Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Yes We Know a Banana: A Thing Poem

A thing poem is a poem about--you guessed it--a thing. --An object, an item.



In News of the Universe: Poems of The Two-Fold Consciousness, poet, Men's Movement leader, and Jungian Robert Bly argues that the thing poem is new to the West (as in Western civilization); actually he argues that old German riddle-poems (about things) were in the right ballpark but that the West abandoned such poems. It's pretty easy to come up with thing poems written after the riddle poems in the West, however. Swift's poem about a rain-shower in London is really about a sewer-system. Keats wrote about an urn, Wordsworth about a locomoitve, Dickinson about all sorts of things. Bly's interested in a particular kind of thing poem, however, one in which the poet doesn't merely describes but free-associates. Bly might argue that poets should let their unconscious or submerged-conscious mind go to work on the object, just as our dreaming minds go to work on objects, associating freely and surrealistically. Elsewhere Bly has argued that mainstream English and American poetry hasn't done enough of this "leaping," this association. There's too much flat-footed, linear description in the tradition, from his point of view, if I'm representing his view correctly. He's passionate and insistent about his Jungian approach. Me--I'm no Jungian; or if I am, I am one by accident; or I am one and I don't know it--maybe that's the point of Jungianism. But I do like to read and write thing poems, and when a poet gets stuck, turning to the writing of a thing poem is usually a good way out. It's a way to get back to basics. Look at something, write about it, let your mind play carom-shots off it.



Here is a thing poem about a banana. I have given it the second most predictable title I could think of, not "Banana" but "Of Banana." I rather like that old-fashioned use of "of," to mean "concerning."



Of Banana


An armada of curved yellow boats
sails from tropics to a blue northern bay.
On surrounding hills, something
has happened to snow, which is
warm but not melting, is firm
and edible. Modestly we chew the snow.

In the cobbler’s workshop, scraps
of gold leather darken with age.

Tiny faces appear in fog, recede.
Air tastes of smoke and vanilla.

I shall ask that to your door be delivered
a bouquet of enormous commas
with which to punctuate sections
of lush rhetoric you bought at auction.
It is not the least I can do.

Harvesters are chopping, hacking
at sun’s abundant fruit.
Eros arrives in a Panama hat, promoting
a golden fertility symbol. From dense trees,
bright birds deride phallocentrism,
and why wouldn’t they?

Here, dear, are a few soft, white coins
with which to purchase sated hunger
before you walk back in the world,
before you must decide
how many of what to buy.

Here, dear, is charcoal. Please
use it to draw lines on thick, soft yellow paper.
Now peel back the paper to reveal the essence
of what you thought you were drawing. Are
you hungry?

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom
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