The poem in question: All The World’s Attention
This poem is different from anything I had written previous in that every line contains the phrase “all the world’s attention” (except one that just says “the world’s attention”). One of the inspirations for this particular style was Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones,” though that song was infinitely better written, and as I recall, Paul said the song was not about the line “hearts and bones,” but rather “the arc of a love affair.” Anecdotally, one of the Paul Simon sites I used to frequent had a reader vote/bracket thingy for best Simon song and “Hearts and Bones” won by quite a margin. While not my absolute favorite Simon song, it is very high on the list. But I digress.
A few other Paul Simon songs influenced some of my other poems. I’ll make sure I note which in their respective commentaries. But I digress again (or rather, still).
There should be no question to the theme explored in All The World’s Attention; it’s pretty well spelled out, but I suppose I can explain what I had in mind when I wrote it. At the time I was feeling somewhat outcast, though I don’t exactly recall why. It may have been a combination of Miss Decker’s non-mad English-teaching skillz, the break-up with my girlfriend, or something else entirely. I don’t remember. What I do remember is the feeling and the way I tried to express it, as I often did in those days.
Everyone knows that when a new baby comes around, everyone wants to ooh and aah over it. Rightfully so; babies are amazing creatures, though I don’t believe that anyone can understand just how amazing they really are until they have their own babies. Each new thing a baby learns how to do, even the very simplest of things, is met with encouragement and (very often, at least in my house) thunderous applause. I mentioned a few of the bigger events of childhood–crawling, learning to walk, going off to kindergarten–in the poem, though in retrospect I could have added learning to talk, as well.
Once childhood is over, though, it can seem like it’s all over: suddenly not everything you do is national news. You got another A in school? That’s great, honey, but I think we’ll hold off on calling the newspaper this time.
So this is an example of realizing the world doesn’t revolve around you, and taking it way too far. You’ll do anything you can to get the attention back, including things you would never think to do otherwise. Eventually it all blows up in your face, and sure, people are paying attention now, but all you feel is shame, and you want to run away, hide in any way you can. A scripture from the Book of Mormon is called to mind:
For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence. (Alma 12:14)
Well, in this particular case, the subject of the poem turns to suicide. It could be any number of things, really, but the reference I was making when I wrote it was suicide. I’ve never been seriously suicidal–I believe too much in the afterlife to think it could do me any good–but I’ve known people who have been, and have even committed suicide, and I can understand that the temptation can become so overpowering that one can feel absolutely helpless to escape it.
(Another side note: the song “War on Drugs” by the Barenaked Ladies is, I think, I wonderfully written song related to this subject.)
So, having thought to end his shame by removing himself from life, the subject fails to escape what he thought he wanted all along: all the world’s attention.
This poem holds a different meaning for me now than it did ten years ago. Now, as I write this commentary, I am reading the poem off my site and see next to it a picture of my daughter, Aeris. Since becoming a parent my perspective on many things has changed, and I worry constantly that I will not be a good enough father to teach her all the things she will need to know to get through life intact. I have imagined all the world’s attention, and I want to make sure that she gets the right attention all the time, and that she knows how to deal with sorrow, pain, and difficulty. Reading my poems helps me remember some of the things I went through and helps me understand–if just a little bit–what I need to teach her.
That was probably more detail than I meant to go into, but having discussed the subject matter, I’d like to address the writing a little bit more. Simply put, I think the concept is very interesting but the delivery is terrible. There is no rhythm or meter to speak of, just a strangled attempt to piece together words, which incidentally reminds me of a verse from one of my absolute favorite Paul Simon songs, “Kathy’s Song”:
A song I was writing is left undone;
I don’t know why I spend my time
writing songs I can’t believe
with words that tear and strain to rhyme.
That said, the following is a quick and dirty update of All The World’s Attention, though I have learned my lesson about replacing the original.
A infant with his rattle
Receives all the world’s attention.
His teetering first few steps
Garner all the world’s attention.
The first time he leaves home for school
Steals all the world’s attention.
By now he is accustomed
To all the world’s attention.
One day soon he’ll need to fight
For all the world’s attention.
He’ll get it, but then what to do
With all the world’s attention?
Try to run, try to hide
From all the world’s attention.
That twisted path can only lead
To all the world’s attention.
Huh. Well, what can you do?