Jan 29, 2010

On the Light Side of Darkness: Mastication and Stephen Crane's poetry

When I am once again the last at a table to finish a meal, I think of my junior high health class and the advice to chew 32 times before swallowing.

I don’t always make it to 32, but I come pretty close. I don’t think it’s an obsession; I just like my food moist and ready to go down without a fight, like canned dog food.

Is Alpo still on the market? There was one kind of dog food, maybe Alpo, that was a dead ringer for corned beef hash. Is it still on the market?

At a Wendy’s yesterday, I watched a guy chomp 12 times and swallow. What a barbarian. And when his half-chewed chickens come home to roost, as acid reflux or autoerotic self-strangulation, I’ll have to pay his doctor bills. So will you, all because he thought he was too busy to chew.

By the way, one of my favorite Banjo aphorisms is: If you think you love her, don’t watch her eat.

Why is dinner together such a popular dating and mating activity? How can you concentrate on romance when you’re counting the other’s chomps or wondering whether she'll wield her fork like a wand?

And please don’t feed me any of those perverted theories about our cannibalistic tendencies when grandma says, “You’re so sweet I could just eat you up.”

Suddenly I’m thinking of a Stephen Crane poem. Of course he’s better known for The Red Badge of Courage, but he wrote some 99 poems—or “poems,” curiosities—and whatever they are, I’ve found two of them memorable, if grim.

Here’s one that’s thinly connected to my deep and probing metaphysics above, and here’s also one that’s not, one that’s just worth thinking about.

In the Desert by Stephen Crane

A man said to the universe: by Stephen Maria Crane

* *


Brenda's Arizona said...

"In the Desert" is just as creepy as thinking of someone counting my chews!! AUGH! Talk about making me nervous - whether eating your own heart or counting 32 chews, I am weirded-out! I always wanted to use weird as a verb.

This has to be one of your funniest, eyebrow raising, light-hearted post ever. Not just tongue in cheek, but tongue chewed 32 times. Did Stephen Crane chew his heart 32 times? AUGH!

Brenda's Arizona said...

I'd love to read your comments on this poem:

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, what a relief. With humor, I never know what to expect, but that's exactly the kind of response I was hoping for, complete with AZ enthusiasm!

I checked out 3 or 4 by your guy at Writer's Almanac, and I'm surprised I haven't heard of him. He's skillful, appealing, in that "talk-y" way of the so-called school of accessibility, with, say, Billy Collins, Barbara Hamby, Tony Hoagland and others. I'd even add Sharon Olds to the group.

That re-raises the issue of conversation and poetry. I like all four of those folks and some others, and they've done a lot to popularize poetry, But I can't quite trust that their achievement, or contribution to the canon, or whatever, will be up there with Richard Wilbur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others whose language is tighter, diamond-hard, yet musical, not at all a chat, as those others so often seem to be.

My bias or argument, whatever it is, says that a poem should be a bullet, not a long, draped shawl or lazy, charming rivulet. Yet it's Billy Collins who titles his book Ballistics.

Soon I may be writing about a poetry conference I just attended, and issues somewhat like this came up, at least for me.

In one of my earliest posts, I said what (I think) a lot of people have said: American poetry can be thought of as two columns--the Whitman list of poets or "poets" and the Emily Dickinson list/column. I'm with Dickinson. But the shades of gray at the boundaries are vast.

So much for humor, eh? For the record, I do think the lines from Crane pose a similar, or identical, problem. Yet I remember them. What does that mean?

Brenda's Arizona said...

But what about 'other' poetry that doesn't fall into Whitman 'populism' poetry or the ED dashes --- and Capitalized Word at some Odd Whim?
(sorry about that).

This 'barista' poem just cracked me up - and reminded up Altadena's Hiker post about her Croatian 'friend'.

One of my old favorites is My Last Duchess, tho not all of Browning's work impress me. Is he more in Whitmanesque style than ED'?

I love the freedom of loving some poems but not necessarily the whole of the poet's portfolio. I roll my eyes at a lot of Frost's stuff, but a few just haunt me for hours/days/weeks/a lifetime.

And Shel Silverstein? :-)

Paula said...

Your piece and Brenda's poem are a pair of bookends, thanks for that one Brenda. How many times have I done the same thing?

I took my son out to supper the other night and I ordered a salad. As I shoveled it in it occurred to me that I was glad it wasn't a date because I would either have starved trying to get some sustenance into my mouth or the date would have ended soon after. I was very hungry.

As for Stephen Crane, I think he loved the smell of his own farts. I really do.

Paula said...

And that was me trying to be subtle.

Banjo52 said...

Dadgummit, Brenda, you rabble-rouser, you've steered me completely off course. My response to you got so long that I'm turning it into today's post (Sun., Jan. 31).

So the Richard Wilbur poem I'd planned for today waits at least until tomorrow, and the shorter, but not simple Gwendolyn Brooks poem goes up today. It's famous enough that many might already know it, but there's NO doubt it's poetry, it's rock-hard, it's musical, and it has something to say, something that's maybe quite daring.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, you mean "done the same thing" as the speaker in "Brenda's poem"--right?

Now listen, girl. Just because you're hungry doesn't mean you can stop counting chews. Remember the Hemingway code: grace under pressure.

As for Crane's digestion, let's remember, Gas-X hadn't been discovered yet. So:

Thanks be
to R & D.
(And there you see
both subtlety
and poetry).

Brenda's Arizona said...

Paula, your 'subtleness' is so coy!!! I laughed out loud!!!!

B52- I think our daily goal is to trigger you. I love your reactions! MORE!!

Banjo52 said...

Well, Brenda, aren't you just the little schemer . . . . And I guess it works. See today's--hot off the press (which isn't the same as "worthwhile," etc.).

PJ said...

I cooked a big Sunday Lunch -
ham Steaks -- homegrown
Sweet potatoes in a "casserole"
, and home grown mustard greens.
And Ate very slowly --for Deaths sake.

Dessert was cough drops.

And you have a clever, publishable poem. Brenda and I are happy to help out any way we can for the cause.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, in your Crane-ian (Cranial?) poem, I especially like the eccentrically placed comma in line 4.

You really bring it home with ontologically DEEP final line and a half. I think this will get you into Advanced Workshop fer shure.

PJ said...

I worked that comma.

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