Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Little Killing Ditty: a poem by Christian Wiman

An honest poem we find, a portrait of a minor league serial killer who sings a song celebrating a fellowship of sports personalities preferring live and unsuspecting targets, a song that not so much helps ease a personal sense of guilt and remorse so much as it aids the gun holder to bypass compunction junction altogether.  There is in the tone a feeling of recollection in photographic recall, and yet none of the detail is characterized by regret; the narrator merely describes what had happened clinically, almost aesthetically. What is provided here is the poet as gun man studying target and terrain as if it were a landscape not to be lived in but merely converted into something approaching an aesthetic experience; the thing his eyes show him are not things in themselves but rather phenomena upon which he is to exercise his whims and will upon.

 In the guise of honesty the narrator admits that he will not feign regret, sadness, will not practice a false self-recrimination, but will rather honor the moment and the buffering code of the hunt that shields him from any sense of connection to the living things he killed in the pursuit of the hunt and its lethal consequence. 

This reads not so much as a warning to readers about the seduction of weapons and their purpose or even a portrait of a personality warped beyond redemption. It reads almost as a boast, a wallow in one's moral numbness toward the pointless kill.

I wouldn't disagree with that. In fact, the poem seems to be a recollection of formative experiences rather than a telling of what one's current hobby happens to be. The details have that feeling of someone describing details that are only just then revealed to the narrator as they rummage through their memories for parts of a their history. The telling, however, has a flat affect, with empathy being all but nonexistent; the sequence makes me think of someone with a blunted sensibility that assumes that things in the world are problems to be solved, goals to be attained. It is a bloodless equation where the birds represent nothing other than targets to be brought down with the right tool, the gun he holds.

 He will not betray this moment with false regret; he will not compromise the perfection of his achievement. In the in long backward glance we are supposed to imagine what the adult sensibility might be--bloodless, non pragmatic, rigid, cold, and detached. This may be the poem's one failure, the lack of an ironic turn to humanize the suffocating narrowness of this world view. It is hard to read something with a narrator who seems more than satisfied with such a joyless existence. But sympathy is not the poet's task here, I suppose. The main purpose is to make us uncomfortable. To that end, it is a smashing success.

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