Sunday, June 1, 2008

You heard the man you love

Sorry for the delay, poem-lovers! But we're back! And here is our poem for the month: You Heard the Man You Love by Margaret Atwood.

Read it online. Print it. Read it out loud. Read it to a friend. Copy it into your favorite notebook, word by word. Absorb the poem. Be the poem. Consider the poem.

All this week you are invited to stop by and discuss the poem. Discuss Margaret Atwood. Next week, we'll post a prompt for writing a poem inspired by "...the man you love."

Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the poem!


Anonymous said...

from Therese--I think this is mostly a straightforward poem, with some degree of subtlety (although I could be mistaken about that assessment). I will proceed as though the "you" is female, is a "she" (but it's not necessarily).

We readers are tempted to say: she lacks trust and the ability to communicate. She is sneaky, almost a voyeur, spying on the man she supposedly loves. We readers are tempted to judge her, to say: if she really loved him, she would work harder to communicate with him more directly. Through the wall, she overhears indecipherable sounds which might be evidence of his infidelity, but which aren't proved to be such. Yet, without certain proof, she jumps to the conclusion that he no longer loves her more than anything or anyone else. So, we readers are tempted to say: she jumps to that conclusion because she doesn't really love him; rather, she is looking for some excuse to be released from the relationship.

But I deliberately thrice use the phrase "we readers are tempted" for an important reason. The poem's degree of subtlety lies in this aspect: the poem is delivered through the voice of an unidentified speaker who is, as well, "overhearing" the thinking mind of the woman, and also perhaps making assumptions. That unidentified speaker might be equivalent to the woman, but we, as readers, can't be sure. And we readers must not commit the same mistake as the woman by jumping to erroneous conclusions.

So, the poem is, in part, about the stories that we piece together (like the obscure footnote to a poem) from mere scraps of reported news or mere anecdotes of human behavior. Just like that woman, just like that overriding voice, just like that obscure footnote: I, too, here and now, am making assumptions about what is or is not being communicated.

Nathan1313 said...

This is a nice choice for discussion. There’s a lot to say about this poem. One of my favorite things going on here is the interplay of immediacy and distance. The use of the second person creates a sense of immediacy right from the beginning.
The action of the poem is all about distance though, as the subject (and the reader) is placed “in the next room.” It’s refreshing that Atwood makes the action listening instead of watching. It makes me wonder about the poetic possibilities of hearing and how they are distinct from the more common use of images based on seeing.
So we have the first half of the poem in which this active ear is trying make a bridge to understanding and we get these great hearing-images or possibilities for the “rumbling” of a lone voice: anger? Obtuse rumination? Or some everyday act?
And then he starts to sing and the poem turns. The whole nature of the listening changes. When something random becomes art or when something in our attention suddenly strikes us how does our perception change?
There’s desire here but the subject doesn’t want to possess the thing that initiates the desire. We don’t “open the door.” It inspires. The singing gives rise to the most visually beautiful line of the poem the “purple-green monotone…” Our attention, our desire for the singing isn’t about us (“He wasn’t singing for you”) or even about the man. The distance remains in regard to the person singing. He is “unknown” and “alone.”
The poem ends with a map of this new desire (maybe the desire that art inspires?): hurt that it’s not specifically about us, curiosity, happiness and the highest level of appreciation, being “set free.”
I think Therese brings up some interesting points. I think the first half of the poem is about "jumping to conclusions" in a sense but the second half seems to me to be talking about what we do when the object perceived makes us forget about our need for conclusions, i.e. when all we can do is "listen."

Anonymous said...

There is a voyeuristic quality to the first half of the poem that's undeniable -- what do people talk about, esp. the ones we love, when they talk to themselves?? To me, the tone is actually light, whimsical, as the lines move from wondering about anger to perhaps lost keys.

And then the turn, the singing, which lifts the poem from whimsy to something deeper, because there is a secret here after all:

he was an unknown man, singing in his own room, alone.

By which I mean there's suddenly a beautiful stark reminder how mysterious even those we love are -- one can't know everything there is to know about another -- an Other.

Which can hurt. But also, how wonderful this unthought-of capacity to surprise and be surprised!

Nathan1313 said...

Mariegauthier's comment made me think again about the quality of distance in the poem. In the beginning the distance is an obstacle, a "wall." After the encounter with the singing, at the end, this distance has the quality of being "set free." This distance might hurt, but it's also the condition of possibility for a new kind of freedom. This is a great poem.

Anonymous said...

my first impression of the poem (without reading any of the more in-depth analysis in the comments) is that it's very accessible. it's one of those poems that you read and say, "Yes!" i've been there, i know that, i feel that. it makes a connection in us to something we have recognized in ourselves but may never have heard anyone put into words.

i'm afraid that's all the brain power i have today. i'll come back in a more thoughtful mood soon and read more carefully.