Monday, April 30, 2007

Mixed Messages

I was searching unsuccessfully for a Mexican soccer match on TV one recent Wednesday evening and I found I couldn't avoid seeing simultaneous gossip shows covering the so-called story about Alec Baldwin chewing out his daughter over the phone. The next story was also about some father/daughter relationship gone wrong, and so forth until I realized that there was a poem in there somewhere. So far so good.

To complicate matters, however, I'd also been meaning to write a poem entitled "Blood and Treasure" since that's suddenly the buzz-phrase for why the Iraq war is such a waste. I hadn't figured out what to say beyond that, though, so the poem hadn't progressed beyond its title. And although people will publish a poem with no title, they won't publish a title without a poem.

Anyhow, I sat down at the computer to compose the first poem, but got stuck once I'd tinkered with ways of describing not-so-smart Alec's situation. So I started in on "Blood and Treasure" instead, but didn't get any farther than "Expended in a wasted effort, by definition."

Enter the genius of the cut and paste tool in Microsoft Word. I decided to combine the little false starts to both poems, and suddenly there was a new thing: a commentary on politics as well as on our current obsession with fatherhood. The thing sprouted wings, though I'm not sure where it's flying. I did switch the opening sentence around a bit, to suit Alec's spoiled-brat version of paternalism.

Blood and Treasure/Father and Daughter

Wasted in an expensive effort,
by definition, Alec Baldwin
bullies his ten-year-old daughter’s
insolent answering machine.
Iraqi Freedom is too precious
to account for all families in crisis;
so Blackwater and Halliburton
investigate the parentage
of Anna Nicole Smith’s newsworthy offspring.
Jenna Bush writes a book on AIDS
because her father likes to make war
promiscuously. Tom Cruise invents
a missile, and then finds a woman
to convert to an acronym.
Lynn Cheney is forced to don
a burka at gunpoint; she smiles inanely.
Britney Spears plays Guantanamo Bay
where Johnny Cash winces paternally
and gives her some pills.
Lynndie England’s daddy wouldn’t
undress in front of her. Jessica Lynch
had to be rescued from the river
one fateful picnicking Saturday.
Donald Rumsfeld stalks his little girl’s
unwitting prospective boyfriend, who paints
a frog, absentmindedly, on a sidewalk
near her Arizona home.
Saddam Hussein fathered many children;
some of them are now presumably women.
Do they miss him? Does it even matter?
Blood and treasure, father and daughter:
they always seem to go together
like peace and war, or oil and water.
No love that hurts so stupidly
and innocently can last forever.

I'm not sure what to make of this strange experiment in grafting two poems together; I suppose it's possible to see post-Saddam Iraq as the USA's disobedient/recalcitrant/resentful/righteously indignant daughter...

My friend Victor Schnickelfritz would no doubt say that such a defamiliarizing strategy is long overdue in my work. In any event, now there's a poem where previously there were two little nubs of nothing. I'm not sure if or when I'll try this again, but it was worth an attempt.

Here's the url for an article co-written by Katrina Onstad (a friend of mind from my college days) on the topic of lousy celebrity fathers, just for fun.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read "The Miracle Shirker" for my poetry workshop and definitely enjoyed your work.

I hope you don't mind me responding to your work-in-progress - as I am at best an autodidact in matters of poetry (and plainly, sometimes I don't have the greatest instincts about where a poem ought to go).

In "Blood and Treasure/Father and Daughter" I noticed your enjambment ("her father likes to make war" and then you dropped "promiscuously" into the next line.").

It is a great experiment to marry two poems together because there is that potential for fresh perspective. But I'm not altogether convinced that you have one poem here. It seems like the the father/daughter context has more prominence than the blood/treasure aspect. The political and the personal should connect but there seems to be a lack of cohesion? I guess I was waiting for that uniting factor in your last lines.
I think for sure you've written better last lines.

What struck me most about the poem was that bit about Saddam Hussein's daughters - where you question "do they miss him, does it matter?" There is such veneration of father/ daughter relationships and it's importance in a girl's life. Few think twice about the fact that we've sentenced a man to die - someone else's father.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think you're right about the lack of strong closure in this poem...

As far as the whole thing goes, I suppose I was hoping to knit pop culture and the Iraq war together through the father/daughter theme, rather than achieve perfect balance between the two halves of the title. One theme had to cannibalize the other, basically.

One reason that I don't conduct more of these experiments is that they never really "work" in the satisfying way that more conventional poetic gestures can. They just happen, and you have to live with the results.

yours, Brad

4:12 AM  
Anonymous sophie said...

Hi Brad,
Its Sophie Lalonde here from ottawa-Glebe many moons ago..(the british addition to glebe.
I saw your clearly amazing poetry online here in New Brunswick and thoought I would drop you a line to say hello and how refreshing that you clearly are able to share with others your talented prose.
I used to write freelance for mags and have a book about life in France I will oneday end up self publishing no doubt, when my duties as a domestic engineer are less required.
All the best

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

Hi Sophie! Great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words... What mags did you write for? My wife is a freelancer as well, mainly in the food and travel business, and for west coast places like Sunset Magazine. She started freelancing a few years ago before we had Nora, and it really suits her. Sounds like you've started a family as well; have you been able to keep writing?

You should email me your mailing address; I'd be delighted to send you my book of poems, which came out in 2005. I'm also going to have a new book out later this year, if all goes well. I'm also going to start a book press this summer, so I might well be interested in having a look at that book of yours, if you are inclined to send me a copy. Please keep in touch, anyhow. How do you like New Brunswick?

yours, Brad

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