Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hybridity in the Poem "I"

While I was looking through the texts we’ve been assigned over the past semester, I’ve struggled to find yet one poem that cannot be applied to Cole Swensen’s contemporary hybrid model. Especially when looking at modern and post-modern poetry. For example, in the poem “I” by David St. John, the persona of the narrator is constructed through use of specified and genuine diction, but also makes the memoire-like piece relatable and/or appealing to the general audience by allowing the audience to act as a confidante to this deeply sexual, and personal confession. The concept of Hybridization, as defined by Swensen which is to “mandate to renew the forms and expand the boundaries of poetry—thereby increasing the expressive potential of language itself—while also remaining committed to the emotional spectrum of lived experience,” can clearly be applied to this concrete yet simultaneously abstract moment; the text merely allows a place for the reader to interact.  While the first two-thirds of the poem are based on a superficial level, there is specificity and perceived truth to the various items mentioned: “Animal House,” “Dennis Hopper,” and “sushi at Hama” are all hyper-specific details that make the poem more believable, but I would argue that they are too specific to allow most readers with which to find connection. These somewhat mundane, meaningless opening lines, which consume most of the poem, still serve their purpose to act as a major contrast (or foil) for the ending,  “universal” lines of the poem.
All of the personal elements are implemented correctly, but (I think) what really makes this poem a confession is the sexual and passionate turn that the poem takes in the last third of the poem. The line ending with “But today…” act as a turning point from concrete to abstract. One of the most notable features of transcendence is the “body” vs. “shadow” complexity. This contrast helps to show that the narrator thinks of his body as a shell, and that intimacy is created through the interaction of the “naked” woman and himself.  This intimacy attracts the reader as not only a confidante, but may conjure up similar memories and feelings of the narrator.
I think one aspect of hybridity that Swensen fails to focus on is how the hybrid nature of a poem is constructed and does not make it specific where or if elements of concrete and abstract need to interact with one another. For example, in St. John’s piece, there is a clear disconnect between the elements of concrete specific nature, and the elements of universality. I would argue that a poem that weaves in elements of both (instead of having them remain in juxtaposition) is very different from the one that follows the pattern of the poem “I”.  I think that there should be a further distinction between poems of both types. 

1 comment:

  1. I also feel that a poem that weaves in elements of abstract and concrete is very different from one that keeps them separate. Furthermore, in David St. John’s poem, “I,” there is a distinction between the concrete and abstract phrases.
    However, I do not believe that all of the abstract and concrete elements are kept completely isolated in “I.” The use of the concrete helps create the abstract. Getting more specific, concrete words like, “mirror, trench coats, and belts,” are used in ways that form abstract ideas. “Like a shadow undressing before a mirror.” “Like a mirror with a shadow and a trench coat.” “We both undo the loose belts of our shadows.” All three of these statements are abstract, but use concrete words. It is only in the combining of these words that the phrases become abstract. Therefore, “I” only separates the concrete and abstract with respect to phrases. Concrete and abstract words remain intermingled.


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