Aug 15, 2012

Franz Wright, "To Myself": Nitty-Gritty Love

Wood Stork Love? Guana River Preserve, FL, 2010

My thanks to Caitlin Kimball for introducing me to this poem by Franz Wright (son of poet James Wright, by the way, for those who think they have a tough parent act to follow).

To Myself by Franz Wright : The Poetry Foundation

At the Poetry Foundation website, Ms. Kimball includes “To Myself” in a mostly humorous piece titled
Ten Poems to Read When You Get Stuffed in a Locker by Caitlin Kimball.  I recommend it.

About Franz Wright’s last line she says, “Every time I read this last line, I snort and question its good taste. Then my eyes well up.”  I think I know just what she means, though, as a male, maybe I’m not supposed to. 
Rural South Carolina. He Hopes the Bus Stop Is Near

Field, Michigan's Thumb, August 2011

For those who don't know Michigan geography, natives say the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten, and the southeastern portion of the state is The Thumb.

A Lot of "I"--Overlooking the Field, Michigan Thumb, August 2011

I’m eager to hear your responses. Is the poem a romantic rapture, full of modernized conceits? Or is it simply grandiose, delusional foolishness for a speaker (and an author?) to say he is the fields, and he is the little lights and the rain and the loneliness and—why not?—he is the universe itself?  Is it both romantic and ridiculous? Is that OK? Do we still believe that being romantic is being ridiculous, and anything less is coldly pragmatic?  Do we all long for a mate who wants to catch our cold, share out germs, or hold us while we vomit?  Don't ignore Wright's title.

To Myself by Franz Wright : The Poetry Foundation


WAS said...

Thanks, Banjo, for plucking these ghost strings of poems (and the poetic pictures). To me this is one of those "vision at the bottom" recovery poems, nicely capturing the dissociation as the higher self almost disembodied looks on with utter compassion and without judgment on the fallen wreck of flesh. Yes, this is a heart-centered, female tug, but it is a compassion stripped of pity or pathos. He didn't fall too far from the tree in that, but he as always mixes humor and horror with that special grace, in this case the lofty Whitman/Bly omniscience turning into a highly specific mother's voice, but a mother hard to imagine in the throes of vagabond addiction.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, hard to follow behind W.A.S.' comments. Lovely!

Banjo, do you want our comments on the Wright poem or on the 10 Poems to Read when you get Stuffed in a Locker? (What a great title for such a piece!).

I like Wright's poem. Great imagery... Have you ever been on a bus (or a plane), alone (even if others are around) and have you reached out to talk with wonder around you?
So alone that you need the comfort of "the universe that loves you specifically" (forget tagging the 'maybe' on the end!). Some might call it the universe, some might call it God. But with this universe, you can chat; you can verse your fears, your doubts, your pain, your love.
Or is it a female thingy? You asked that, not me, heehee.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Humor and horror, indeed, in this one (to echo Bill), and loneliness (to echo Brenda).

This poem makes me so sad, but I suppose it should also be comforting....the self can be comforted by the self. But there is that loneliness under it all...we do tell ourselves these things ("it won't always be like this,"), and the thing is, we just don't know that it is the truth, although we assume it must be.

The faux-jauntiness of the last line definitely leaves us with a strange tone, kind of a "buck up, pal, we are in this together," kind of line, but we know the speaker is alone.

This poem is the opposite of that Billy Collins "Litany" poem, isn't it?

Banjo52 said...

WAS, welcome and many thanks. So much to chew on in this one. I hear at least the three voices you mention--tje omniscient I, the lonely rider, and the maternal or otherwise sympathetic, charitable, affectionate voice at the end. I can't help wondering if there's a fourth presence--not voice, I guess--and that's the lonely rider as a female with whom he empathizes completely, she's so much like him, or vice versa. I know that goest against the poem's title. Also, there's no need to get that literal and concrete, but in my first, quick reading, that bus rider was a young woman, and I can't shake the image. Is it sexist to say that making his rider-self a female increases the rider-self's vulnerability? I don't think it's sexist.

BA, either is fine. There's plenty to say about both. I'm glad you like 'em--I sure did. I've never taken a bus ride alone, but that lone rider is such a trope in films and lit that I feel as if I have--and as if I've felt that alone a few times, but who knows.

HS, love your second paragraph. This is my first encounter with this poem, and it's packing a wallop, for precisely the reasons you lay out, plus Brenda's questions about bus rides. I also love your label, faux-jauntiness, though it might imply more lightness, vitality, vigor, than I was hearing in the line. But you're certainly right that it wants to be a "buck up" line, just what a mother might say as WS points out--and maybe that makes it even more of a knife.

I'll check on the Billy C. when I'm wider awake. Feel free to nag me.

And again, congrats on your book! I hope Banjo readers will be interested come October. Keep us informed, please.

Jean Spitzer said...

Sounds like he has experienced a lot of pain.

Birdman said...

Funny! Traveling very late at night, scanning the horizon at the few lights still twinkling, I wonder just how those lives are proceeding. Hard times? Fun times? Wealth? Loss? Just getting up? Struggling to find a way to sleep? I even ask myself. Why don't I know these voices?
Maybe they are making a balogna sandwich!
And ya, I've held a puking kid and even my wife once. It ain't fun! hahahaha

RuneE said...

Again - my compliments regarding the photos! I visited "The Thumb" twice in the 90's, but it was March both times and looked nothing like this :-)

Regarding the poem I seem to have a problem - I find it partly religious, partly egoistic and partly romantic in an odd sort of way. And problematic to boot.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, sure does. I've read or inferred a bit of the story here and there, but none of it has stuck. My spaghetti doesn't stick to the wall.

Birdman, I guess we all think those questions as we ride by landscapes with people, but I always feel as if I'm the only one who's asking.

And by the way, what is it about vomit in the last decade or so? Seems we have to get to and through the vomit scene at least once in every movie or TV show. I suppose it's simply the question of how far directors can push the envelope. Shock value. I wonder how many snuff scenes there'd be if they were legal. All that vomiting bothers my popcorn.

RuneE, thanks. I wonder if this is interesting--I stumbled onto the photo of the birds on a wire and wanted to post it. So I went to Poetry Foundation and "googled" "birds on a wire." Franz Wright's poem and Ms. Kimball's piece were among the things that came up. I swear (again), that Frost line, "how way leads on to way" is one of the biggest things he ever said.

Rune, I hope you'll pursue your point on religion. I think I see what you're aiming at, but I'm not sure. If the "I" can be the universe, etc., AND be quite empathic, if only toward himself, in an odd turn of the brotherhood of man idea, I hear the potential for a theological interpretation. Certainly the ego, romanticism, and problems are there.

Yeah, the Thumb in March wouldn't be such a pastoral delight, but if you had rare winter sun and no snow, you might have enjoyed the open roads, peaceful scenes, lazy-looking towns, etc. To my eye, the Thumb just hollers agriculture more than the rest of rural Michigan. I think you once said you had a friend in western or central Michigan?

-K- said...

Not too sure about "I am the rain" nor "the catastrophic dawn."

Both seem to go against the Hopper-esque scene of one man with one light on a transcontinental bus.

Also, specifying "nicotine" is a problem for me. I want this to be about something more than trying to stop smoking, which I think it is but its just a little ditracting.

But I like both things are set up in the beginning and I really like the end - "I will buy you a sandwich."

All of a sudden I'm thinking about "Fat City" directed by John Houston. And Raymond Carver.

Banjo52 said...

K, hello. I'm OK with the rain, but I feel some of your unease with "catastrophic" and nicotine.

I feel a little dumb (I'll get over it) for not thinking of Hopper or Raymond Carver with this poem. Thanks for helping me see it. It sure is there.

And F. Wright's last line is fast becoming one of my favorites of all time.

Don't know Fat City--I'll look into it.

Others, if you haven't checked out K's professional photography of the grittier, very human aspects of L.A., you owe it to yourselves.

RuneE said...

Me again regarding the "religious" aspect of in my comment:

I got an association to a famous Norwegian singer and songwriter - and priest - called Bjørn Eidsvåg. One of his most famous songs is called "Eg ser" ("I see") and is based on the story of a patient he met while working at a mental hospital. Here he is performing it on Youtube

I found an English translation of the text - for what its worth, but you get the gist:
I can see that you're tired
But I can't walk
All the steps for you
You got to do the walk yourself
But I will walk with you
I will walk with you
I see you're in pain
But I can't cry
All the tears for you
You must cry them yourself
But I will cry with you
I will cry with you
I see you will give up
But I can't live
Your life for you
You must live it yourself
But I will live with you
I will live with you
I see that you're scared
But I can't die for you
You've got to taste it yourself
But I make death to life, for you
I make death to life for you
I make death to life for you

WAS said...

RuneE -

Thank you for the beautiful song link (and the lyrics in English, easy to follow). By comparison, it makes your comments on Wright's poem spot on, but I do think we're dealing with a different beast. Eidsvåg is about compassion with boundaries, more specifically how hard it is for that great Nordic soul of compassion to let outcomes and agendas and personalizations go when doing the neccesary work of being merely present for someone in pain. There is no learning without each person being free to do his/her own walk.

Wright is dealing with a distraught inner state--his specialty--one where his impossible rescuer gives him the compassion he denies himself. Just to imagine such a thing is the beginning of healing.

Banjo52 said...

Rune, thank you very, very much. I like the song and the singer--natural, unforced, appropriate to each other, sort of the way form and content are supposed to be appropriate to each other.

At that YouTube site, I also found Norway's Sissel (dare I admit, I'd never heard of her?) doing the same song. But here she is, performing one of my very favorite old standards, another song about traveling and isolation. Sorry I wasn't able to create a link--you'll need to copy and paste.

William, another thanks to you. Re: "his/her own walk," surely all will agree with you, but it can be so damned difficult. I've always said that's what GOOD shrinks do; they earn their money. (And my hunch is, there aren't that many of them).

Also, about your "just to imagine . . . is the beginning of healing"--I wonder if that can make profound sense even if we remove your "such a thing" from the middle.

I mentioned here a long time ago a line I consider great (I think it's Somerset Maugham): "Bigotry is a failure of imagination." (Well, that's close anyway).

Putting that with your sentence, I wonder how much pain, hatred, or loneliness amount to a failure of imagination. (Of course, "empathy" might be almost a synonym in these contexts).

Thanks for the excellent help, you two.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

When a cat purrs we assume it's an expression of contentment. But that isn't always true. Sometimes a cat purrs as a reaction to fear in the form of self comfort.My question would be - where is the bus headed?

Stickup Artist said...

To me, the poem tells us to be compassionate with ourselves, no matter what state we might be in, and you can’t be compassionate and understanding towards a “stranger” without that. But, the second half seems to disconnect somehow, maybe because it’s so pared down, so matter- of-fact. That which was stirred in me, which was significant, was not satisfied with a sandwich. I felt a little let down...

P.S. If any surfing location has bragging rights, it's in Hawaii!

RuneE said...

Me - once more :-)
Sissel Kyrkjebø (as is her full name) is a Norwegian icon when it comes to singing, and as she is from my own home town (Bergen) I feel a bit proud. BTW - she also sang in the Titanic movie.

Banjo52 said...

PA, one of those journey vs. destination situations, I think. I learned from my old man to take a country drive in order to get lost. It was one of his good lessons.

SA, I see what you mean. I'm so pleased (ecstatic?) with the unexpected, yet fitting WAY he becomes matter-of-fact that I was at least as happy with the second half as the first.

The sandwich probably will not please everyone--you've got to applaud Wright's courage even if you don't care for the image itself. But I find it an amazing blend of surprise, quirkiness, comedy among the ruins, and some of what Hannah said--though I hear it and feel it as a genuine offer of solace as well as a slightly too-cheerful, dismissive, seemingly irrelevant parental condescension. It is its own war against self-pity, yet some, or a lot, of genuine sympathy lives there too. Add to that the fact that it's at least partially comic AND it's a gift from a self to its self, and it's magic, at least to me.

Rune, good for Bergen! Talk about a voice! And just a bit of beauty too. I thought opera singers had to weigh at least 300 pounds, 20 of which were makeup . . .

Anonymous said...

Even though I experienced no cruelty from my peers (ok, maybe once in 2nd grade) I so enjoyed that essay, and this: “and somehow a dog / has taken itself & its tail considerably away / into mountains or sea or sky, leaving / behind: me, wag.”

Until now, I thought it had no words.

Ken Mac said...

Good travelogue shots today. I've spent much time in Sc and Mi, gimme the latter anyday!

Banjo52 said...

Ken, thanks, and me too. Classic case of "nice place to visit, but . . . "

Gunnar Hustad said...

Nice pictures!

Lovers' Lane