POSTMODERNIST POEM

writing the postmodernist poemObjective

To experiment with Postmodernist approaches: collages of unconnected fragments.

Introduction

On the starting a poem page, we jotted down the following, calling it a Postmodernist collage of two-dimensional snapshots:

The body is smoking and the bad teeth go everywhere.
Daddy wins you, Daddy loves you. Where is that man now?
He is digging up my garden, he is climbing up my tree.
Historically, the incidence of incest has been under-reported.

Child abuse is a difficult theme to handle without preachifying or stating the obvious, but let's see how Postmodernist techniques can evade some of the dangers. First we should note that Postmodernism has no one style: its better-known writers (e.g. Prynne, Ashbery, Bernstein) are each so different that the only requirement is interesting lines. So, writing as the thoughts come:

The body is smoking and the sharp teeth go everywhere.
When you've messed in your pants you have a forfeit
to pay, my young lady. Quietly, quietly. Oh, my God,
his words like hoodlums lurk all around the house.

Historically, the incidence of incest has been underreported
and it's digging up my garden, and is spying up my tree.
Just binding with briars my hopes and desires, my dear
Rachel, what have we been reading? What did I just say?

For her age she seems, if you will, a bit switched off.
Daddy wins you, Daddy loves you. And, Mrs. King,
another thing, a thing-a-ding, where does Rachel go?
I have been sent up to bed with a rub-a-dub man.

Won't you come to my party, Oh Miss Nose-In-Air.
Please say that you can do that, Miss Twinlock Legs.
Lack in nutrition or environment, both are neglect.
Daddy loves you, Daddy hates you; there's a little girl.

So you walk real delicate and never will sit down,
walk as though the prettiness were out, so, yes, of
course I changed partners as I changed my cotton briefs,
One for nappy, one for happy: No? they said, why's that?

Please tell the court what he told you. I was fragrant,
titillating and cool. Yes, and tell the court with your large eyes
and so pretty. That I was his princess, his little joy,
better than anything anyone has tried on since.

Now, Miss King, Miss King, Miss Ding-a-ling. Tell
in your own words if you would about your relationships
with men. I mean they're nasty, grasping, wanting only
what the boys took bets on and they always lost.

So we're talking deliberate, planned and premeditated?
I was just so happy: the angels sung there in the sky,
and he was, I mean, like gruesome, a sticky afterbirth,
slumped there on the table, with his chef hat on. Gross.

Bad teeth and bad heart that would thump and thump and thump.
I mean whatever Mom might say, who can live with that?
Poor little sister, she was such a goody goody.
She envied me, she did, she did, Daddy bring her back!

A schizoid personality is what I have, Miss King:
Reversed animus complex in a puer disposition,
shall I go on? They're lies, lies. Change your route
round the shopping block and you never will look back.

Buckle up Miss Other Girl. Put your tongue out at the raw,
harsh, spiteful things that folk have in their hearts.
And at peace, sister, give anything you can spare. More,
please: the Lord has his ministry, and marches into light.

So what's your angle on this broad, Miss King, Ding-a-ling?
I want her stitched up like a vengeance. Right: any reason?
She is digging in my garden, she is spying up my tree.
Well then, we'll be in touch, and what's her name again?

Who is the prettiest, then I asked her hubby Pitt. Sure,
you are the princess, my cherry, the star on the tree.
Say that again while I settle the bill, though you get drinks.
In motels and go-downs we did it we did it all over town.

Daddy, I am radiant, I am the social disaster
that has turned her life skyward as she did for you.

She has lost the house, him, and her smiling photo
we spit on, the two of us, three of us, yes we do.

 

Taking It Further

If we stick to the playful side of Postmodernism — though it's very black humour — we have to rearrange, compress and ensure that there's no 'closure', i.e. no settled meaning:

Version One

So if you've messed with that, pay your forfeit here,
young lady. Quietly, quietly. Oh, my God,
his words like hoodlums sit all around the house.

He is digging up my garden, and is spying up my tree.
Historically, the incidence of incest has been underreported
Binding with briars your hopes and desires, dearest, dearest.

For her age she seems, if you will, a bit switched off.
Lack in nutrition or environment, both are neglect.
I have been sent up to bed with a rub-a-dub man.

Won't you come to my party, Oh Miss Nose-In-Air.
Please say that you can do that, Miss Twinlock Legs.
Oh no, Daddy loves me, Daddy hates me: I'm a little girl.

So you walk real delicate and never will sit down,
of course I changed partners as I changed my cotton briefs,
One for nappy, one for happy: No? they said, why's that?

Yes, yes, I was his princess, his little joy. Please
tell the court with your large eyes and so pretty,
better than anything or anyone has tried on since.

I was just so happy: the angels sung there in the sky,
and she was, I mean, like gruesome, a sticky afterbirth,
slumped there on the table, with his chef hat on. Gross.

So we're talking deliberate, planned and premeditated?
A schizoid personality is what I'd call it, yes, your honour.
That's what all the boys tried, and they always lost.

Bad teeth and bad heart that would thump and thump and thump.
I mean whatever Mom might say, who can live with that?
Buckle up Miss Other Girl. Put your tongue out, take a test.

Who is the prettiest, then I asked her poor hubby Bard.
No, you are my princess, my cherry, the star on the tree.
Say that again as we do it in tandem all over town.

Daddy, I am radiant, I am the social disaster
that has turned her life skyward as she powered yours,
my animus complex, my puer: I'm still calling you.

Making this a serious poem — not a usual aim of Postmodernism — is more difficult, as all phrases have to pull their weight, whatever the direction — i.e. no lunacy, no simple fun, no off-colour jokes. An attempt:

Version Two

How should I dress up my pubescent body that was
smoking there quietly? Oh my God. Afterwards
I walked down the stairs like I messed my pants.

Historically, the incidence of incest has been under-
reported. So will Counsel now state its case?
He is digging up my garden, spying up my tree.

Did you come by rocket or buy a rub-a-dub man?
Shame is a condition whose sharpness is always felt.
And that's how it showed, you say: she was switched off?

Daddy loves, Daddy hugs you, gives his heart to you.
And she was like, I mean, gruesome, fat afterbirth,
slumped there on the table, with one shoe on.

He had a bad heart too: thump thump thump.
Told me change partners like I changed cotton briefs.
One for nappy, one for slappy: what a little girl!

Won't you come to my party, Oh Miss Nose-In-Air.
Please say that you can untwist them, Miss Twinlock Legs.
That's what the boys took bets on: they always lost.

Lack in nutrition or environment, both are neglect.
Please tell the court what he told you. I was fragrant,
lovely, better than anyone he had tried with since.

I think that will do, yes, if you will step down please.
But I was his princess, his cherry, his little joy.
A schizoid personality, your Honour, is the term we use.

No, no, that's lies! he was good with me.
I was his laughter, his waking, his lift in air
When the leaves on the trees turned their face away.

Do I have to say more, your Honour? The puer itself,
a reversed animus complex, complete projection.
You should have seen her, the poor goofy goof.

Please tell the court then, with eyes large and pretty,
when first you were intimate? But I never was.
No, it was her, the despised one, she hated me.

So we're talking premeditated, not a casual murder,
any of them, I would remind you, and twelve years later
In motels these two polluted the very name of trust.

The papers can be radiant, that social disaster
does her thing in the nightclubs but also falling
just as you wanted, to reach you: Daddy, please try.

 

Postmodernist?

Neither is a good poem by Postmodernist standards — too lyrical, too intelligible — but Version One can be made to match some features of Postmodernism, namely:

1. iconoclasm:

decanonizes cultural standards
          (Say that again as we do it in tandem all over town.)
denies authority to the author
          (One for nappy, one for happy: No? they said, why's that?)
contradicts the expected
          (his words like hoodlums sit all around the house.)
subverts its sources by parody, irony and pastiche
          (Binding with briars your hopes and desires, dearest, dearest.)
denounces ethnic, gender and cultural repression
          ( He is digging up my garden, and is spying up my tree.)
strips context, reducing content to an austere minimum
          ( Lack in nutrition or environment, both are neglect.)
broods on the human condition disclosed by radical literary theory
         ( Told me change partners like I changed briefs.)

2. groundless:

employs flat, media-like images that have no reference beyond themselves
           (you are my princess, my cherry, the star on the tree.)
champions the primary, unmediated but not sensuous
           (bad heart that would thump and thump and thump.)
regards both art and life as fictions, sometimes mixing the two in magic realism or multiple endings
           (Daddy loves me, Daddy hates me: I'm a little girl.)
argues that meaning is indeterminate, denying a final or preferred interpretation
           (my animus complex, my puer: I'm still calling you.)

3. formlessness:

repudiates modernism's preoccupation with harmony and organic form
          (For her age she seems, if you will, a bit switched off. )
narrows the aesthetic distance, art being something to enter into or act out rather than simply admire
          ( and it's digging up my garden, and is spying up my tree.)
fragments texts, turning them into collages or montages
          ( Historically, the incidence of incest has been underreported)
avoids the shaping power of metaphor and other literary tropes
          (That's what all the boys tried, and they always lost.)
mixes genres with pastiche, travesty and cliché
          (Buckle up Miss Other Girl. Put your tongue out, take a test. )
promotes the fluid and socially adaptable
          ( So you walk real delicate and never will sit down,)

4. populism:

employs material from a wide social spectrum
          (Won't you come to my party, Oh Miss Nose-In-Air.)
eschews elitist, literary language
          ( and she was, I mean, like gruesome, a sticky afterbirth, )
avoids the serious and responsible, promoting the arbitrary and playful
          ( tell the court with your large eyes and so pretty,)
accepts media images as the most accessible contemporary reality, making these the building blocks of art
          ( of course I changed partners as I changed my cotton briefs, )

But perhaps not very compellingly. I am not comfortable with Postmodernism, with its aims or writing styles, and would probably prefer a more Modernist rendering along these lines:

Version Three

Like when you've messed in your pants and have
to walk real delicate and not sit down, I thought
the prettiness was somehow still oozing out but
let me at least change partners as I changed my frocks.

Just to keep going, to stay fragrant and cool-
headed with men. I knew how they functioned.
could see it a mile off, and was always gracious.
No? they said, astonished, but I took no lip.

Little Miss Goldilocks of Sales and Accounts
Little Miss Nose-In-Air with the twinlock legs
Fashioned so completely, large eyes and pretty:
That the boys took bets on it, and always lost

Daddy, please keep me in your own good books.
Daddy please kiss me, and tell — Oh, such stories:
better than anything they have tried on since:
I am his cherry, his sweetheart, his fey princess.

Whatever it came to, I could live on that —
until the letter that ended, 'still your sister'.
I stared at the cuttings: the trial, the faces;
my innards came outward: it was technicolour.

The hot tears, the blubbering as Mom took my arm.
'Don't believe them, Princess: they're lies, lies.'
"Lucky it's not you," said Mom as we buckled up
to a change of surname in a different state.

Who could I do? It took a couple of grand
in detectives and searches to close her down.
But I had the routines, addresses, the Sunday drives:
That pathetic small life with that husband Brad.

Yes, he was much too good for that thin creature
I thought in motels, where I kept receipts.
Photographs, flowers: I was really pretty.
Little Miss Twinlock on each surge of pleasure

Sometimes we worked for it: he came up gasping.
Sometimes it was him, but still not bad.
He called me his sweetheart, at times his princess,
but you were the first, though, Daddy, always best.

Can you keep a secret, as I kept yours?
Brad and I married: you should have come.
She has lost the house, him, and her smiling photo
Is something we go at and spit on, night by night.

An unpleasant poem on an unpleasant subject, but readers who think the seriousness is minimized by the tone should read Plath and others.

 

 

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