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friday feast: don't be late

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
~ from The Mourning Bride (1697) by
William Congreve


If you're one of those perfect people who is always on time, this post might not be for you.

But if you find yourself occasionally, or (gasp), habitually late, here are two poems to consider. In "Compulsively Allergic to the Truth," Jeffrey McDaniel takes the "dog ate my homework" alibi and gives it a darkly comedic poetry slam dunk treatment. His engaging, conversational style is street-wise myth served up with a twist:

I'm sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I'm sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
(Rest here.)

~ from The Endarkenment by Jeffrey McDaniel (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008)

The poem ends with a reference to the minotaur, a creature that was part man and part bull, who lived at the center of the labyrinth of Greek myth. This led me to Ted Hughes' verse letter poem, "The Minotaur," which describes one of Sylvia Plath's rages. It seems he, too, was late. But he doesn't make any excuses. In an exceedingly powerful poem that reveals Hughes' role in unearthing Plath's feelings for her father (the minotaur), and which ultimately inspires her best poetry, we are witness to the destruction not only of physical objects, but of Plath's sanity:

Deep in the cave of your ear
The goblin snapped his fingers.
So what had I given him?

The bloody end of the skein
That unraveled your marriage,
Left your children echoing
Like tunnels in a labyrinth.

Left your mother a dead-end,
Brought you to the horned, bellowing
Grave of your risen father
And your own corpse in it.
(Complete poem here.)

~ from Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (Faber, Faber, 2002)

 Minotaur bust, National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Al Alvarez, ex-poetry editor of the Observer and a friend of this volatile couple, says in his autobiography, Where Did It All Go Right? (William and Morrow, 2000):

I had always believed that genuine art was a risky business and artists experiment with new forms not in order to cause a sensation but because the old forms are no longer adequate for what they want to express. In other words, making it new in the way Sylvia did had almost nothing to do with technical experiment and almost everything to do with exploring her inner world -- with going down into the cellars and confronting her demons. The bravery and curious artistic detachment with which she went about her task were astonishing -- heartbreaking, too, when you remember how lonely she was. But when it was all over, I no longer believed that any poems, however good, were worth the price she paid. 

I found it interesting to compare McDaniel's contemporary rap with Hughes' searing diatribe. The labyrinth of human relationships, as well as the labyrinth of the human psyche, inevitably involve navigating dark corridors to arrive at truth. Most of the time, it isn't about being late.

 Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Well Read Child.



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 18th, 2008 11:33 am (UTC)
TadMack says: :)
Wow, whenever I read Ted Hughes I am a little taken aback -- I know he must have had a rough marriage; our girl Sylvia couldn't have been easy! -- but the Minotaur story is ...yikes!!

So, we're having martinis instead of tea, hm? :)
Apr. 18th, 2008 11:59 am (UTC)
Re: TadMack says: :)
Martinis? What martinis? :)
Apr. 18th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, the Ted Hughes poem is downright assaultive. Wow.

You're right. Most of the time it isn't about being late! Thanks for these poems and for your thoughts.

Apr. 18th, 2008 12:47 pm (UTC)
Hughes was there to taunt the bull, and when Plath met it head on, it killed her. As Alvarez says, what price do artists really have to pay to create their "best" work?
Apr. 18th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
for stopping by my blog and commenting. :)

Sadly, yes, you are disillusioned. :D I'm a Red Sox fan, and I'm suprised your in-laws allowed the wedding. ;)

The link you left for a blog tea party didn't work, a blank page came up...which is a shame because I'm always interested when tea party food is in question.
Apr. 18th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks
Just went to your blog and left the link again. I forgot the "html" at the end. You can also click on the TEA PARTY link in my sidebar on the left! Thanks for stopping in today.
Apr. 18th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
It's never about being late. It's about who waits. I just wish she could have found a way to ride her words all the way out, far away from him and his goading.

Loving the martini twist today. You run a mighty fine cocktail hour here, Ms. Jama.
Apr. 18th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
I see you're a fan of olives.

I didn't realize they had dabbled in the occult -- Ouija boards and such. After finding out about Hughes' affair, she burned his MSS along with his fingernail clippings in a ritual bonfire. I'm not taking any chances. I refuse to clip my fingernails from now on.
Apr. 18th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
Oh my. I was kind of laughing at McDaniel, but then along comes ol' Ted??? He really packs a wallop with this one, doesn't he? Sheesh. I'd say yes, not worth the price. No matter how fine...
Apr. 18th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
This poem makes me want to read the entire collection, Birthday Letters,where he finally breaks his silence after Plath's suicide. Would need some very strong tea (since I don't drink martinis), to sustain me through that, though.
Apr. 18th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
From a. fortis
Both powerful poems--wow! I especially love the Jeffrey McDaniel one. It starts off with a lighter tone and then gets progressively darker and stranger.
Apr. 19th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
Re: From a. fortis
Jeffrey McDaniel always takes the top off my head. I was excited to see his brand new poetry collection, The Endarkenment, will be out at the end of the month. Would LOVE to attend one of his poetry slams.
Apr. 19th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC)
Oh, oh, oh, so depressing. I

nteresting how the first poem led on to the other. You make fascinating connections!
Apr. 19th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
The Hughes/Plath thing is depressing but fascinating at the same time. McDaniel is half man/half martini, and Hughes is half man/half bull. It's like McDaniel started off with funny excuses, but then implies that the addressee is known for taking his/her impatience to mythic levels. How women exaggerate!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 19th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
Glad you read through the poems. See what you're missing by NOT being late :)?
Apr. 19th, 2008 11:12 am (UTC)
Hmmm...last one to leave a Poetry Friday comment...on SATURDAY. Yes, that says something about me, but also about the phenomenon of Friday in a teacher's week. I coulda used that martini LAST NIGHT!

Mary Lee
Apr. 19th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
Sorry you missed cocktail hour yesterday, but I'm so glad to have you stop by today. Friday is a hectic day for many people.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 19th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Tag
Thanks, Laura! It looks like a fun meme.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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