Rock Genius: David Byrne – ‘Miss America’

Hello,

It’s taken me a while to realise that David Byrne is one of my all time favourite lyricists. Case in point? ‘Miss America’ from his 1997 album ‘Feelings’.

Click here (or the picture above) for my breakdown of his lyrics on Rap Genius/ Rock Genius. A better discourse on the complexities of modern America you will not find.

Best,

-Un:seen

‘Miss America’ by David Byrne
I love America, her secret’s safe with me
And I know her wicked ways
The parts you never see

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although you have a reputation
Can I afford to move above my station
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered

And I love America, but boy can she be cruel
And I know how tall she is
Without her platform shoes

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although at times it might seem awkward
Don’t run away, oh don’t you recognize me
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered
And I kissed America, when she was fleecing me
She knows I understand that she needs to be free
And I miss America and sometimes she does too
And sometimes I think of her
When she is fucking you

I love America
Yo siempre he confiado en ti
I love America
Por que me tratas asi?

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although your pants are round your ankles
And when you’re down, I’ll be your dirty harry
It will be just like in the movies

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although at times it might seem awkward
Don’t look away, I’ll be your teenage fanclub
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered

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Rap Genius: Notorious B.I.G – Insecure misogynist?

Hola,

So my recent Rap Genius exploits led me to start annotating Notorious B.I.G’s ‘One More Chance/ Stay With Me Remix’, a song that is ostensibly about the pursuit of women for sexual adventures, using wealth as bait. Fair enough.

A few minutes in, I realised that the song (one of my all time favourite tracks) has hidden depths that I am only now starting to appreciate. Which leads me straight to the question: Is Biggie an insecure misogynist?

You can read all of my notes by clicking here or on the picture below, but here’s an extract, focussing on one line in particular:

 

“The finest women I love with a passion”

Hang on. In the first verse, he declares how he has a predilection for ‘honeys, dummies, playboy bunnies and those wanting money’. Now he’s saying he has a passion for ‘the finest women’.

What’s going on?

Option A: Biggie is confused. He is (like most men, really) sexually insecure and actually seeks the validation of strong, independent, beautiful women. Being sexually unattractive (‘ugly as ever’), he is forced to rely on his wealth, which will only ever attract ‘inferior’ women, so that is what he does. He also resents this, as alluded to by the sinister connotations of ‘death stroke’ and ‘tongue all down your throat’ in Verse 2, which could imply a latent malevolence towards women.

Biggie’s affiliation of fine women to a flashy lifestyle is problematic (as raised by my wife) because it suggests that ‘fine’ women will only ever go for ‘fine’ men. Biggie should perhaps have more confidence in his creativity, intelligence and wit.

Option B: Biggie is seeking to empower women. He understands that many women, like him, (especially from America’s ghettos) are looking to empower themselves through financial means and he appreciates this. (Those wanting money/ They the ones I like…) This song charts the transformation of poor girls into rich girls. Then, in this final verse, he asks if said girl would ever go back to her old life, through the ‘him or me’ dilemma.

Option C: Both. Biggie, like Gatsby, has the power to live his dreams, transform women into queens on earth and win the finest women around, but cannot let go of his poverty-born insecurities. He validates himself through his ability to secure wealth and secure women, which is poignant because he ignores the thing that validates him most of all: his artistry.

Whoa.

Right then, That’s it for now.

-Unseen Flirtations

Related posts:

John Keats – Give me Women, Wine and Snuff

John Keats – To Autumn

Sway – Say It Twice

Dizzee Rascal – Brand New Day

JME – 96 Bars of JME

J-Live – Them That’s Not

 

The Poetry Man’s Balloon Song

So today turned out to be monumental day in my teaching career, in that I went all out Mary Poppins with a year 7 class I only see once every fortnight. Let me explain.

There’s a stray year 7 class I see once every two weeks on my timetable. Usually when this happens we just have a silent reading lesson, but in the past I’ve been frustrated by playing the role of glorified cover teacher. So, I decided to try something a bit different. One off poetry lessons. That should be fun.

After a chat with colleagues, we joked about creating a full-on persona called ‘The Poetry Man’, who would wear mad outfits, speak only in rhyme, wield a harmonica and other props and generally be the kind of character you only find in the pages of Roald Dahl. Well, I say ‘joked’, but after some wine, I thought, screw it, let’s go for it.

Now, the first Poetry Man lesson was supposed to be two weeks ago, but the class were on a trip, so I’ve been waiting patiently for today, for, well, two weeks. Here’s what happened:

After a colleague got the class into my room, she left and I was cued in. I burst into the room in full mac (covered in words/ poetic terms) wide-brimmed trilby, semi-automatic umbrella, harmonica and Moleskine notebook. I stand stock still and glare at these bewildered 11 year olds for a full 45 seconds, in pin-drop silence. Then I say “stand up”, and up they stand. And so it begins.

I won’t go into too much detail, but real life just isn’t like this. I got them to all respond to a line in rhyme (in order to earn the right to sit down), waved my brolly, jumped on tables, screeched on the harmonica and pranced around like mayhem. Anyway, (and here’s the main bit of this blog post, so pay attention), I eventually burst into a riddle poem for them to guess. It went like this:

WHAT AM I?

You can throw me,

Roll me,

Blow me full of air.

Punch me with your fist before you kick me down the stairs.

Tie a string around me and give me to happy people,

Or let me fly away towards the heavens like an eagle.

I come in different colours like a rainbow in the sun-

Adults put me in the corner, children think I’m really fun.

I like to go to parties and I stretch like bubble gum

And though I’m light enough to carry, I can lift about a tonne.

I’ll carry you across the planet, hanging from a basket.

I’ll whoosh around the room and make a noise like someone farted.

Some people twist me into crazy shapes, just like an artist

(which is actually quite annoying really-

Especially when you haven’t asked for it…)

I can be large

I can be small

I can be short

I can be tall

I can be pompous and inflated

Or understated and deflated.

I’m squishy and I’m shiny

And I fly when you untie me –

You can bob me,

You can pop me,

You can find me, you can buy me…

 What am I?

They all guessed that it was a balloon (of course – keep up) and I ordered two of them to open the cupboard, out of which pours… thirty inflated balloons. I told you, two weeks I’ve been waiting for this. The two TAs in the room are completely baffled at all this by the way, especially when I ask one, at volume, blowing a harmonica: “why is this one bigger than the others?” So, each kid gets a balloon and a marker, and turns it into a face. To cut a long blog post short, the next 30 minutes is a balloon adventure. I send one tiny girl downstairs, outside and shout out of the window.

“Can you hear me, whoever you are?”

“Yes, Poetry Man!” she replies.

“Good!” I shout. “We’re sending down our balloons!”

Then I tell each kid to run up to the window, chuck their balloon out the window  and run down to retrieve it. Outside, we line up and go frog-marching round the school, umbrella and harmonica in full action, chanting away some fizztabulous (shout out to Roald Dahl) song that I was making up on the spot. LOADS of classes are coming to the windows to see what’s up and some teachers start telling me off (you couldn’t make this up), but I just blow the mouth organ and dash away. We kick the balloons in the goal, give them showers in the water fountain, slap them about, et cetera, then head back to my room to immortalise the adventure in a poem.

The kids write, I prance, we have an impromptu jam session when one boy breaks out his drumsticks and then I call it all to a halt. I draw the curtains, tell them I’m turning the mood “from happy to sad” and (this has to be the best bit of the day) I hear one kid whisper nervously, “I think he’s going to kill us…”. That’s fantastic. Anyway, I tell the kids that nothing can live forever and line them up against the wall, with their balloons. Then, I produce… a pin.

Yes, that’s right. Each child is forced to come to the front and kill their balloon, after a few parting words. Sad and exciting and everything in between. With the massacre complete, they have to finish their poems with that final morbid detail, and (at the warning bell) I deliver a rhyme about shedding a tear and disappear – leaving the class in a mild state of shock. Teaching can be far more surreal than real life, and the Poetry Man is far more surreal than teaching.

So! That’s why today was ever so slightly monumental. It’ll all happen again in two weeks and I have a fairly big act to follow. Below are some of the poems produced by the class. Enjoy!

-Unseen Flirt

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.

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