Jun 16, 2014

Hannah Gamble's "Growing a Bear": Entertainment and Art

First a note on the photos: which of these women might be the poem's speaker? Now, on to the work itself.

In poetry, humor is such a tricky thing, a tightrope—veer left and you fall into superficiality or mean sarcasm or commercial slickness and pandering; veer right and you reveal an underbelly too dark for genuine levity--no belly laughs, no breeziness at cocktail parties, no appreciation of the absurdity of it all. It's all too grave for that, as Dostoevsky knew.

In my college years and into my twenties, I heard more than once that America’s only contributions to world literature were the short story as a genre and American humor. We were supposed to feel bad about that—inferior, provincial lightweights. Well, if those are our only contributions—and how can one make such a claim in the first place?—I say we’ve done pretty well, as I whisk dreary dust off my shirt and visor from long, long, dark, dark European tomes. Especially on the continent, none of the languages have a word for "concise."

So Hannah Gamble’s “Growing a Bear” interests me quite a bit. I hope no one disputes that it’s funny. But is it fluff? We’re back to The School of Accessibility and the constant question it presents: is the work mere entertainment or does it have enough heft to be labeled significant literature—enough insight into and commentary on big issues like the environment or social justice or simply being a lone human with human complexity? And is the work’s expression artful enough to make us take the piece seriously?

After reading “Growing a Bear” a few times, I’m not at all sure what the Bear is, but I think it's vaguely naughty and funny and grave. How would you pin it down? Or would you decline the invitation to pin it down?

And did you enjoy the poem?


RuneE said...

It may be my insufficient knowledge of American literature and humour, but I feel more a sense of sadness than humour here (OK - written in a humorous way). A man sees mid-life crisis approaching for both himself and his wife, and there is very little he can do about it. And nobody seems to care.

And who wrote it? The lady in the snow.

RuneE said...

I wrote a comment, but Blogger gave me an incomprehensible error, so I don't know if it went through.

Banjo52 said...

Sorry about the problem, Rune. It's happened to me too. I hope I didn't underplay the seriousness in the poem--it's certainly there. As for your vote . . . the Norwegian man votes for snow. What a surprise! :)

Thanks, Rune. I hope others will play the game--which could turn into meaningful discussion if we let it.

Ken Mac said...


Anonymous said...

So, we want to put a "D" on the end of bear, right? Or am I stating something embarrassingly obvious. Women may improve looks, have free rein, when it comes to make-up, but men, they can cover a multitude of sins with facial hair.

Banjo52 said...

Ken, well . . . ? One person's kinky is another person's Coney Dog.

AH, maybe the D is obvious, but I didn't see it. Now I feel dumb. So do you think the poem as a whole is about male and female cosmetic efforts. And insecurities?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Funny? maybe a little in that resigned kind of way. It's more interesting to me as a study in aging between people who've done hard time together. Of course my angle is influenced by my recent celebration of 28 year with Vic. Some interesting ideas are expressed in this poem. Nothing wrong with hiding flaws - from ourselves and our partners. Survival is a prayer.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I have no idea what the 'bear' is. Something sexual? I was thinking he'd turn the bathtub into a still, and make cheap whiskey. I mean, if he did, would he tell his wife?

I think the woman is one of the cheerleaders. It is always the ones who were outgoing, pushy, popular in high school who burn out early. Maybe... You know, you see them again at the 40 year reunion and wonder what happened to them?

Julie Brown said...

It seems as if the man is going through this stage of his life disconnected. Perhaps the bear is a metaphor for something.

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