are talking about finding her "limits to malleability..." And at her age, she is gender neutral. Therefore, you bring yourself in the poem and not her. It only works if that's what your intention is. To keep the poem true, I would eliminate that last line/change it.

6:46 PM  

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