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 grassmonk.net, there was a somewhereIforget.com/stevee 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.

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