Top 10: Underrated entities

Top 10: Underrated entities

 

1.       Canned laughter

For reasons I refuse to go into right now, I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Friends’ recently. It comes on TV every day, and there are about 48,000 episodes to choose from. I’ve always liked, actually, tolerated, Friends quite a lot, not because I particularly enjoy the saccharine misadventures of Manhattan’s fakest circle of mates, but because of the rigid jokes per page formula it sticks to. I find it fascinating. Like all good sitcoms, Friends works on a pulse of ‘humour’ with regular little groundswells of laughter that have almost nothing to do with jokes. Every few beats, we get a cue to laugh, and the canned laughter pushes us over the hump and on to the next ascent to the next funny bit.

Now, I dislike the artificiality of canned laughter as much as the next cynic, but I caps lock LOVE the fact that rational humans can be jostled along a narrative by such clonky cues of merriment. We should probably be ashamed/ cringe/ vomit each time some ripple of guffaws punctuates our lovingly crafted gags, but for some reason, we just go along with out. I think that’s marvellous.

2.       The word ‘but’

I recently very nearly did a post called ‘Top 10: Most powerful words in the English language’, and ‘but’ was going to headline. See, the thing about the word ‘but’ is that it is so unrepentantly violent, and its merciless power should never be overlooked. Iit may sound like hyperbole, but I’m serious. See, when you say something, you assert it, and your listener, to some extent accepts whatever meaning you have offered. To then follow it up with the word ‘but’ is to basically say ‘now ignore everything I’ve just said – I’m about to contradict it and offer an almost exactly opposite position’. It’s volatile – like a little conversational frag grenade that completely decimates what came before. Use with caution.

 

3.       Half rhyme

As a self-certified poetry aficionado, I can safely say that full rhyme is the preserve of the happy thinker. When you get two words that resonate aurally, like I dunno, ‘blue’ and ‘moo’, you automatically have happiness and playfulness. A kind of ‘ahh’ situation that sits nicely in the soul. But, half-rhyme: That’s a different story. Quick definition – half-rhyme: where two words sort of rhyme a bit but don’t really sound alike. Sounds innocuous right? Wrong. In the hands of a skilled poet, half-rhyme can be a devastatingly subtle means of creating unease and unrest in the heart of a reader, sometimes on a subconscious level. Where full rhyme announces its arrival with a wave and bounds through your mind ringing bells of joy, half-rhyme is the serpent beneath, sneaking into your psyche with the stealth of an assassin. A great example is the disturbingly self-conscious Dylan Thomas, who put down the bottle long enough to write ‘Especially When the October Wind’. Have a look at the first two stanzas…

Especially when the October wind

With frosty fingers punishes my hair,

Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire

And cast a shadow crab upon the land,

By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,

Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,

My busy heart who shudders as she talks

Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

 

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark

On the horizon walking like the trees

The wordy shapes of women, and the rows

Of the star-gestured children in the park.

Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,

Some of the oaken voices, from the roots

Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,

Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Doesn’t seem like much? In between the full rhyming quatrains (wind/land, birds/words, mark/park, beeches/ speeches) you get an incredibly sinister half rhyme. Hair/ fire, sticks/ talks, trees/ rows, roots/ notes… and this continues throughout the poem. It’s surreptitious, sly and slightly jarring and just as disturbing as any of the poem’s more obvious imagery and morose language. Chilling, if you ask me.

 

4.       Babies

Just because they don’t talk, can’t dress themselves and shit themselves all day, it doesn’t mean that babies are any more stupid than any other person. They’re just young. I’m fairly certain that humans are born with all the emotional intelligence they will ever have, and their intelligent intelligence/ reasoning/ whatever just has to catch up. Babies know what’s up, and if they could talk, I bet they’d tell us what was what.

 

5.       Eye contact

It never ceases to amaze me how soul-shakingingly powerful a bit of eye-contact can be. Just meeting the gaze of another human being. It’s something to do with the innate intimacy of meeting someone eye-to-eye, and the direct, unspoken communication this comes with, that makes eye contact one of the single most powerful forms of communication going. It could be a flirtatious smoulder, a knowing sharing of an in-joke, staring someone down in rage or even the wide-eyed invitation of friendship in greeting. Either way, a single look can say it all.

 

6.       Human cruelty

Apologies for getting all serious all of a sudden. I’ve read my way through a fair slice of human history and I simply cannot believe some of the atrocities that we, as a species, have inflicted upon each other across the ages. Considering that there are only a few billion of us on the planet at any given time, it’s unsurprising that we get the odd disagreement and skirmish, but the extent to which we can subjugate eachother is beyond belief. Humanity, for all its development, can be base, and the atrocities of which we are capable of should never be underestimated. To do so is to forget potential for trauma inherent in all societies, usually orchestrated by manic individuals, fascist governments or a combination of the two. The scariest/ saddest truth in all of this is that it can happen anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t seem to take much for us to turn on ourselves and commit acts of violence that can only be described as deplorable. Is it in our nature? Perhaps, but I’d like to think empathy can win out. Time will tell.

 

7.       Trends

Right, time to face facts. You’re a whore to trend. A slave to zeitgeist. A minion of mode. You have no opinion. None of us do. Deal. Ok, I admit I’m being slightly hyperbolic here, but only slightly. As original as we’d like to think we are, we ultimately end up reflecting everyone around us and conforming to whatever context we live in. How else could it be that we all sort of speak the same, wear the same clothes, do the same things at any given time? If we were truly original I might be walking around dressed in, I dunno, Elizabethan robes or the skins of my slaughtered enemies, but instead, I wear suits. We’re almost as powerless to break trend as we are to start it, so largely speaking, we don’t. It’s far easier to be born into the world and copy everyone around us. To ignore the of trend is to ignore the very DNA of society itself and once a trend starts, no matter how ridiculous, you can bet that We as a collective will follow. Distressed denim, ear-lobe plugs, calling your kids ‘Poppy’, eating humous, whatever.

Ironically, the people with the biggest immunity to trend are in fact babies (see above). They don’t care thing one about whatever everyone else is doing and couldn’t give a shit about fitting in, but out of sheer convenience (and defeatism), they grow up into ‘free-thinking’ individuals who pretty much just do the same as everybody else.

 

8.       Triple LETTER score

Everyone always bangs on about the triple word scores and how many points they can get you especially with an X or a Q blah blah blah, but my Scrabble mind goes beyond this. If you’re careful, and you know what you’re doing, you can pillage an opponent with a shrewd use of the triple LETTER score. Throw a J on there and link it up to a word in the other direction and bosh, you’re suddenly looking at 50 plus points. Anyway, let’s not get into a Scrabble conversation – it’ll just end in me personally challenging you to a match and you never reading my blog again.

 

9.       Brands

When you think about it, we under-estimate and under-rate the power of branding all the time. The modern world, or at least the modern Western world, pivots on consumerism, and consumerism (bear with me – I know nothing about economics) is based on product, right? Wrong. We seek brands that allude to a product and represent it, but don’t actually constitute that product itself. This is important. A brand, once established, is so powerful that it can paper over any cracks in the product itself, metaphorically speaking of course. Look at Nike. Reasonably decent shoes, nothing special, huge reputation for quality, massively overpriced. McDonald’s: disgusting plastic food, massively overpriced, hugely popular on the basis that we recognise the brand. Dyson: big gimmicky plastic unwieldy vacuum cleaners that are somehow synonymous with ingenious design. Father Christmas: creator of Christmas cheer and the maker of all gifts, who doesn’t even actually exist. And so on.

The brand is like shorthand for the product it represents, which is kind of a distorted, dangerous way to look at things. But hey, it’s easier than actually assessing every single product on its own merit…

 

10. Poetry

As remarkable and inventive as it is, I still get the impression, at times, that poetry’s incredible capacity to create subtle meaning out of words, create narrative and constrain languge into beautiful ambiguity sometimes goes less than appreciated. Easily up there among man’s most remarkable achievements.

 

11.   Unseen Flirtations

Because I’m a shameless self-publicist with an irrationally stout sense of self-worth, I have to say that this blog is one of the most underrated criticism journals in existence. I’m sure you agree.

-Unseen Flirtations

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The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

A little known fact about me: I am Catholic. Or, I was raised Catholic. The extent to which I still am is open to debate, seeing that I don’t really attend church all that much anymore, and when I do, it tends to be to catch up with people and get a free tea.

Anyway, as a Catholic, I’ve been raised with a few things programmed into the very fibre of my being:  superstition, faith, a clear moral compass, guilt, et cetera. And, of course, prayer. Probably before I knew what the words really meant, I could recite, from memory, a whole selection of ancient prayers. Then, as I grew up, I got so used to them that I never really stopped to think about what they really mean. And I mean really really, like objectively, without dogma getting in the way.

So that brings us here. One of the cornerstone prayers of Catholicism is the ‘Our Father’, also known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, or the prayer that Jesus personally taught to his disciples. Below is a detailed, poetic analysis of the ‘Our Father’. Enjoy.

Form:

One of the first things I notice about this text is the fact that it has 10 lines. Innocuous, yes, but important inasfar as 10 is a pretty round number to finish up on. I don’t want to get all Da Vinci Code on you, so I won’t, but the point is that whoever wrote this thing made sure it felt settled and complete. Allegedly, these are words from God Himself, delivered directly to followers of Christ through J man himself. As such, it would be a bad idea to make it a)too long-winded or b)so short that a would be disciple would miss the point. 10 lines is a happy medium – and just long enough for a bewildered child to remember.

It’s worth noting that the lines of this prayer are irregular, but follow a discernable pattern. The first five lines make up one complete sentence, with diminishing line lengths until ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ This gives the prayer a definite sense of movement that rests at the half-way point, which is very easy on the ear and easy to digest. Following this, the remaining five lines are more or less even in length, save the third line: ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Now maybe it’s the superstition talking but it can’t be an accident that this longer line, (which sits prominently in the middle of the prayer’s second half) contains the prayer’s central message – that we should forgive those who do us wrong. Visually, the line is prominent, and when recited, the speaker is forced to linger on it. Subsequently, we linger on the idea of forgiving our enemies, a key tenet of Christian beliefs.

Language:

First up, the 1st person collective. By which I mean ‘our’, ‘we’, ‘us’. This prayer is all about a collective identity and our relationship with god, as a group of people. It’s engineered to foster a sense of community and togetherness, with frequent repetitions of 1st person collective pronouns. Useful when you’re trying to establish a dedicated following, or build a church or whatever.

On the flip side, god is referred to in strictly intimate terms. Modern versions of the prayer opt for the more recognisable 2nd person pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’, but in the original, we get ‘thee’ and ‘thy’. No accident. To use thee/ thy/ thou is simultaneously reverent and intimate, striking an ideal tone for a personal conversation with the Big Man. Whoever wrote this thing, they knew exactly what they were doing in inviting, or encouraging (or forcing?) the speaker to be respectful and close to ‘our father’.

Poetically, there are some devices at play that work towards a calming effect. The rhyming of ‘come’ and ‘done’ is aurally satisfying, reinforced by the repetition of ‘Thy blah blah blah/ Thy blah blah blah’. Elsewhere, we are presented with a soft alliteration in ‘and forgive us our trespasses/
as we forgive those who trespass against us’. The sibilance inherent in this is whispering and soft, contrasting with the harsher consonants and more assertive syllables of the opening four lines.

In all of this, the language is fairly basic. Simple point on that – to appeal to as wide as possible an audience. Let’s move on.

Imagery:

The words of this poem/ prayer are so straightforward that it’s easy to miss the imagery thrown forward, which admittedly is quite subtle. Oppositions are set up by references to ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’, which are described blankly with no superfluous detailing. Some words do create imagery in their connotations however, namely ‘kingdom’, which instantly depicts heaven as some kind of opulent… well, kingdom. Very suggestive, and almost subliminal in that it implies that ‘heaven’, the opposite of ‘earth’, is actually a ‘kingdom’. And who doesn’t want to live in a kingdom?

Rhythm:

Returning to ‘form’ for a second (see above), ‘Our Father’ is structurally geared up to create a measured rhythm. The diminishing first five lines allow us to pause after each statement and build up an overall position. The prayer itself read like a manifesto, pledge or promise – one which gradually builds up towards key assertions (thy will be done… daily bread… forgive us our trespasses… deliver us from evil…). The second half of the poem exemplifies this particularly well, with clauses piled atop one another in a way that almost creates fervour/ excitement. Look at the opening words of those lines: ‘and, as, and, but’. Read it and you sound like you’re getting carried away, which, possibly, is the whole point. Religion works best when you throw sense and reason out the window and allow yourself to get lost in rapture, and this prayer –after a very secure opening- allows itself to spiral. The final assertion, ‘but deliver us from evil’ kind of feels like it has been cut short. And somebody at some point evidently thought the same thing, because there’s an extra bit that Catholics usually leave out:

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Amen.

Tone:

Now, anything with ‘amen’ in it is almost necessarily serious, and the Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Even as a child I knew that these words were supposed to be serious. There is much gravitas in the even-handed delivery of huge, huge statements (Our Father, Who art in heaven…), the emphatic placing of the adjective ‘Hallowed’ at the start of the second line (which emphasises just how ‘hallowed’ He is) and repetition of key words (‘thy’, ‘forgive’, ‘trespass’).

Subject matter:

When you look into it, the Lord’s prayer is a detailing of requests from ‘us’ to ‘Our Father’. It very respectfully acknowledges the position of this deity in the ‘kingdom’ of heaven, before asking for daily bread, forgiveness, and delivery from evil. Fair enough. Beyond this though, the prayer is really about faith. It smacks of a fervent, perhaps even desperate belief in a ‘hallowed’ father who has the power to give us everything we need, forgive us our trespasses and ultimately protect us from evil.

In this the prayer acts as both a plea and a reaffirmation of faith. Reciting it is confirmation that Our Father is a) in heaven b) hallowed and c) able to do all those things we require of him. Kind of needy to be honest, but maybe that’s just the cynic in me. Don’t tell my mum.

-Unseen Flirtations


Naïve Prostitute Twitter feed

Naïve Prostitute Twitter feed

A poetic analysis of the @NaiveProstitute Twitter feed. WARNING: Contains profanity and language of an extreme sexual nature that some readers may find exciting and others may find offensive

Form:

At the time of writing this, the @NaiveProstitute twitter feed is hovering at 372 tweets in total, which is relatively few updates in the Twitterverse. As usual, the feed supplies a continuous stream of tweets/ mini essays/ thoughts/ updates/ poems/ whatever you wish to call them, consistently delivered to reveal insight into the mind of the writer. What the feed doesn’t do, however, is provide a narrative. It begins with a philosophical, anonymous question as to the nature of prostitution and goes from there, neglecting to provide any kind of introduction, context or setting. As it continues the writer makes no effort to clarify a sense of time or place and subsequently, the whole thing feels like a small slice of eternity. We can dip into the feed at any given time without risking any loss of clarity.

I sell orgasmic happiness to the men who still believe in the orgasm.

I sell experiences to men starving for experiences.

I sell my time, I sell my flesh, I sell my well conditioned thoughts.

That said, it’s worth mentioning the slightly episodic nature of the feed, whereby a theme is explored over a number of individual tweets. A good example is the first few updates, in which the writer questions her existence and discusses the specifics of what she ‘sells’. Later, she tells little self-contained mini-stories that detail specific experiences in prostitution, here related to what ‘A man offered her’:

A man offered me his soul if I can give him my cunt for free.

A man offered me $600 to call his wife and tell her that he has been faithful.

A man offered me a thousand dollars if I would tell him while he orgasms that his life worthless.

A man offered me $700 if I allow him to shave the hair on my cunt.

Language:

One of the things that made me sit up and take notice of the @NaiveProstitute feed was its deep intensity of language. In her ongoing discourse on prostitution, gender politics, sex and morality, @NaiveProstitute makes absolutely no effort to dilute her thoughts. The language employed is almost confrontational, replete with profanity and direct references to sex, direct almost to the point of being sensational. She opts for the crudest euphemisms for sex, referring to ‘fucking’, ‘cock’, ‘cum’, ‘pussy’ and, the greatest taboo, ‘cunt’, never with any sense of  apprehension. The use of this taboo vocabulary is fearless and bold, lending the feed a sense of dominance and power.

I give them the image of the fallen whore who sucks cock for a living, who makes erections rise and fall.

A man offered me $700 if I allow him to shave the hair on my cunt.

I am lonely, the voice is lonely, the sex is lonely, when my pussy is not getting fucked I feel empty.

However, it would be wrong to get caught up on the feed’s propensity for naughty words. On the whole, it is written with a direct, unflinching simplicity, simple language undecorated by superfluous adjectives and adverbs. @NaiveProstitute writes almost entirely in simple sentences with bold main clauses, featuring a refined but not ornate vocabulary. The effect of this is dramatic. We are presented with a strong voice that is talking to us directly with no obvious subtext; she offers statements that disinvite conversation and our only option is to passively listen to whatever she has to say.

Following on from this idea, it is important to note that @NaiveProstitute writes entirely in the first person present tense. This might seem like a minor point, but there is an important immediacy that this narrative perspective creates. Also, the use of the present tense allows the writer to deliver verbs as clear, cold, imperatives, eg: ‘I enjoy’, ‘I call’, ‘I am’, ‘I give’, ‘I let’, ‘I offer’ etc.  The personal pronoun ‘I’ takes on a powerful resonance – we (ironically) feel subservient in her presence. A similar effect is achieved with the use of the word ‘whore’ which – in contrast to the plethora of synonyms she could have chosen (ho, skank, hooker, prozzie, slut, tramp, callgirl, etc) takes on a timeless sense of grandeur.

In all of this @NaiveProstitute also uses a great deal of repetition to develop a theme or idea, turning a series of tweets into something of a manifesto or even mantra. At one point, she details what $20,000 would get you, and the list soon evolves into something more like an hypnotic thought experiment…

For $20,000 I would have sex with an entire village of 50 men, once each, discount rates apply.

For $20,000 I would walk on my knees, naked in the streets, I would appear naked on wheel of fortune.

For $20,000 you can use any hole in my body to achieve your inner, librated child, 50 times over.

For $20,000 you can fuck me 40 times, wholesale, 50 times.

Imagery:

So, @NaiveProstitute is a twitter feed that isn’t afraid to be explicit. The feed is fairly full of sexual imagery, sometimes graphic, that throws us into the world of prostitution, or, perhaps, sheds light on the concept of prostitution by detailing it with such raw openness. We are frequently made aware of the narrator’s sexual activity, be it literally (with plain description)…

A man once paid me $835 dollars if I allow him to fuck my ass ravagely; I did, and half way through he stopped and started crying.

…or figuratively (with metaphors like ‘the palace of my cunt’):

When a man enters the palace of my well-trodden cunt, does he find pleasure? Not at all, he finds death, the frequenter of death.

Despite this, the @NaiveProstitute feed is not defined by sexual imagery. Explicit as these images are, they are by no means the be all and end all of the feed, simply details of the narrator’s experience that she mentions as part of a far wider discourse.

Rhythm:

When I first saw this feed I scanned a few tweets, as you do, and soon realised that I was reading whole sections of text in order, as though I was poring over a poem. The rhythm of the feed has something to do with this. Where many twitter feeds can feel disjointed and sporadic, @NaiveProstitute feels solid and purposeful. Tweets are delivered in batches that focus on a particular theme or idea, mini-essays packaged into 5 or 6 separate updates. As stated above in ‘Language’, this steady build has a largely hypnotic effect. We are drawn into an even rhythm that makes it very easy to continue reading.

$50000 to have me willingly make out with you.

$20000 to take me on a vacation for a month.

$5000 to have me as your girlfriend for a week.

$750 for anal sex.

$500 for a rimjob.

$375 for a vaginal fuck.

$295 for a blowjob.

$200 to lick my pussy

$175 to watch me play with myself until I cum.

$150 to watch me play with myself.

Tone:

Obviously, the whole thing is highly sexually charged, at times just plain filthy and, as a result, pretty exciting if I’m going to be honest. I’m reluctant to say the feed is erotic however, because there are other things going on that prevent it from being a simple discourse on sexuality.

First, it has to be said that @NaiveProstitute is quite seriously philosophical. The writer has taken the persona of a whore, a whore that represents all of whoredom throughout the ages, and through her thoughts and experiences, discusses some pretty deep ideas about the nature of sexuality and humanity. In tone, the feed is extremely reflective and cerebral, dwelling upon the nature of prostitution and asking meaningful questions about sexuality and mankind. The fundamental experience of a prostitute is that of a profoundly subjugated woman, and this sets up a melancholic, sometimes disturbing tone. We may be excited by the taboo nature of her lifestyle and the brash way in which she details it, but we are also saddened by the extent to which she is used for sexual gratification. There are moments of shock and sadness in this feed, sometimes simultaneously. Indeed, the real world details we are presented with often seem designed to provoke an emotional response:

When an ugly, hideous old man is pounding his flesh into mine, what is the discovery? What does he discover?

However, there is also an intellectual response that the writer invites us to explore, which is as potent as the immediate emotional reaction we have. The writer sets up philosophical debates that are very much poetic, inasfar as they present the us with ambiguities. To fully appreciate this feed the reader needs to be as reflective as the narrator and look into the gaps and silences in meaning.

The point is that sexuality is revolutionary until you turn off the lights.

Things are complicated further by a pervading sense of gloom that borders of morbid. References to death, souls, the night, numbness, pickling, ‘the fallen’ and so on combine to establish a dark tone that quickly puts pay to any simple titillation.

It all belongs to the night.

My revenge is the way you tell me that you love me simply because your penis is pickling away in my cunt.

I enjoy swallowing the souls of men.

On this note, moments of genuine sadness also permeate the feed, where the narrator outlines the futility of an existence that is not only commoditised, but bound to the animal pleasures of ‘ugly men’. Deep stuff.

I spend my life waiting for a man to murder my instincts.

I am a prostitute and my voice is narrow, my body is thin, my lips are supple and my dreams are vain.

So, exciting, reflective, philosophical and dark – in many ways a good example of Romanticism. A key difference is that where Romanticism can come across as pensive to the point of insecurity, @NaiveProstitute is almost confident to the point of being triumphant. There is absolutely no self-pity, loathing or doubt in the world of this character, and she often takes delight in her mastery over male sexual urges. Subsequently, we can pity the naïve prostitute if we wish, but she definitely does not ask us to.

A man said that he would leave his wife for me, then he gave me $400 and went away.

My revenge is the way you tell me that you love me simply because your penis is pickling away in my cunt.

I am not some poor hapless girl who fell in the wrong way, I want to be here.

Subject matter:

Tricky. There’s an awful lot going on in this feed – gender politics, sexual potency and its effect upon morality, the commodification of women, the reclaiming of female sexuality in a misogynist world, the conflict between sexuality and spirituality, sin and sexuality, the oppression and sexual subjugation of women and the paradox of female sexual control/ submission, to name a few. The best thing to do is to read for yourself, see how you feel, think about why you feel how you feel, and drop me a comment explaining your findings.

Ultimately, the title of the feed is telling. For all the philosophising, triumph and sexual potency, this is still the narrative of a subjugated woman who is trapped by the very same circumstances that empower her. Perhaps naively so.

A truly fascinating piece of writing.

-Unseen Flirtations

I am the woman that can only find numbness from the overstimulation, through the fucking, the random useless fucking.

What am I then? The filthy fallen woman, I think not.

What am I then, if not the slut that attempts to turn her body against the machine by embodying the machine.

What am I then, but a female revolutionary in my own cowardly, epicurean way?

I am the difference between commodification and commoditization.

I am the future of humanity where sex can only be purchased with U.S. Dollars and gold.

I spend my logic on petroleum jelly, on the lubrication of that fine American dream.

I felt it, when I was young watching the Disney shows, being fucked by my inner Mickey.

I felt it, once when I was in my late teens, society was fucking me, expecting me to be, expecting me to behave like a mall bunny.

I am a prostitute and every day thousands of women are trafficked for the purpose of pleasing the sex starved workers.

I am a prostitute and I spend my days waiting for the perfect night.

Related post: A breakdown of the excellent @chilean_miner twitter feed.

Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

BENVOLIO
He ran this way, and leap’d this orchard wall:
Call, good Mercutio.
MERCUTIO
Nay, I’ll conjure too.
Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh:
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;
Cry but ‘Ay me!’ pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove;’
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nick-name for her purblind son and heir,
Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!
He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not;
The ape is dead, and I must conjure him.
I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us!
BENVOLIO
And if he hear thee, thou wilt anger him.
MERCUTIO
This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite: my invocation
Is fair and honest, and in his mistress’ name
I conjure only but to raise up him.
BENVOLIO
Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,
To be consorted with the humorous night:
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.
MERCUTIO
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open et cetera, thou a poperin pear!
Romeo, good night: I’ll to my truckle-bed;
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep:
Come, shall we go?
BENVOLIO
Go, then; for ’tis in vain
To seek him here that means not to be found.
Exeunt

Form:

Apart from the odd interjection from everyone’s favourite peace-seeker Benvolio, this entire scene is a Mercutio-launched verbal assault directed squarely at his lovesick best friend, Romeo. The scene is a short interlude that sits between the excitement of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and their exchange of love’s true vows in the balcony scene. Fair enough. On a plot level not much happens at all – all we get is Romeo being asked by his mates to leave Juliet alone for the night, which he promptly refuses to do and runs off to breach enemy walls, armed with love’s light wings.

Dramatically, however, the scene is a chance for Mercutio to do what he does best: hog the limelight, say some outrageous things and prance about.

Language and Imagery:

First things first, Mercutio is what we can safely call a Dirty Bastard. His taunting speeches are riddled with what we might nowadays call ‘dick jokes’, sort of semi-disguised in thin puns and double entendres. He starts off fairly tame, goading Romeo with images of Rosaline’s body – her ‘high forehead, scarlet lip, straight leg and quivering thigh’. When that doesn’t work, he takes it to the next level and goes balls out crude with sexual innuendo, starting with a sly reference to the ‘demenses’ (‘land’) that lies adjacent to her quivering thigh. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina.

And it gets worse. When Benvolio diplomatically says ‘and if he hear thee thou wilt anger him’ (translate: ‘man, shut the cuff up, you’re gonna piss him off!’) Mercutio responds with some fairly tasteless references to Romeo’s sexual frustrations:

This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite.

Here, ‘raising a spirit’ is a reference to ‘getting it up’, or having an erection, which Mercutio says Romeo wants to do in his mistress’ ‘circle’. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina. Now, while there is reference here to some mumbo-jumbo folklore about raising spirits from a circle drawn on the ground, Mercutio is actually talking sex. He is saying that Romeo would feel ‘spite’ if some other ‘strange’ guy got the chance to ‘stand’ in Rosaline’s ‘demenses’ before he did. And oh yeah, ‘spirit’ is 16th century slang for ‘semen’. So there you go.

The imagery in all of this is clear enough, but Mercutio ramps it up when he starts to get all fruity. Literally. Have a look at this picture of a medlar fruit:

A small, round fruit with an apricot-like cleft that opens up when ripe and ready to eat. Mercutio equates this with… lady parts, which remain closed until said lady is ready to ‘open up’. Yep, exactly. Now, Mercutio says that a) Romeo wants to be around medlars, (horny) b) Romeo wishes his mistress was like a medlar (ie: ripe and ready to ‘open up’) and c) that maids call their ‘fruit’ medlars when they ‘laugh alone’ (ie: in the privacy of their bedrooms doing what young men fantasise about girls doing alone). Are you getting how rude all of this is? Well it gets worse when he then goes on to state that Romeo wishes he was a ‘poperin pear’, which, to get to the point, is late 16th century slang for penis. Simply because the Poperinghe pear is reminiscent in shape of the male sexual member and looks like it would fit snugly into the medlar’s cleft. It’s worth mentioning that a particularly ribald player could pronounce it “pop her in” pear, for added laffs. Get it?

(also, ‘open et cetera’ is originally ‘open arse’ – the actual slang term used to describe the medlar fruit. I guess modern editors are just squeamish)

Rhythm and Tone:

During this short and undeniably filthy scene, Shakespeare ramps up the innuendo from fairly innocuous references to Rosaline’s body to full blown mental images of sexual organs, represented by bits of fruit. For an audience, little chuckles of acknowledgement could develop into yelps of shock as Mercutio’s puns get increasingly more base. The scene is brief and adds little to the story, but it injects a spike of humour into rapid plot development and makes for a nice contrast to the intensity of the balcony scene that follows.

Obviously, Shakespeare plays it for laughs, but the extremity of Mercutio’s taunts suggests something more complex in tone. We know that Romeo’s adventures in love are going to end in ultimate tragedy and there is a sense of desperation in Mercutio’s efforts to stop him from breaching the house of Capulet. Also, as Juliet later attests to, Romeo is literally risking his life to see her, a fact that Romeo’s mates would also be aware of. Yes, Mercutio is getting a few laughs and trying to get a rise out of his best bud, but he just might also be trying to protect him from danger.

Subject matter:

On the one hand, this scene is about sex and the strength of Romeo’s sexual urges, but it also highlights the conflict between different types of love in the play. Unbeknownst to his friends, Romeo has gotten over the melancholy of his ‘courtly love’ (medieval convention of unrequited love where you act like a moody teenager and write poems about lovesickness etc) and is not even thinking about the high forehead of Rosaline. He has developed a deep and spiritual connection with Juliet, a true love that is leading him towards his tragic fate.

Mercutio may not know that it will all end in death, but he has a deep-seated fraternal love for Romeo. This makes it difficult for him to accept Romeo’s decision to choose a girl over his mates, and it is unsurprising that the strength of his feelings is manifested in wild and outrageous sexual banter. So, as always with old Billy Bard, there are serious undertones at play, even during a seemingly ‘light’ scene. You could even argue that Mercutio’s feelings towards Romeo go beyond fraternal love into something more intimate – feelings that he can’t express openly.

On this note, it is telling that the scene ends not with a crowd-pleasing punchline, but with sober resignation. After all the laughs and energy, Mercutio simply gives up, accepting that any efforts to help Romeo are in vain. From ‘haha’ to ‘eww’ to ‘aww…’, in 40 lines.

-Unseen Flirtations

Click here for a detailed analysis of Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss: Act 1, scene 4.

John H Davies: Fractured Limb

John H Davies: Fractured Limb

John H Davies is a poet I stumbled across via his ‘Daily Bread’ poetry blog, in which he writes an original, new poem, each day and will continue to do so for one year. A quick glance through what has been posted so far confirmed that this was one to watch and Mr Davies has kindly granted me permission to feature his work on Unseen Flirtations.

I highly recommend browsing his blog – there are some real gems on there and the whole poetic journey is fascinating to watch. Below are one recent poem and a quick flirts. Consider your appetite whetted.

-Unseen Flirt

Fractured Limb
It struck the bough half way along its length
at the moment I chanced to be looking out
across the field towards the old oak.
Rather a forlorn tree, not the majestic
symmetrical shape you see in books
and standing alone at the head of a ragged hedge.
And yet it framed the window perfectly,
and it seemed unfair that it should be singled out
for such a ferocious, random attack. The lightening
felled the branch with a fizzing crack, and it
maintained a horizontal attitude as it fell
to the ground in slow motion, as the rain
hammered against the glass pane, the whole event
seeming oddly detached from reality,
and I searched for some divine meaning
but found none; a random act of nature;
and returned to my work, looking up some
half hour later to see the tree slowly burning
from its base, the flames eventually dying
to a pyre of smoke, doused by the still
teeming rain, and realizing I had witnessed
a random act of nature defying nature.
The tree lives on, still rather forlorn,
but every inch a king.

-John H Davies, 4th February 2011

Form:

The free-flowing form of the poem invites the reader to focus on the narrative, which unfolds in something of a prosaic style. An unfussy, direct structure asks us to concentrate on the story being told rather than the poetry in which it is expressed. That said, self-contained subordinate clauses in the first eight lines of the poem almost create a sturdy list of observations/ assertions as details are heaped on top of one another. Each of the first eight lines makes sense on its own terms and can almost be taken in isolation. This soon gives way to a more erratic enjambment which is altogether more fluid, forcing us to run ahead with the narrative. It is telling that this happens at the moment when ‘lightening’ enters the story, left hanging at the end of the ninth line. We literally have to trip onto the next line to make any sense of what the relevance of this lightening is.

What I find particularly effective is the lack of  line break at the pivotal moment of lightning striking. In fact, it all happens so quickly that the poem doesn’t have the chance to regroup, already having moved on to the aftermath of the event before it has completely subsided.

Language:

The opening sentence is completely stripped of decoration, presenting a scenario that is unembellished, free of adjectives and adverbs. All we know is that ‘it’ struck the bough when the speaker was ‘looking out across the field’. As the poem progresses its vocabulary expands to give evocative, sometimes emotive detail, with powerful adjectives (ragged, ferocious) and onomatopoeic verbs (fizzing, hammered). The effect of this is to give the poem a jolt of vitality that parallels the impact of lightening on a tree. In all of this there is an air of gravitas in the speaker’s lexicon. Words such as ‘pyre’, with its connotations of ritual and ceremony, nod to the intensity of the event for the speaker, while ‘witnessed’ suggests that what has been seen is something far more than casual.

Imagery:

The tree’s journey is detailed in a storyboard of powerful images, from ‘forlorn’ (not majestic), standing alone, falling in ‘slow motion’, slowly burning and ‘doused’, back to forlorn, and ultimately a ‘king’ (so majestic after all). In this sequencing of events we are given a range of images that create empathy between us and the tree. The final lasting image of the tree as ‘every inch a king’ elevates the forlorn figure to something greater and , like the poet, we have ‘witnessed’ it happen through each dramatic stage.

Generally speaking, the poem is replete with natural imagery, described in some detail. Within this, there are noteworthy contrasts that are 1) striking and 2) highlight the volatility of the natural landscape. The poem starts with quiet, almost dull calm, then spikes into the ‘fizzing crack’ of the lightning strike, contrasting with the subsequent slow burning and ‘teeming’ rain. In terms of imagery, this is a fairly busy poem that only rests once the majesty of the tree is restored.

Rhythm and Tone:

As stated above (see Form), enjambment keeps the poem moving but those initial self-contained clauses allow us to pause and digest each new piece of information. The rhythm fluctuates when the lightning strikes and clauses begin to be split between lines (The lightening / felled the branch with a fizzing crack, and it / maintained a horizontal attitude as it fell). Naturally, this creates as shift in tone from calm to urgency. After this peak in action, the poem takes another shift into more contemplative zones, as the speaker begins to reflect upon what he has witnessed before concluding that the tree is regal.

Subject matter:

In all of this, the poem achieves a balance of reverence and philosophical meditation. As the speaker states, this poem is a reflection upon ‘nature defying nature’, a documenting of something rare and remarkable that highlights the potency of nature and understated beauty of destruction. There is nothing grandiose about this, even if the event itself is extraordinary. There is no ‘divine’ meaning, despite the fact that what has happed is ‘detached from reality’. You could argue that this is one of the central tensions in the poem, between the spiritual and the terrestrial, but I don’t think this is entirely fair. Nature just is. Things happen. Mythical oaks get felled by lightning, and all we can do is watch on in quiet awe.

If there is any overriding message it has to relate to the constancy and resilience of nature, which, symbolised by the tree, can even defy itself. The tree can be destroyed, felled, burned and left smouldering, but still lives on in a forlorn yet regal glory – damaged, but not defeated. As the title implies, this is a meditation upon a ‘fractured limb’ that will mend and, ultimately, persevere.

-Unseen Flirtations


Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

A poetic analysis of Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, released in 1993.

Form:

Groundhog Day follows a clear narrative line, with plot development, a climax, resolution and all that good stuff. However, what sets it apart from other films (and what makes it so damned special) is its quirky central premise – that the same day is being repeated over, and over, and over (and over) again. What we get is a film that is stuck in its tracks, failing to get much further than its own introduction. Narratives can be loosely broken down into five sections: Introduction – Development – Complication – Climax – Resolution, a format that is playfully manipulated to create circular plot that the protagonist is required to break out of. Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is introduced and developed, but the complication is that his story becomes stuck and he literally can’t go forward. Meanwhile, his narrative (his personal development) continues apace, and this is what the audience is watching. In this sense, the film operates on two levels; the circular, time loop plot and the linear narrative. Phil is trapped in the former and the audience can watch his development in the latter until the cycle is eventually broken.

Language:

One of the reasons that Groundhog Day is so distinctive and memorable a film is that it plays around so delightfully (can I say that?) with film language. Ramis sets up a fairly average sequence of events that structure Phil’s day. It’s just a normal day. But, with the repetition of these events – waking up to ‘I Got You Babe’, meeting Ned ‘bing’ Ryerson, having lunch with Andie ‘blood sausage’ McDowell, et cetera, the film is given a grid of circumstances for Phil to inhabit. Every shot, every pan, every edit, becomes a familiar cue for the audience and we eagerly anticipate the next variation of Phil’s day. The writers have given themselves what I think is the greatest source of creativity: boundaries. Literally repeating itself, Groundhog Day works off a limited vocabulary of scenes and set pieces and the writers are subsequently forced to be as inventive as possible to prevent the narrative from being as redundant as the plot. The creativity comes from Phil’s varying responses to this and the limitless possibilities his changing moods throw forwards. Clever stuff.

Imagery:

As stated above, the repetition of key scenes/ images is what gives Groundhog Day a sense of drive, but the subtle variations of these repetitions is what makes the film so fascinating. Because Phil is the one variant in a relentlessly unchanging landscape, the audience finds themselves scrutinising him with an unusual level of intensity. We notice his increasing scruffiness in the first two acts, as he gradually gives up hope, and his sharp return to form as he plans for redemption fall into place. We notice small details of background that become increasingly important as Phil begins to explore the town of Punxsutawney. The puddle he keeps forgetting to avoid, the game of Jeopardy on TV that he develops a sixth sense for, the ‘background’ characters he eventually shares intimate moments with, and so on. This is a film about the ordinary becoming extraordinary, a theme that is played out with subtlety through increasing focus on various images.

Rhythm:

I can’t quite work out if writing this thing would have felt like the most exciting thing ever or chore. Probably both. As stated in ‘Form’ (above), Groundhog Day is a film that sticks, skipping like a scratched record very early in the plot. Naturally, an uneasiness is created by this as we realise that the film is quite literally going no-where. At the end of every day, Phil will indeed wake up, again, at 6.00, midway through the second verse of ‘I Got You Babe’. Thankfully, the character of Phil is so compelling that we don’t simple abandon his narrative, but actually become drawn into it, keen to see how he will cope with purgatory. However, while the plot is even and cyclical, the events that unfold are not. The film takes us through confusion, boredom, crisis, tragedy, comedy and more, with careful editing of each day to fluctuate the rhythm as is necessary. Some meetings with Ned (Bing!) are longer than others for example. The writers have given themselves enough flexibility to ensure that each repeated day is a completely new experience (despite being same ol’ same ol’…).

Tone:

I’ve kind of touched on this in ‘Rhythm’ (above). For me, Groundhog Day is a truly complete movie experience, largely due to the range of moods it throws forward. The over-arching tone is comic, watching our pathetic anti-hero battle with his own fate and negotiate various funny situations. But, within that, we get a tangible sense of tragedy throughout. Phil is trapped, in a heaven or hell of his own creation and this is deeply disturbing. In the film’s third act we see Phil take himself to the brink of oblivion and beyond, deciding to end his life in spectacular fashion (driving off a cliff in a high speed police chase having taken the town’s groundhog hostage). The high drama of this is met with what I feel to be the coldest response the writers could muster – waking up again, to start the same day. The pain and joy this creates is summarised in that beautiful/tragic montage of Phil continuing to commit suicide in every way imaginable, culminating in a graceful slow-motion fall from the top of a building. This is joy and pain, release and tragedy all rolled into one. On the one hand Phil can live like there’s no tomorrow (which is great) but he’s faced with an infinity that will be shaped by his own imagination (which is terrifying).

What’s all the more remarkable is that the writers do not shy away from the comedy that underpins this tragedy, or vice versa. Phil’s suicides become a running gag of sorts, and when he eventually opens up to Andie McDowell in the café, he does so with a casual sense of indifference that invites us to laugh. “I’m a god” he says, and we have to smile. If not, we might cry.

Ultimately, the film, for all its comic moments and saccharine-sweet “let’s live here” ending, is actually quite dark. Phil is forced to dismantle his entire person and discover the meaning of love and face his own mortality, before he is allowed to move on. The over-riding tone of this resolution is relief, but a relief swathed in joy. We have seen the trauma he undergoes for his ‘happy ending’, and I don’t think the writers are asking us to question the validity of his redemption.

Subject matter:

Reading back over what I’ve just written, I don’t think that it’s an accident that there are scattered references to religion and spirituality in here. For me, even as the 11 year-old I was when this film was first released, Groundhog Day felt important because it is a discourse in what it is to be human. One of life’s greatest challenges is routine; the simple fact that as we age, life becomes a cycle of stuff that we must negotiate and deal with whilst attempting to work out what it all ‘means’. From a pessimistic point of view, life is exactly like a broken record – a grid that we inhabit until we die. And how do we prevent this grid from defeating us? Do we bludgeon forward and do the same thing we did yesterday, hoping change will greet us tomorrow? (like Phil’s first few repeated days) Do we indulge in hedonism with bad food, money and sex? (like Phil experiments with) Do we admit defeat and let our lives die? (like Phil). No. Phil tries all of this and none of it works. So, what is this film fundamentally about?

Sounds cheesy, but the answer is love. Phil can only move on in life when he gives himself up to love completely and without equivocation – the love of art (literature and music….), the love of others (helping as many people as he can, trying to save a dying homeless man he used to ignore, catching a falling boy from a tree…), self love (learning an instrument, reading widely, learning to ice-sculpt…) and, of course, true romantic love. The film culminates in a ‘perfect day’. Phil’s deep, rich, new-found love, puts his own well-being as secondary to that of the people around him, and as a result, he doesn’t even have to try to woo Andi McD. She comes to him.

One of the film’s most poignant lines is, ironically, one of its most cheesy, when Phil announces ‘let’s live here’. He makes his own heaven out of what could very easily be hell – a deeply profound and spiritual idea. We create our own fate and shape our own destinies, regardless of how restrictive the grid of living may appear to be. What a film.

-Unseen Flirtations



Dove: Beauty Care Body Wash

Non-poem of the week: The back of the shower gel bottle

Dove

Supreme

Beauty Care Body Wash

With natural caring oil

 

Dove has taken two of the things skin

loves most – oil and moisturising

cream – and put them together.

The result is richer in caring oils

than regular shower gel.

A luxuriously pampering and seriously

caring shower experience.

Rich in oils, but not oily.

Deeply moisturising, but not heavy.

A beautiful contradiction.

 

Form:

So I’m in the toilet scrabbling about for something, anything to read, and all I can find is an empty bottle of Dove body wash. Shower cream packaging is not the highest in literary content but, fudge it, I’m already sitting down and last week’s Stylist magazine is out of reach.

I turn the bottle over expecting to find a list of ingredients, maybe a place of manufacture, and lo and behold, what do I find but something that looks suspiciously like a poem. Centred, short lines, clearly a stanza. Verse. A quick scan confirms my initial suspicions… the good people at Dove Body Wash have indeed whacked a poem (of sorts) on the back of their product, on the off chance that an inquisitive thinker/ body washer might just flip it over and be inspired to get ‘deeply moisturised’.

Language:

It all starts off fairly innocuously with a simple description of the product. Nothing too offensive – simple, descriptive, undecorated language. But as I’m sitting there scanning, I reach the second half of the stanza and -blam- I’m hit with something a lot more powerful. Adverbs. ‘Luxiuriously’, ‘seriously’, ‘deeply’ – these words are thrown at the reader to emphasise the extraordinary cleansing power of Dove. Throughout the piece language is used in a pretty heavy-handed manner for this exact reason. The vocabulary is not particularly sophisticated but it is discerning, throwing out high impact verbs (caring, pampering), adjectives (beautiful, rich) and adverbs (see above). I’d like to think that the opposition between ‘regular’ and ‘richer’ shower gels is intentional, but I doubt it. Any poets at Dove who can confirm otherwise, please let me know.

Imagery:

There isn’t much imagery a shower body wash non-poem could throw forward, other than that of a body being washed, but this does try. Skin is almost personified in the first couple of lines, as the writer begins to detail what it ‘loves most’. We can almost picture ‘skin’ enjoying itself and lathering up. The word ‘pampering’ has connotations of luxury and conjours up images of opulence, reinforced by the repetition of ‘rich’/’richer’.

Rhythm:

All that punctuation can’t be an accident. Whoever wrote this (I’m guessing work-experience placement in Human Resources or PR) took their time getting the caesura going. The full stops slow the whole thing down completely, forcing the reader to pause and digest just how luxurious the Dove body wash experience is. For example – The full stops. Slow the whole thing down. Completely. Forcing the reader. To Pause. And digest. Just how luxurious. The Dove body was experience. Is. See?

Tone:

The sumptuous vocabulary and measured pace I think are supposed to be sensual, with a building up of sexual energy as the non-poem progresses. The opening is fairly informative, with a hint of sensuality introduced by the superlative use of ‘love’. Next thing you know you’re in soft-porn territory with those simpering adverbs and repetition of ‘moist’ – the dirtiest of dirty words. Then, just in case you’d gotten carried away with all that steamy shower talk and forgotten you were being advertised to, the writer hits you with the solid soundbite: ‘A beautiful contradiction’. It’s actually neither of these things. It’s just creamy soap, which ultimately lends the piece an (unintentional) air of comedy. I would love to see a reply from ‘regular’ shower gel. I bet it would be a limerick…

 

Subject matter:

Showers, sex and things to read whilst having a shit. Very intimate.

-Unseen Flirtations


Aphex Twin – ‘Avril 14th’ (Guest critic King Louie)

A poetic analysis of Aphex Twin’s ‘Avril 14th’, courtesy of guest critic King Louie, aka Bananaman (don’t ask). Critical breakdown below, accompanied by audio clip of the song in question. Enjoy…

-Unseen Flirt

(Click below to hear ‘Avril 14th’)


Form

This is a short piano piece of just over two minutes, divided neatly into four sections, two of which are repeated with some slight variation. This repetition gives it the feel of a traditional ballad or song with a repeated chorus, a verse with a distinctive melody, and a bridge (or middle eight). The verse and chorus measure eight bars each and are played through twice each time they appear, giving a total length of sixteen bars, much like a conventional verse that your average rapper might write, as has been mentioned earlier (find the analysis of ‘Too Many Mans’ here). This magical number of sixteen bars is not unique to rappers and hip-hop music, but also to music in general, where units of four are the building blocks, as evidenced by the dominance of four-four time – more on that in rhythm – and the prevalence of the twelve bar blues, for example.

Language

Avril 14th uses a piano primarily, although somewhere below the piano lurks the faintest scratchy percussive sound, perhaps a dampened metronome. The tone of the piano is beautifully clear and it sings lyrically in the middle of its range. There is a touch of reverb, such as you might find in a small room, which stops it sounding too dry. The melody is in a distinctive, wistful minor key and as such is very traditionally classical sounding – something that the piece as a whole reflects (including the use of a traditional instrument like a piano, rather than the usual synthesised instruments Aphex Twin uses), and is a break from character for the artist. As such, the language is simple and the piano speaks with a clear, uncomplicated voice, using a series of rising figures as a backdrop to a simple unfussy melody. The last chord leaves the listener feeling somewhat unresolved, hanging as it does above the root note, and is used in a similar way  to Shakespeare leaving us hanging when Hamlet declares “To be or not to be/that is the question”, leaving an iam incomplete in order to illuminate the indecision of his famous prince of teenage strops.

Imagery

The minor key in this piece lends an air of quiet, calm reverie. In its simple lyrical melody there is a hint of pastoral beauty – rolling fields and an autumn day perhaps. The lack of words allows the listener to create their own imagery, but the atmosphere created speaks to me of stillness, of an uninhabited room, or perhaps a single character engaged in slow, methodical activity. There is a definite echo of the form of a lullaby in the piece, speaking as they so often do of sleep, the night, dreams and so forth.

Tone

The tone of the piece is calm, considered, thoughtful. At moments, particularly in the middle eight, it takes on a slightly darker tone through the use of lower pitch and heavier rhythm, but generally retains an air of gentility. Through the constant movement and the rising figures, there is the feeling of optimism, of growth and regeneration, perhaps reflected in the title, “Avril 14th”, which is reminiscent of spring, rebirth and reawakening. As mentioned above, the ending leaves us uncertain with its failure to resolve, but this uncertainty is one which holds promise in the sustained note that rings softly to a close.

 

Rhythm

Avril 14th uses straight four-four time, the musical equivalent of iambic pentameter. This means the piece can be divided evenly into units of four beats called a bar, roughly equivalent to a line of poetry. Western music relies heavily on this time signature and it is incredibly common. The use of this rhythm puts the listener immediately at ease. It moves calmly throughout with a steady, unchanging pace (about 170 beats per minute by my estimation – quite fast but made to feel slower by making the melody almost half the speed). The scratchy percussive sound in the background occasionally follows the melody, but more often than not echoes the steady accompaniment of notes that land on the beat in a rising sequence.

 

Subject Matter

Discussing the subject matter of a poem that is completely without words is not the easiest thing to do, but we can make some guesses. The title would suggest that the piece marks a date – Avril is French for April, after all. A birthday or an anniversary of some sort seems most likely… April is also the beginning of spring, and this is certainly something that we can read into the piece, with its rising inflections and gently thoughtful feel. Connect this to the references to lullabies and the earlier discussion of that particular form, and we can still make some statement about the subject matter.

-King Louie

Black Swan: A review in tweets

Black Swan: A review in tweets

Saw Darren Aronofsky’s latest, Black Swan, last night. A run down of my thoughts on the film in reverse chronological order, as posted on Twitter.

The true skill of Cassell, Kunis, Hershey and Ryder is in their ambiguous depiction of Portman’s delusions.

RT @truphtooph It’s one of the few films where the first act drags. Really laboured setting up that white swan/black swan metaphor. #blackswan (Note: I disagree…)

By the time you reach the 2nd act it’s like a personal invite into the protagonist’s nightmare. #blackswan

Far fewer behind the head POV shots than in ‘The Wrestler’, but no less personal.

The end product is not only pitch-perfect, but perfectly paced. #blackswan

The delusions are uniformly terrifying and reality is consistently comic #aronofskysmind #blackswan

Postman wisely keeps the anguish high and the sinister undertones low. #blackswan

The moment of tragedy and the moment of triumph are one and the same. #blackswan

Darren Aronofsky’s wound fixation is one of the most powerful forces in modern cinema. #blackswan

Cassell can switch on the pantomime villain act at will and with skill. Excellent. #blackswan

The end product is not only pitch-perfect, but perfectly paced. #blackswan

 

What I forgot to say:

Form – As is typical of Aronofsky’s work, Black Swan builds steadily towards a powerful crescendo, wracking the tension up by degrees until the inevitable happens. Like an accident in slow motion.

Language – In terms of storyboarding (the language of film), Black Swan is heavy on ambiguity. Lots of fast panning, playing with reflection, slow POV shots that take us into scene with the protoaganist et cetera. All of this combines to create a heightened subjectivity- we are in the same world, imagined or real, as Nina. And, like her, we have to pick our way through it, working out what’s real and what’s not.

Imagery – Aronofsky doesn’t shy away from ‘look away’ moments that must be desigend to linger in the mind after the credits roll. Mundane, ordinary living is juxtaposed with crazy moments of magic realism, like spikes in an otherwise even heartbeat. The power of these images enahnces the surreal nature of the film, making us alert to Nina’s delusions.

Rhythm – The slow build towards the final act is a steady climb, interrupted by peaks of action and little explosions of tension. The film is generally steady in its development but avoids (in my opinion) being laboured in the establishing of that black swan/ white swan metaphor. (see Truphtooph’s RT above) The final act is a frantic exposition of plot that mirrors the mayhem of Nina’s emotional turmoil. It works incredibly well on both a narrative and conceptual level.

Tone – Surprisingly light actually. And in a number of ways. First, the everyday experiences that Nina undergoes are presented as mundane, with no effort to highlight any sinister subtext. In places humour is actively manufactured, with jokes and set pieces that seem intended to release tension and give the audience room to gather themselves. That said, the darker undertones of Black Swan are unwavering, unsurprisingly so in light of the plot. From the outset, we are presented with a character on the brink of an abyss, creating a tension that fuels the narrative. What I find interesting is that the release of tension almost sets the overriding tone for the film, making the final chapter as relieving as it is dramatic.

One other thing: Black Swan is incredibly sexy. Largely due to the simple fact that sexuality is a powerful element of raw, human instinct – an urge that we can only repress so far. The audience is frequently reminded of this fact in heterosexual and homosexual contexts, with sexual relationships contributing to the film’s sub-plots. And (of course) it makes everything a bit more sensational. Sex sells and all that.

Subject matter – NOT ballet, repeat NOT BALLET. Black Swan is about ballet as much as The Wrestler is about professional wrestling. Which is quite a lot actually (sorry to contradict myself, stay with me), but not entirely. The film is a deeply subjective character study that explores thmes ranging obsession, sacrifice and the power of the subconscious over the conscious. It also touches upon the impact of physical experience on the conceptual understanding of self. To this end, it doesn’t even concern itself with human relationhips. The people around Nina are less fixed, realistic characters than projections of her subconscious, so it’s not entirely useful to dissect their various interactions. So I won’t.

-Unseen Flirtations

Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four

Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four

ROMEO [To JULIET]

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

Form:

The 14 lines in question form a sonnet, a perfect Shakespearean sonnet in fact, with three ABAB quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end. Easy to miss when seen/ heard and even quite subtle when read. This is the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet at the Capulet ball. Shakespeare goes to pains to write the encounter as a sonnet. As you know, the sonnet is traditionally associated with love, so it’s no surprise that Shakespeare chose this form to detail the first exchange of words between our young lovers. Ahh.

Romeo takes the lead with the first quatrain, Juliet the second, they share the third (Romeo taking three lines and Juliet one) and the final couplet is split evenly between the two. Why? Well, what we get is a gradual intermingling of speech, a conversational to-and-fro that culminates with two people perfectly in sync, speaking in a shared rhyming couplet. The fact that the sonnet so naturally fits into the dialogue of the scene highlights just how compatible these two are – they speak in shared verse, complementing each other to create a fixed meter and rhyme scheme.

Language:

The conflict in this sonnet is basically between sex and religion – the body and the spirit. You get two semantic fields with the vocabulary of the body (hand, lips, kiss, palm et cetera) meeting the vocabulary of religion (holy, shrine, sin, Pilgrims, saints, devotion et cetera). The combination is electrifying.  Our young lovers are seething with physical desire and lust whilst simultaneously discussing their religious concerns. This religious language also attests to the seriousness of their relationship. Their love is not limited to physical attraction – it transcends into the realms of agape. We are meant to take them and their love seriously.

Romeo, the bold lover, kicks off the sonnet with a sly conflation of physical and religious language. In his metaphorical description of his lips as ‘blushing Pilgrims’ he is attempting to convince Juliet of the purity of his intentions. Yes he wants to get physical, but he is overtly spiritual in his request. Juliet, coy and intelligent, picks up on this and extends the metaphor, using her own metaphor to describe the act of prayer (joined palms) as a ‘kiss’. Romeo clearly has his work cut out for him.

By the end of the poem, they have reached an understanding. A kiss is a prayer and vice versa, so they can kiss without problem. On this note it is telling that Juliet repeatedly calls Romeo (a hard-headed romantic from a rival tribe) a ‘Pilgrim’. This label validates his love and tells her, and the audience, that he is worthy of a kiss. (Romeo immediately calls this kiss a ‘sin’, playfully perhaps, but also in acknowledgement of the inappropriateness of snogging on a first date).

The rhyme in this poem is more than simply out of necessity. Key words are linked by rhyme, one example being the rhyming of ‘prayer’ and ‘despair’ in the third quatrain. Here, Shakespeare is making reference to the tragedy that will befall the couple – the ‘prayer’ of their sacred kiss will ultimately lead to ‘despair’ and grief. The audience knows this already (thanks to the Prologue) and are reminded in this initial exchange.

Imagery:

As discussed above, the sonnet is replete with images of prayer and kissing – two very contrasting actions. The former is carried out in isolation, seeking personal enlightenment. The latter is an act of shared intimacy between two people. That said, prayer does also involve the recipient of that prayer, suggesting that both positions are intimate in different ways.

What is worth noting is the way in which Shakespeare subverts imagery. ‘Palm to palm’ prayer is an innocent, entirely religious image that we are invited to equate with lip to lip kissing, when Romeo says ‘let lips do what hands do’. The prayer becomes the kiss.

Rhythm:

As all sonnets go, this is written in clear iambic pentameter. This natural, flowing rhythm is undisturbed and subsequently, a sense of steadiness is achieved. These two people are on the same beat, so to speak. They speak in rhythm and are constant in pace. Admittedly, all of Shakespeare’s plays are written as such but in the context of a shared sonnet, the effect is highlighted.

Tone:

On the one hand we have a gentle conflict and tension between Romeo and Juliet, the young Montague trying to persuade Juliet to allow him his ‘gentle sin’. There is nothing excessively shocking in this however, and the language of the sonnet is only quietly shocking.

After the first two quatrains, taken by Romeo and Juliet respectively, the sharing of the third quatrain introduces a sense of urgency. The exchange becomes more passionate and fluctuates, as the pair move closer towards their kiss. Also, in keeping with the nature of the sonnet, there is a turn (or volta) after the octet. Romeo asks a question that highlights a fundamental problem in the religion/ physical conflict –‘Have not Saints lips and holy Palmers too?’ Don’t spiritual types have physical, sexual urges? This turn could potentially lead to disaster if Juliet refuses to play along, but, thankfully, she doesn’t. We overcome this hiccough and reach an assured, content resolution.

Subject matter:

So what is this sonnet about? Easy – Love. Love in the broadest sense – love that spans physical attraction and sexuality to religious adoration and a deeper, spiritual connection. Romeo and Juliet have both from the outset, and this sonnet serves as evidence of this fact.

-Unseen Flirtations

(Click here for a detailed breakdown of Act 2, scene 1, where Mercutio taunts Romeo)