Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"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
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
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?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Thorn and What's Next

I started writing about Thorn over thirty years ago and I still find him a challenge.  He's ornery and unpredictable, and sometimes that makes it hard for me to embrace him fully.  I'm a little ambivalent about him in general and always have been.

On the one hand he's living close to nature and is very observant of the world around him, the spectacular Keys vistas as well as the collection of characters from the harmless oddballs to the sinister and everyone in between.  Those are features that I admire in him and respect the way he navigates a fairly wild collection of people.  After all he's a hermit and basically anti-social, but the requirements of the thrillers is that I must throw a set of people in his way and see how he reacts or interacts with them.    On the other hand he's a bit negative and gloomy about the world he's observing and that gloom sometimes threatens to overwhelm him.

Given all that, I decided about a year ago that it was time to take a break from Thorn.  Maybe for just a year or two, or maybe for longer.  I'm still undecided.

However, in the meantime I've been working on something new.  A new direction, a new set of characters, a new genre.

The new one, which is tentatively titled The Last Bloom, is an international thriller.  The scope is much broader with settings in Africa and Europe as well as Miami.  The character, a young woman, is more outgoing and more worldly than Thorn.  I'm hoping she's complex enough to sustain a series of novels.  She has unusual skills and a complicated family dynamic and a large knowledge of people and places around the world.  She's a traveller, an artist and a keen observer of people.

The Last Bloom centers around the international trade in cacao beans and the business of chocolate.  More on this later.

Now that the website has been updated and is about to be more thoroughly revised, I wanted to resume blogging.

I've been active on Facebook and Twitter in the last couple of years but I've seriously neglected this platform.  That's about to change.