Showing posts with label Traci Brimhall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Traci Brimhall. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2013

Traci Brimhall's renegotiates the marriage contract

The poem ""If Marriage is a Duel at  10 Paces" by Traci Brimhall is  less a ritualized settling of grudges than it is a supremely phrased and acidly etched sequence of couplets lampooning the hackneyed metaphors that are applied to timeless institutions .In this instance absurd comparisons between marriage and something other. Brimhall seems to draw from a period of having to listen to platitude-dripping testaments from husbands, her own and likely the remarks of other nervous men, who needed reassurances about he stability of the contract with bromides and sage cliches that were a form of emotional blackmail. Brimhall takes up the game and posits her own thinking , mimicking the analogies and interrogating the logic; every statement contains it own contradiction and counter argument."

"If marriage is a war for independence, I’ll find a feather 
for my cap and shoot you from your horse. Darling. 
If it’s a hunt, salt and cure me. If it’s a plague for two, 
my dear, let’s quarantine ourselves in the cemetery wearing 
aprons and snakeskin belts. Let’s disfigure each other 
with praise. My beautiful. My fugitive..." 

There is a tangible anger at the entire "'til-death-us-part" solemnity of the wedding vow , which sets the poet up splendidly for an extended take down of the premise. There is , of course, the issue that this only one side of the story and what we lack is a the complexity that would make this poem even more dynamic; honestly, that does not bother so much if for reason that Brimhall gets the tone and the poking-finger earnestness of the stream right. The story that happens off stage, that is unmentioned during this narrator's confession of resentment, is palable, conspicuous by the lack of reference. Anger, frustration, bristling irritation has given the tongue , or at least the mind, an articulation it may well not had seen  before. 

The strength of this power, its power , in fact, is that the poet simulates the verbal dexterity a long brewing dissatisfaction can give you and which comes out in one especially articulate explosion of well-turned sarcasm. Reading this made me think of those times when I had entered someone's living room by invitation only to get the sense that there is a narrative under the subterfuge of polite chatter and mannered hospitality, that at any second the lid might blow off the pressure cooker. This poem is one of those moments when it finally does.

This is a caustic rant and it would be a fitting speech for a character in a yet to be written play ; the wife, fed up with years of her husband's laziness, stupidity, infidelity , financial irresponsible and an over reliance on the easiest phrase that comes to mind when justifying his onerous acts, responds at once with bazooka and blow torch. There is the neat, efficient trick of mocking with great exaggeration while revealing the harm cliches, evasions and lies cause, as in "let's disfigure ourselves with praise..." While the truth sets you free by liberating you from falsehoods that coerce you into making amazingly bad decisions, lies mar the landscape, destroy trust, create unhappiness for all those involves, makes it a requirement that one carry equal amounts of dread, self loathing and resentment under a cracking veneer of calm resignation. 

Brimhall's poem starts from the point where her narrator seems to have dropped the last dish to the floor, stands straight, hands on hips , and begins a thorough dismantling of each lie she participated in. This is a powerful poem, unusual, punchy and full of a crackling good wit. This is a warning to readers to not flatter their spouses with the foul essence of stale sentiment , promises and vague assurances that destiny will be great if you just stay the course. Talk long enough and you will create the verbal rope that will coil around your neck even as you speak the words, or someone speaks them back to you.t

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Brimhall's brimstone

"Through A Glass Darkly"  is a title suggeting a tour of dark, depressed places is upon you, and poet Traci Brimhall does an effective job of bringing on the bleakness.This poem is effectively hermetic, an evocation of a consciousness that is incapable of dealing with the external world. The world is treated as if were nothing but a continuing series of loud, violent sounds coming from the other side of a lock, if infirm door; there is nothing described here that is actually seen or observed, with Traci Brimhall's slippery similes giving evidence to a mind that cannot stop processing the sounds it hears, the odors it detects, the shadows it forces into murky configurations. We might say this brain cannot turn itself off, to cease speculating and reinterpretation the world beyond practicality and arrive at the common agreement we collectively and loosely refer to as "reality". As the world does not settle in and reveal itself, the paranoia rises. Brimhall does a quite a good job of making this seem as if the universe this person habit-ates is in continuing conspiracy, constructing a plot that is infinitely complex and geared to singularly sinister purpose.

The last time I visited, said you trapped a dead woman in your room

who told you to starve yourself to make room for God, I let them give your body enough electricity

to calm it. Don't be afraid. The future is not disguised sleep. It is a tango. It is a waterfall between

two countries, the river that tried to drown you.
............It is a city where men speak a language

you can fake if you must. It's the hands of children
............thieving your empty pockets. It's bicycles
with bells ringing through the streets at midnight.

You could say that Brimhall goes a simile too far to invoke this series of nightmare, similar to an old comedians adage not to do three jokes in a row on the same subject. Twice is placing a stressing emphasis on a conceit, an idea that might otherwise get lost, three times becomes a lecture; in this sense, the final analogy Brimhall deploys, the bicycle bells chiming through the streets at midnight, nearly derails the poem's half-awake surrealism. Beware the additional flourish, the needless decoration, the detail too many, especially if your writing prior to that moment was tight, concise, effective. Quite beyond the readership getting the point, one risks revealing a straining for effect.

Still, what the poet does here is admirable and there's much to be said for the decision to tell the patient's tale through the accounting of a witness who themselves can only relate the narrative scheme based on what they've seen, what they've heard, what they've been told by the patient. The narrator can only relate with the information that is at hand, the intimate details that have had time to play on the senses and resonate in larger pools of association; there is a sense of the narrator attempting to comprehend the interior life of the patient being visited, as if a key will appear if the imagination cleaves with the right set of references and provides a clarity that would other wise not be known. The tragedy of the poem, though, is that language itself , alone , cannot provide clarity, liberty, the full balance of self-actualized well being, as there are those things and issues, schizophrenia among them, that cannot be changed by linguistic wit. Metaphors only generate more metaphors, and the only thing that changes are the nature of the metaphors themselves.