Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too"





Since “Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too” a poem I wrote about Spiderman, shows up in a lot of anthologies and text books and therefore becomes assignment material for students of many ages, I frequently get emails requesting more information on the poem. So I’ve prepared the following to answer some basic questions about that poem. Feel free to post comments or further questions either at the end of this post, or in the guest book section of this site.

First, you should realize that just because a writer says something about their own work, that doesn't automatically mean their interpretation is better than yours. Some writers have far too much pride in their own view of their work and don't trust alternative views. But the truth is, a good reader can see stuff in my poem that I didn't see. So feel free to take the following with several grains of salt.

One question that gets asked frequently is: “What was I thinking/feeling as I began writing that poem?”

Well, here goes. After six years of college teaching, I'd just gotten tenure at the university where I teach in Miami and I knew, given the difficult job market, that it was going to be very hard to find a different job somewhere else, so more than likely I'd probably be right there teaching the same courses at that same university and having the same routines many years later. So I just better accept where I was and try to make the best of it. (I was right. This is my 36th year of teaching at Florida International University.)

At the time the thought was kind of depressing. I was also struggling with the whole idea of being a writer. It's a tough profession--especially as a poet. A lot of rejection all the time. Maybe fifty poems rejected for every one accepted. That wears on you. Kind of like Spiderman getting caught in a web of his own making.

I can't remember why exactly I chose Spiderman. I guess I was thinking that as a kid I'd always dreamed of being a writer--and that I'd thought that being one would be like being a superhero of some kind. So I started to wonder if maybe even superheroes got bored with their routines, and their personalities just like normal people did. Voila, the poem began to take shape.

When this poem was written, back in 1979 or so, I hadn't read a Spiderman comic in years, so some of what I describe in the poem is factually wrong. I've mixed him up with Batman a little, for one thing. You could describe these "errors" as "poetic license" or you could just say I didn't know what I was talking about. Personally, I don't think that makes a big difference, but there are some readers who disagree.

The speech impediment (which might be considered politically incorrect these days) simply started out as a technique to try to be funny, but it turned into more than that. As I wrote in that Elmer Fudd kind of voice, I found places in the poem where the words actually meant something different in the new speech (my heart beat at a different wate (weight) I was also thinking that even superheroesmust be flawed in some way. They LOOK like they have wonderful lives—just as writers do---but that's all from the outside. But when you get close and really inspect them, and hear how they talk, wow, they're just like the rest of us, pimples, warts and all.

Of course "buining" one's suit is the punchline of the poem. It's a hard thing to do--recreate yourself, reinvent yourself. Become someone different, someone new. Throw away one identity (and mask) and put on another. We all struggle with that in some way or another. We want to change, to grow, to abandon one set of personality features for better ones. That's why people go to school, to church, to the shrink, and it's one of the reasons why we write. To reinvent ourselves.

But it's a very hard thing to do. Old habits die hard.

So that's it: A quickie analysis. But I'd be willing to entertain alternate views. There's just no right answer to what a particular poem or story "is about." I'm not the expert (as I said above) just because I wrote the poem. A careful reader can often spot things, or come up with theories that are more revealing, or make more sense than what a writer thinks.

It's one of the frustrating and wonderful things about studying and teaching literature. There are no perfectly right answers. There are answers that are righter than others, or answers that are more elegantly argued. But interpreting poems is much like figuring out people. What's on the surface is not always real. And what's below the surface is never easy to be one hundred percent sure of. That's what makes the whole enterprise of reading literature so much fun, and teaching it such a challenge and joy.



Spiderman as just an ordinary guy.


















Here's the poem itself:



All my pwoblems
who knows, maybe evwybody's pwoblems
is due to da fact, due to da awful twuth
dat I am SPIDERMAN.
I know. I know. All da dumb jokes:
No flies on you, ha ha,
and da ones about what do I do wit all
doze extwa legs in bed. Well, dat's funny yeah.
But you twy being
SPIDERMAN for a month or two. Go ahead.

You get doze cwazy calls fwom da
Gubbener askin you to twap some booglar who's
only twying to wip off color T.V. sets.
Now, what do I cawre about T.V. sets?
But I pull on da suit, da stinkin suit,
wit da sucker cups on da fingers,
and get my wopes and wittle bundle of
equipment and den I go flying like cwazy
acwoss da town fwom woof top to woof top.

Till der he is. Some poor dumb color T.V. slob
and I fall on him and we westle a widdle
until I get him all woped. So big deal.

You tink when you SPIDERMAN
der's sometin big going to happen to you.
Well, I tell you what. It don't happen dat way.
Nuttin happens. Gubbener calls, I go.
Bwing him to powice, Gubbener calls again,
like dat over and over.

I tink I twy sometin diffunt. I tink I twy
sometin excitin like wacing cawrs. Sometin to make
my heart beat at a difwent wate.
But den you just can't quit being sometin like
SPIDERMAN.
You SPIDERMAN for life. Fowever. I can't even
buin my suit. It won't buin. It's fwame wesistent.
So maybe dat's youwr pwoblem too, who knows.
Maybe dat's da whole pwoblem wif evwytin.
Nobody can buin der suits, dey all fwame wesistent.
Who knows?

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big poetry reader so i need a little insight on your poems "Preposterous" and "White Trash". I chose to write a paper on all three, and i understood them and really enjoyed reading them. As i said before, not a big fan of poetry, but really enjoyed them because i felt i could relate to something in each poem. Wonderful poems!

James W. Hall said...

Hey Anonymous-- If you like the poems and have a feel for them, then you don't need my help. Part of the fun of reading poetry is letting yourself feel free to interpret them in a way that makes sense to you. Not that any interpretation is as good as any other. But my best advice is to focus on a particular line, or a couple of line, or just one image and discuss what that image or line makes you feel or think about.

Sorry I can't be more specific. But I'm in league with your teacher and we secretly want to make you think for yourself.

JWH

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall,
It's an honor to finally (so to speak) meet you. I have been teaching in a K-8 school for 16 years. Every year I have a (sort of) tongue-in-cheek beatnik poetry day- we make hot chocolate (coffee or espresso substitutes), give a brief biography (to create the atmosphere) of Jack Kerouac, dress in black or horizontal stripes, and even some berets, play bongos, snap our fingers after a reading, saying silly stereotypical beatnik phrases- like "Crazy, man!) and take turns reading poetry to the class. I always read your poem first. The kids love his poetry day, and up and coming students know about it and anticipate it. For me, there are two poems in my life that totally grabbed me and shook me. One when I was in H.S., and yours when I found it several years ago as an adult. I even read it to my principal, who loved it, and told me that was how he felt. I have to explain it a little more to my kids. I kept a copy of "Pwoblem" on an inside cupboard door, and would occasionally become aware of it and smile. I eventually lost my copy, so while searching the net for the poem, I found your site. What you wrote about why you wrote it and what you have learned from others, has answered so many questions I had about this poem, even though I totally got it on face value. I encountered some negativity from a fellow female teacher who had a son with a strong stutterer. To me, that just made the poem much more interesting... and it totally riveted the kids when I went into this type of speech. As a child, I was also a stutterer, even thought your Spiderman had a different speech problem. The poem is good, but the speech impediment made it great for me. I never really thought about the author of this poem until I found your blog. The previous person who commented that he/she enjoyed your other poems made me smack my head. Those will be my next read. Yes, I've gone on way too long, but just wanted to say that "Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too" had a huge impact on me. Thanks.
Barry

Student said...

Hello Mr. Hall.
I'm going to be reading your poem aloud in English class, and so I'm curious as to how to pronounce some of the words. At first I thought the alternative spelling was supposed to be a really strong New York accent. I checked google to see if Spiderman was set in New York, and it was(at least, the movie was. I think the strip is a bit ambiguous about that). But after reading this I realize it is supposed to be a speech impediment. Or perhaps it is a little of both? I ask because if it is a speech thing it seems I should only mispronounce the 'r's, but if it is an accent I need to change a few of the other words as well. I hope you can clear this up for me!

James W. Hall said...

Hey Student: I'm sorry I didn't see your comment earlier--I think the "accent" is part Elmer Fudd and part New Joysy. Moytle da Toytle = Myrtle the Turtle. Kind of like that, I think. But I'm not adamant about how the poem should be read, or what it means.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall,

Is there any place I can go to get an audio reading of this poem, preferably by you, but of anyone of whom you approve?

Thank you.

james w. hall said...

Hey Anonymous:

I posted a Youtube video of an English prof reading the poem. You can probably find it just by going onto YouTube, or you can scroll down my blog and look for it. It was posted a few weeks ago.

Ira J said...

Professor Hall, this poem is one of the greatest pieces of writing I have ever read. I freakin' love it. Thank you for making me think and laugh many times over.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall
That is the best poem EVER!!! When I was in 6th grade, we read it in my reading class, and it cracked up all of my class. We read it so many times, we were crying from laughter!!! Every time I read this poem, all I think about is the good times of 6th grade and everyones faces when we read it. It has amazing symbolism. It was sooo funny. "Maybe dats your pwoblem too" is amazing! It is my favorite poem.

Big Al (St. Pete, FL) said...

I luv dat pome! It boyne's me up dat more Poetz don't white lik u!

Dean said...

.... and then there's all 'da time spent watching all dose Satwaday moaning cartoons.

Always nice to hear some'ting diffuwent.

The spell checker died. The proofreader had a heartattack. the printer ran out of black ink. The Xerox jammed.

But, the editor loved it (go figure).

There's a saying that "it's not what you do between Thanksgiving and Christmas that counts. It's what you do between Christmas and Thanksgiving ...."

:)

Anonymous said...

i wove this poem it is so funny! i cwacked up when i wead it!

Anonymous said...

i wuv this poem! awe thewe any mowe poems like this one let me no.

Anonymous said...

My english teacher let me do a poem, and i chose this one because not only is it funny, but its pretty deep. Great job dude.

Anonymous said...

My impression.

If the hero is bothered by the mediocrity of his life, he should learn to communicate properly.

As it stands now, regardless of his intelligence, or what he achieves, he presents himself as being rather stupid or at best, poorly educated.

This is his problem.

Perhaps it is your problem too.

Cayleh said...

Hey Mr. Hall. I am writing an analysis paper, on this poem, but I also have to include an autobiography of you, but I am having serious issues finding anything thats actually about YOU. I keep getting almost every other Jim Hall on the planet, but I can't seem to find one thats actually about you.
Do you know of any actual sites, or even books, that would have your autobiography?

K.C. said...

As a pastor I have loved and used your poem as an illistration for years. We as Christians.. particularly OLD Christians, have an affinity for this feeling. Once you are a Christian and Jesus has you, you just can’t stop being one. Even if you want to. Heavenly treasures in earthen vessels… and the vessels grow tired and weak.. we want rest from being in the world and the pressure it brings. We want a break.. but continue.. never sure or certain if we really are making a difference.. but this one thing we know… we are His.. and we are fwame wesistent!! So off we go to tell the Good News!! Until… we go!!

Thank you for a wonderful metaphor Mr. Hall

Da Pixie said...

For a poerty contest in school, a fellow peer of mine brought in your poem 'Spiderman'. Out of the 90 some poems I've heard in the contest, it was, by far, my favorite. It was awesome being able to find the poem and read it again!

Anonymous said...

Jim,

I have used your poem with high school kids for many years...I got it from a creative writing teacher here in Washington state.

I use it as "the mask" we all wear..along with the film Mask, starring Cher and Phantom of the Opera, etc.

I always wondered about the Elmer Fudd voice. The kids riot every year when I tell them I'm not sure why you used it...now I sorta know, but I'll still let them riot.

Tom
Granite Falls WA

Katrina said...

I am a recent MAT graduate from Southern Oregon University. It was very interesting to read your blog about "Spiderman." I used your poem several times during my student teaching experience and the kids loved it. It's interesting to hear the middle school student's perspective on the suit. It really is true that kids at this age are 100% self absorbed. This summer I plan to use your poem again during a young writers' camp. My thought is to have the writers think about the poem, read between the lines, and write a story about the main character in the poem. I'm undecided on whether I should give them the background you provided or not.

Anonymous said...

i really liked this poem and i think you should write a poem of batman or superman aswell we did this poem in scholl and we all enjoyed it so please write another...

River Jordan said...

And here it is - Poetry Month in 2010 and I'm searching for this poem on line to share on the radio program River Jordan LIve on Weds the 28th. First met this poem about 20 years ago in college. Will never forget it. Because there are some days I just don't want to put the suit on.

Now I can read the entire piece for my WALKING THE BLOG segment. Oh happy day.

River

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall-

Is this really YOU, Jim Hall, talking to us?

-Curious Reader

Jeff said...

Hey Jim, just discovered your books etc. I have become a fan. Was reading your blog on Spider man and then Tim Teboe. Is it possible he is not Superman but Spidey, except he truly loves being Spidey and wants to wear the suit. Love or hate,He seems to evoke people to stop and reflect, all at 20 yrs of age. Not sure at 57 if I have ever done either. Sure they will be watching to see if he hooks up with any Perkins waitress in a SUV. He knows that comes with the suit.

Anonymous said...

I really just love this poem. It made me laugh! 8)

Aleah said...

We read your spiderman poem in class. It is one of my favorites and is included in a poetry collection that I'm doing for class. It is very funny and has a good metaphor.

Jordy said...

as soon as i heard this in class, i fell in love with it! I haven't read your other poems (because i didn't know you had any until just now) but i'll have to read them soon! Really soon :) (By the way, my favorite lines are "So maybe dat's youwr pwoblem too, who knows.
Maybe dat's da whole pwoblem wif evwytin. Nobody can buin der suits, dey all fwame wesistent.
Who knows?" Because I think you were totally right)

LakelandNS said...

I have been reading with my nephew for his English credit, and your Spiderman poem was one of our assignments. Our interpretation differed a little bit from those posted here, not in the end message - we got that we all struggle to put on that suit day after day. What we saw was the poem written from a child's perspective (due to the Elmer Fudd voice) and marveled at how deep of a viewpoit was offered by such a young voice. Thank you for this. We had a blast with it.

Ragtime said...

I love this poem! My teacher showed it to us in class to analyze for diction and it's definitely taken place as my all-time favorite poem!

sewi said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Hall,

Today I visited a 6th-grade language arts class that was finishing their unit on poetry for the year. The last thing the teacher did was read this poem aloud to his class. I laughed the whole time, then came up short during the last four lines. Thank you for the moments of laughter and profound thought. When I graduate and get my own classroom, you can bet your poem will be a part of my literature unit.

Cheers!

Shelley said...

Your poem has been part of my literature unit for 10 years. I'll be introducing it to 7th graders today. :-)

Anonymous said...

it an ok poem i guess, hey christian

Mike Cal. said...

Hello Mr. Hall,

We just read your poem in my 9th Grade English Class and my classmates and I really got a kick out of it. After we finished reading it most of the students in my class concluded that the overall moral was that we all sometimes have trouble putting on that suit day after day. As an assignment, my teacher is having us write our own poems as a superhero and also using a different voice. I'm very interested in what some people might come up with. Thank you and I cant wait to read some of your other pieces.


-Mike Cal.

Johnathon Treon said...

Mr Hall,

You truly are an inspiration to all with your pieces. I loved how you managed to bring comedic relief to a truly important problem which is our place in society. I look forward to seeing any future pieces.

Your fan,
Johnathon Treon

Anonymous said...

A really great and interesting piece of literature. I was honestly very confused at first. Your explanation cleared a lot of things up. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I love that poem it's so funny I like how u based it off of spiderman

Anonymous said...

When I taught Freshman English, I used this poem every semester. The students loved it. So happy to find this now, so many years later.