Monthly Archives: July 2007

Poetism Commentary: "Insincerity"

The poem in question: Insincerity

Interestingly, I was about to do the commentary for Cried Out, as it showed up next on the list of poems on the site. However, when I looked in my notebook, Insincerity came first. They were both written the same day, but one had to come first, right? It should be no surprise that the theme is very much the same in both poems.

This is the first of ten or so poems, by my quick count, that are about or make reference to an actual relationship that I had with a girl. I’m sure I’ll note which ones are which in future commentaries.

This particular poem references the relationship I had with the girlfriend I have mentioned in other commentaries (the first, and only high school sweetheart). I wrote this poem some four or five months after our break-up. She was the teacher’s assistant in my English class at the time, and so we had to speak to each other occasionally, but after the school year ended, I didn’t speak to her for about two years until I called her on a whim one day and tried to make at least a small amount of peace with her. We ran into one another from time to time at university, but never redeveloped any lasting friendship or bond.

We only dated for a few months, and I have some very fond memories of her, and a few not so much. I remember the first time we went out–unofficially, because I was not quite yet sixteen; in the LDS church we do not date until we are sixteen–we went to a school play with my friend Ben and her friend Jeni. I remember that I put my arm around her at the play, and I think we kissed sometime later that night. Ben was really, really mad at me, I think because of the whole not-yet-sixteen thing. I’ll have to ask him and see if he remembers. He was so mad that the next day when he wasn’t speaking to me, I got mad and got into a stupid fight with another friend, and ended up being thrown in a garbage can by most of my electronics class. Ben was in that class, too, and sat by and watched. He still liked me enough not to participate, but was mad enough not to try and stop it.

Anyway, this particular girlfriend and I thought we knew it all, and talked sometimes of the time when we would be married (we meant to each other, not just married in general). In other words, we were your typical stupid teen-agers. I also remember assuming future marriage with another girl I dated, which means I am doubly stupid and probably still don’t even realize the full extent of my stupidity.

When we broke up, she was very upset. She thought I liked her friend Jeni more, which probably had some amount of truth to it, though I certainly would never have admitted it at the time. Secretly, I was relieved, though I certainly would never have admitted that at the time, either–at least not directly. Because of other things going on in my life at the time, I felt that I was not good enough to date her, or any other girl, for that matter, and I justified myself in my cruelty to her.

The first stanza of the poem speaks of some of this:

The memory was woven tight in his brain,
Indelible–yet it was hard to sustain.
The unbreakable love broke down bit by bit–
The love to which they’d sworn to commit.
The boy was uplifted, joy placed in his heart;
The girl was hurt deeply when the time came to part.

The use of word “indelible” was inspired by the Paul Simon song “Train in the Distance,” where it is used in the line

The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

I don’t think I had ever heard the word indelible before hearing that song, and the song itself was relatively new to me. As I recall, it was in the late fall of 1995 when Ben gave me my first Paul Simon album, the compilation “Negotiations and Love Songs,” which phrase is also found in “Train in the Distance.” The word “indelible” made an, pardon me for saying, indelible impression on me and I was looking for an excuse to use it somewhere. I even heavily mimicked the phrase in which I originally heard it used.

The next stanza describes what happened after the break-up, I thought as a result of it.

The boy built a wall ’round himself for protection…
That wall was an insincere nature developed;
He feared to again be sincerely enveloped…
He found it was easier playing the game
Insincerely; he could cast off all blame.

This is absolutely true, but not for the reasons that I suspected it was. I should have recognized, then, the truth in the lines

I think down inside him, he was ashamed,
And deeper down yet, shame kindled a flame.

I learned over the successive years that I was not jaded by the disappointing and untimely end of first love; I was haunted by other demons of which I was painfully aware, but of which I sadly lacked more than casual understanding. Soon enough I began to suspect, and have my suspicions confirmed, that it was, in fact, these other demons that changed me into something that I did not want to be, into something that I still am today, though I hope to a far lesser degree.

The final stanza offered me some hope that I would not always be walled-in, that there was something or someone out there who could tear the wall down and restore me to life-before-girl-related-heartbreak.

When alone he could do and say things that he’d never
Do and say un-alone; those ties had been severed.
He could write down his thoughts in forms such as this,

At the time, and for a long time after that, I felt that poetry was my only real outlet for feelings that I had that I didn’t want anyone else to know about. On the outside, I wanted to act like nothing ever bothered me, but I didn’t want to really let go of the “soft side” that I knew I still had and was secretly embarrassed that I didn’t let show. I addressed that very topic in other poems such as Poetisms just three days later, and Here’s Your Explanation a couple of years after that.

A note on the last line of the poem:

And attempt to traverse that dismal abyss.

It originally read

And recall, for a time, that very first kiss.

One night I was hanging out with my friend Cami, probably somewhere in mid-1998, and we were reading some of my poems. Heaven knows why Cami put up with reading them with me so often, but I am glad she did. Back before there was a, there was a where my site resided, back before I knew any semblance of PHP or MySQL, or even any semblance of not-crappy HTML. At some point after the beginning of October of that year, Cami printed off a collection of all the pages that were on my site at the time, which included all of the poems found on the site now up to and including you thought you had it made. That collection is one of the sources I am using in writing these commentaries.

Anyway, we were reading Insincerity and revisionism kicked in all of the sudden. I changed the last line, and Cami told me I was amazing. It meant a lot to me, though I probably said something really stupid back to her, to have someone tell me that I was talented at this poetry thing, and that it could actually matter to someone besides me.

I have probably said entirely too much in this commentary, and will no doubt look back on it in the future and wince at large portions of it. But I’m not done yet! There’s more. I want to talk just a little bit about the writing style.

I have already mentioned the Paul Simon-inspired line. There are two couplets that bother me:

He found it was easier playing the game
Insincerely: he could cast off all blame.


When alone he could do and say things that he’d never
Do and say un-alone; those ties had been severed.

The reason they bother me is that the first line in each is cut off at a stopping place that isn’t natural, though the second one sounds fine when read aloud as a normal sentence. The unnatural stopping points don’t bother me when taken by themselves, but as a whole they don’t seem to fit with the rest of the poem, stylistically.

I actually don’t have anything more to say than that, except that I’m now planning a series called “Poetisms Redux,” which will contain updated, though non-authoritative, versions of some of my poems. I have been thinking about it off and on for a while, and have already logged some attempts as seen in the commentary for What Lies In Wait and also All The World’s Attention. Last October I also did as hasty rewrite of Inner Betrayal, which I will publish in its commentary.

As a small preview of what could end up as an “Insincerity Redux”, I offer the following:

The boy had a memory, not oft spoken of;
it pertained to a past, and unbreakable, love.
His memory was woven deep into his brain,
indelibly–yet it brought with it pain.
Unbreakable love broke down bit by bit
and unbreakable love was now hopelessly split.

Somewhere inside him he still was sincere,
but did not reveal it when others where near.
He had a side left that he tried to suppress,
afraid what might happen if it was expressed.

And that’s that, folks. Good night.

Poetism Commentary: "Pretense"

The poem in question: Pretense

After a break of just under nine months, I am back to wow my readership with amazing commentary on amazing poetry that I, myself, wrote.

I actually began writing this commentary about ten months ago while commenting on What Lies In Wait. I mentioned my high school junior English teacher’s general cluelessness and not-liking-me-or-my-friend-Ben-ness, and was going to expound on it until I realized it would be more fitting in this commentary. Since I have gone so long without writing, some of this text has just sat, collecting metaphorical dust.

As I have noted earlier, Miss D. (why I feel it, if not necessary, at least polite, not to name names, I know not) was the bane of my academic existence at the time. She shared that honor with a class that was called “Business of Living” that was required coursework. One day in “Business of Living” the class watched “Grease.” What that has to do with the business of living, I shall likely never know, as I refused to watch the movie and instead went to the library, which is a story for another time, mostly because I like telling it.

Back to the subject at hand, I had the hardest time pleasing Miss D. with any of my poetical work. This is not to say that my work was amazing, which obviously goes without saying, but it was a sight better than the crap she held up as a shining example.

actual example of poetry held up as inspiration in Miss Decker’s class

I am like a staple
sometimes I am bent
other times I am straight

end actual example, begin mass spoon-aided seppuku

Now, I didn’t always try very hard in my English classes, as mentioned before, but I had a passion for poetry, and I worked hard on those assignments. Imagine my dismay at being told time and again, “This isn’t what I’m looking for.” Well, Miss Decker, no one knows what you are looking for, except Staple Boy. At one point I began writing down lyrics to songs by Paul Simon; I remember using “The Boxer” and “Born at the Right Time” specifically, just to see what kind of excuse she could give as to why they weren’t good.

I don’t remember her comment on “The Boxer,” but I do remember what she said about “Born at the Right Time.” I showed her these words:

Down among the reeds and rushes
A baby boy was found
His eyes as clear as centuries
His silky hair was brown

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

She said, “If this boy was found in the reeds and rushes, how could there be a church nearby to sound bells? I just can’t see the image. It just doesn’t work.”

I was dumbstruck. One, who said the church was nearby? Two, you’re a FREAKING RETARD, MISS D. So much for imagery. At that point, I absolutely gave up trying to please her with any serious attempt at poetry writing. If Paul Simon wasn’t good enough for her, how on earth could I hope to compete? So I went back to my desk behind my friend Ben and sat down. After some grumbling between ourselves about how stupid Miss D. was (again), I began to write. For the next 45 seconds, I wrote, and what landed on the page was Pretense. I took it up to Miss D.’s desk to show it to her. She read it, and loved it. She told me she was glad that I was finally starting to understand what poetry is all about.

To this day, apparently, I still have absolutely no idea what poetry is all about, because I have no clue what this poem is about. I wrote it, and I have no freaking idea. I took a neat-sounding word and wrote the first things that came to mind, mindlessly scribbling in an attempt to be as good as Mr. or Miss Staple. As best as I can recall, what is published on this site is entirely the original wording. Why mess with what is, for all intents and purposes, perfection?

So I keep this poem around as a reminder of stupidity that was not my own, as so much stupidity is. (My own, not not-my-own.)

Side note 1: I found out that Clark, a guy I used to work with, also had Miss D. for English a few years before I did. If you knew Clark, you’d imagine what kind of hijinks he’d pull in her class and laugh till you peed your pants and cried at the same time.

Side note 2: I mentioned in my last post that I had found the original draft of a new beginning. What I actually found was the original draft of From now on. They share something of the same theme, so apparently that’s why I was confused.