Feb 8, 2013

Matthew Zapruder's "The Prelude" : Bed, Breakfast, Cupfulls of Darkness

The Prelude by Matthew Zapruder : Poetry Magazine
Blogger is disallowing paragraphs and photo captions (I thought, for example, about "Baby in the Fireplace"). So I apologize, but I'm also sick of messing with Blogger, so here we go. I recently spent a night at a Bed & Breakfast after years or decades of avoiding the forced intimacy I’ve felt at those places. I do not want conversation until my third coffee, and with strangers you never know whether you want chat at all until you’re in the middle of it. Even if it’s going well, you have to gauge whether the other party has had enough of you. Are your questions a bit invasive? Are you not sufficiently enthusiastic about their grandbaby or the golf game? Of course the upside of good B&Bs is the lack of predictability, the potential uniqueness of buildings, hosts, and other guests, the change of pace from chain motels, which are rectangles of stone on stone in the midst of asphalt parking lots beside interstate highways. So I did what anyone would do—went to Poetry Foundation and typed into the search bar “bed and breakfasts,” expecting to find little or nothing, for surely real poets don't do tea and crumpets Bed and Breakfasts. At first I didn’t trust what I found, Matthew Zapruder’s “The Prelude,” the title of which is an allusion to Wordsworth's major poem. Zapruder opens with the jaunty, sarcastic, “Oh this Diet Coke is really good.” Are we headed for a puerile satire on bourgeois superficiality and tastelessness? That deserves satire, but haven’t we had enough? Isn’t it too easy for anyone over 25? http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/239964 However, in Zapruder’s third line, he got my interest. Diet Coke, it turns out, "tastes / like nothing plus the idea of chocolate, or an acquaintance of chocolate" He’s looking for a specificity about, and shades of meaning in, Diet Coke that I find both absurd and intriguing. And here are two passages in the poem that make it well worth our consideration: "All I follow is my own desire,/ sometimes to feel, sometimes to be/ at least a little more than intermittently/ at ease with being loved. I am never/ at ease. Not with hours I can read or walk/ and look at the brightly colored/ houses filled with lives . . ." And his ending: Come to the edge/ the edge beckoned softly. Take/ this cup full of darkness and stay as long/ as you want and maybe a little longer.
I don’t trust bold, defiant, heroic, hippie claims such as, “All I follow is my own desire.” I’m skeptical about his having “Come to the edge,” and I’m not at all sure I want “this cup full of darkness.” They smack of daredevil bravado. Also, if you have to tell us about the great danger, loneliness, and isolation you’ve experienced and still seek—you the loner, adventurer, outcast, rebel—I wonder what’s inside you. Fear of others? Intolerance of others because others get in the way of your Me, Me, Me. Your death wish or misery wish—because those who aren’t miserable aren’t deep?
But of course I’ve engaged in those very thoughts, however briefly and foolishly. My edges are probably pretty rounded, even padded, and I might have thimbles where Zapruder finds cupfulls of darkness.
So Zapruder’s lines would be bogus if I spoke them in earnest about myself, but maybe he’s earned them. After all, he started with his confession that he’s anxious and rarely “at ease with being loved.” He likes books and walks that include snooping just a little into other people’s lives. Maybe he’s not going for a Kerouac-James Dean-counter culture hero status. Maybe he’s just inviting us to take in some more of the color and the darkness that might make our lives fuller if we’ll stand up and notice them. Once again, I don’t mean to force a false connection between the poem and a Bed & Breakfast, which after all gets only a brief mention in Zapruder’s “The Prelude.” And was that B&B an edge? Or a cup full of darkness? No, but at that quirky old house I did find still more ways to wonder about and enjoy what’s quirky enough to keep myself a little off balance about things. The Prelude by Matthew Zapruder : Poetry Magazine


Brenda's Arizona said...

"...should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way.”
So did Wordsworth follow his desire whereas Coleridge couldn't?

I have been told by B&B owners that the reason they have the business is to fulfill the need to follow a desire. You have come full circle, Banjo!
And I'd love to see more photos of the B&B where you stayed. These are inviting, but please - more coffee.

Anonymous said...

Filled with self-deprecating humor, isn't it. And comparing himself, as a poet I think, with Wordsworth the nature boy and Coleridge the tortured soul, he comes up short in his own estimation.

I find B&B's creepy, too. Especially when they've filled your room with stuffed animals. But maybe that's a Northern Calif thing.

Rune Eide said...

I have visited some B & Bs in the UK, and your photos remind me very much of some of them. The best one was up by Hadrian's Wall and run by the typical grandmother. So we returned six years later :-)

I don't think Zapruder would have enjoyed a walk along Hadrian's wall, but he sounds like he would have needed it. And a visit to the local pub afterwards.

Banjo52 said...

B and AH, my responses got long, so I'm turning them into the next post. Thanks! (Here's hoping Blogspot will be kind).

RuneE, I bet he’s had a pint by now. And Hadrian's Wall! Haven't thought of that for years. Thanks for the reminder. I'll be googling that, if I know me, and sometimes I do.

Banjo52 said...

B, I think the other photos would be disappointing, but I'll look again. Also, maybe I'm not sure how I've come full circle . . . but it sounds like a good thing?

AH, never been in a B-B in California, but have had some creepiness elsewhere--such a (gorgeous) Swiss-style property in SE Pennsylvania with a pamphlet on how to become a Jew for Jesus, along with a New Testament free for the taking. But to be fair, there was also a Gettysburg B-B hosted by a pleasant couple, the husband of whom was a battle re-enactor and knew a LOT.

I suppose it boils down to the fact that B-B's often require some energy and flexibility from the guest, and sometimes we have it, sometimes not so much. I'm glad I gave it another try.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo, whether it is a good thing or not, it is a journey. I think that makes it a Zen thing.

Funny how B&Bs can be creepy. I guess I want to dig down to the story behind it/in the people. But stuff animals???

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'm a route 66 cheap motel type. Horse shoe one story are my favorite. I did do a B and B in Greece once. I got up to use the restroom in the middle of the night - accessed through the kitchen - to discover the owner had given up her bed so I wouldn't be sharing a room with a couple of guys. She was asleep on the kitchen table.

Banjo52 said...

PA, Gives new meaning to "service" and "hospitality" industries, doesn't it. And it might fit with Brenda's idea about hosts who have followed a desire--or just escaped the corporate the world's layers of bosses? Or simply, what nice lady.

Lovers' Lane