Commentary on an Archived Poet
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
Part I: Themes
My attention was recently directed to the work of a young poet whose name shall be withheld for reasons I won’t go into here. So, I went and looked into it. They are mostly upbeat, optimistic verses, I noted.
However, I must warn beforehand that this is a commentary, not a review or critique. I call it as I see it, not how I expect anyone else to see it. In the event that you, the reader, want to find out how somebody else sees these works, I point out, that you, the reader, are not I, and therefore somebody else; and the Bewildering archives are there for all to explore. Good luck.
Let’s now look into the ones I found in the archives, verse by verse, in the order in which I found them.
The first poem tells of a man created by an unnamed institution, popularized by paranoid people everywhere under the name “Them.” Apparently “They” are unhappy with a certain property of their creation, as mentioned in the 5th line, and I quote: “What they made was a man with a heart.”
“He was made to destroy.” My grandmother tells me that murderers don’t have a heart. Our poet agrees with her.
Our hero gets unceremoniously thrown off a cliff, leading me to think “Theirs” is the most dubious of all fly-by-night operations. Surely, were “They” a government operation, “Their” waste disposal would be better. At this point I wonder: perhaps “They” operate out of South America?
Our hero turns completely human as he falls down the cliff, having been non-human before. When he hits the ground, he finds himself in a beautiful ravine, all banged up.
“He pushed a strand of his spiky black hair out of his face.” Our poet references the ever so popular manga cartoons, having the hero of his short epic donning the trademark pointy hairdo of manga characters.
Here begins our hero’s rise to glory, as he gets to his feet, and decides to climb back up. The ending is thus optimistic and upbeat.
The next set of verses tells a similar story. A kid grows up happily, up until the eighth year, when some untold near-fatal happening occurs, resulting, it appears, in a legal proceeding. This is perceived as a bad thing and is the fall of the main character, like the more literal fall off a cliff in the previous poem.
The hero lives for some years at the bottom, but finally decides to move on. Show ’em what he’s capable of. As he succeeds, people stop thinking he’s messed up and start fearing his success. What our hero is doing is not mentioned. However, he gives a hint, I am wondering what to make of it: “Some hate the way I dress.” He became a professional drag queen? More nebulous than the first, this is the last epic, or story poem.
The third set of verses differs from the preceding two in form. There is no longer the fall and subsequent rise of a hero-type, but instead, there is a brief talk of how diverse the human species is. And the usual optimistic vein, a mention that each has his own talent.
Our poet talks of how one must try hard to realize one’s dreams. Before, it was all falling to rise again; well, this one touches upon the subject, if differently. I think this line sums up his mentality so far quite nicely: “They rise up through bad circumstances and accomplish the impossible.”
The fifth set of verses struck me as a sequel to the fourth. A bit of a grouchy tone now. And the prose is a bit less lyrical than before. Long sentences don’t translate well into poetry, I have always thought. He has to be very long-winded if he intends to read this aloud for an audience.
The fall-revival theme seems to be abandoned for a homily on the evils that plague today’s society. As the preacher the poet is is, he speaks of smut on TV and depressed teens. Reminds me a bit of Billy Graham. Don’t know why; I don’t watch Billy that much.
He leaves us with these words: “In order to have a successful life you must be strong.” Revival? Only if we are strong.
Again, the poet shows us his preacher side. He is all over the place: he says that life has a meaning, we have to find what it is, he says there’s a lot of bad out there, drug dealers and such; he mentions, too, the weaknesses of humans. He even makes a brief but discernible reference to the Bible:
“We all have the good and bad times, Happy times and depressing times,”
(A time to throw stones, a time to gather stones together, a time to do and a time to don’t... and so on. Anyone remember it?) and he ends the poem with the fatherly words:
“If you are dedicated enough, you can do it, Anyone can do anything that they set their mind to.”
As before, he mentions the bad first, then the good. But in preacher mode there is no ascent; he just mentions the possible way out. He has now abandoned the use of characters.
This one is truly bewildering to me:
“Too many writers get famous and quit,” Name one. I am not familiar with this... problem.
“The writer doesn't care about his fans,” The writer? Anyone in particular?
“The fans are what help make a writer great,” Poe is considered great. Posthumously. I gather he didn’t have many fans back in his day. So are Jaroslav Hasek, Mikhail Bulgakov, H. P. Lovecraft, and many more. By “great,” he must mean popular.
“They help him reach the so-called ‘top’” Ah, popularity. I sense some bitterness though. But why then the first line? What is the bother? Fame is the top?
“The writer's that's should be great are the ones who are dedicated,
They wake up and stare at the blank computer screen until they start something,
It doesn't matter how many times they want to quit they won't, They remain dedicated to their dream and fans, This is what makes a truly dedicated writer.”
Dedicated = great, or that’s how it should be? No muse that comes suddenly? There is a work ethic lurking in these words. The man’s a Calvinist, a Quaker or a Puritan. Or a Satanist: “In order to have a successful life you must be strong.” Anton Zandor LaVey had this same degree of strange optimism about him. At least, that’s how it seems to me.
Remember the sixth one? The rhythmic lines near the end?
“Too many people get addicted to drugs,
Not enough manage to recover,
Too many people give up on their dream,”
Well, our man must have liked the rhythm of the words, because this poem has it all the way through. His most regular, rhythmic poem yet, with every other line “too much” and every other, “not enough”; no need to rhyme. Not that he did much of that anyway.
Much different from the other works, this poem stares on the dark side a lot. And at extremes. As usual, there is the bad first, then a possible solution. This seems to me his most pessimistic work.
The ninth strikes me as a song lyric. That guy on Omega might sing it. Badly. He does that. The lyric tells, in the optimistic vein again, that it only needs one to make it good. Only, one stanza caused me great wonder:
“A person who is sacred
To help them let go
It only takes one”
What??? I must help the holy let go? Become unholy? Is that Christian? Truly a bewildering idea. Perhaps he is a Satanist. There’s but a thin line...
“To change the world
Would take millions many think
It only takes one”
The last poem on my list tells how one goes home after finding the answers. The answer to the question “Why are we here?” it seems.
There is also a brief note about happiness being hard to find, and sadness and depression being easy. “Life used to be a lot of fun”:
In my country, we use alcohol to counter this. Our friend the poet would not approve.
* * *
There it is. The archived works of the optimistic pessimist, interpreted as I see them. He sounds like a religious type of some sort to me. I imagine him having a large-brimmed hemispherical hat, and wearing a black Amish suit, like a Mormon. He constantly implies that good things may come to those who seek them. The bad things he mentions are those faraway things mentioned in the media: teens being depressed, drug dealers, and so on.
I have him pegged as some form of Christian, maybe a Satanist, but I doubt he’s Catholic.
On tone: it began optimistically, but darkened perceptibly after that. (Again, I stress that this is the order the stuff came up in from the archival-program at Bewildering Stories. I don’t know in what order he actually composed them). He had a short period that featured poems that told a full story with a beginning (descent), middle (troubles) and solution. It was followed by a preachy period.
Once he throws off the story mode, he focuses on the troubles and the solutions; then, slowly, the solutions are mentioned more and more in passing, focusing more on the troubles. Then he goes into the troubles’ being not using the solutions (the eighth is a case in point). Then in the final poem, the solution is an entity that is both nebulous and unfathomable.
Let’s suppose he wrote the poems and submitted them in this order. The next poem, if I’m not horribly mistaken, would portray just troubles, bypassing completely the solution.
Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson