Department header
Bewildering Stories

Challenge 350 Response

“Because My Mouth”

Marta T. Coppola

Challenge 350 asks what Marta T. Coppola’s poem “Because My Mouth” is about. The author’s response supplements the Review Editors’ discussion.

“Because My Mouth” is about confronting the inauthentic self, and illustrates the dangers that arise in intimate relationships borne out of fear and false pride. It explores the devices that the human ego employs to force us to hide from ourselves.

If we think of the underdeveloped ego engaging in an endless game of spiritual plagiarism, we see that the narrator of the poem confronts that very real plagiarism. In our daily language, how often are we focused enough to speak, to act, from the heart, especially during moments when this heart-voice is essential? How often are we only mouthing someone else’s words, pantomiming someone else’s truth? Should we seek to awe others, our friends, our lovers, or do we become awesome by digging deep to find the authentic self?

The first-person voice and imagery are intentionally visceral, meant to paint a cutting portrait of romantic intimacy gone wrong, insofar as the intimacy has brought no satisfaction beyond instinctual drives. The images illustrate our most deeply ingrained habits, our primordial obsessions. What is instinctual is most always considered natural, but can also become an obstacle on the path to true self-authentication, to the human “being.”

In other words, instinct propels reaction, and has remained with us to protect us. But this instinct has not yet evolved beyond that very basic level of ego protection. In responding “fight or flight” to an emotional circumstance, there is the danger of denial, falsehood, and radical non-acceptance.

“Because My Mouth” is really a poem that I feel homes in on that first important step toward self-authentication: Confronting the ego’s addictions and obsessions. And if there is a lesson in the poem, it is this: Interpersonal healing begins with admission of the ego problem.

Copyright © 2009 by Marta T. Coppola

Thank you for the clarification, Marta, and thank you especially for attempting to take the explication beyond terms familiar mainly to adepts in the specialized vocabulary of psychoananalysis. The terminology can obviously be useful, but it does tend to be arcane.

You may prove to be an exception to the truism of literary history that authors are seldom their own best critics. I’ve sometimes wondered why that might be and have found a reason: authors aren’t critics. Furthermore, they’re not really interested in analyzing their own work; it’s too much like raking leaves or mowing grass.

For critics and readers, though, analysis is a harvest, not a chore. And the Review Editors’ discussion of “Because My Mouth” has even attained to the colorful.

Two points of consensus seem to have emerged concerning form:

  1. It is possible to write a poem using only sentence fragments. At a stretch, it could even resemble a laundry list. As long as the poet’s “ground rules” are obvious, readers will go along with them. But not otherwise; for example:

    I said
    to myself as there was
    none other than
    Your blood has the power to
    fire, breathe,
    trigger, muzzle, cocked

    At a minimum, “Your blood, which has the power...” would make a complete sentence. The word “which” is bulky, but at least it would introduce a subordinate clause rather than allowing two independent clauses to collide and overlap incoherently with one another.

  2. The last three lines switch from the present tense to the past tense. We have no idea why.

As for content, there are interpretations galore. I’ll summarize the four main ones to date:

  1. One interpretation somewhat resembled yours; it holds that the poem is based on identity and “depicts the poet’s self-contradictory feelings about the self and the other.” However, it’s risky to say that any author necessarily talks about himself or herself in any work; the reader simply can’t know what the degree of distancing is. And while the poem does appear to depict a certain amount of self-loathing, we’re left wondering what it is, exactly, and where it comes from.

  2. Another interpretation seized upon the irregular capitalization of “Your” and the image “Your blood...” both of which are common in liturgical language. The poem could therefore be a prayer. However, that interpretation depends on relatively scanty evidence. Further:

    Don’t think that
    because my mouth forms the shape
    of awe that I am wondrous.
    I am vacuous.

    The self-abnegation in “I am vacuous” does not lead to any real sense of redemption, and associating salvation with images of weaponry is incongruous, to say the least.

  3. A third interpretation suggested that the weapon and mouth imagery may have something to do with oral sex gone wrong. However, that reading, while selective and partly facetious, seems to have about as much evidence going for it as the preceding one.

  4. Finally, it was pointed out that we have no idea who “you” is in the poem. If not the readers generally, then who? Therefore the poem may be written in a “private language”; in other words, it’s an encrypted message to which the reader does not have the key. Unfortunately, that’s a shrug of despair: it concludes that the poem is hermetically sealed; only the author knows what it means.

In the end, the lesson for all contributors seems to be: “Who’s your audience?”

Copyright © 2009 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

Home Page