Dysfunctional verse: The poetry of distance

February 4, 2012

I communicate poorly with women I’m attracted to. I’m an impactful speaker at’er, and savvy reflective listener, but proper two-way exchange is dodgy at best. Something in the demand and expectation narrows the channels. So, in lieu of grownup conversation, I tend to express my intentions or dissatisfaction via bad poetry. Usually in a public forum. While wildly ineffective as interpersonal tactic is has provided me with a deep well of shame to plum for literary edification. Let us examine:

The following is a roughly chronological rundown of questionable verse written in the last half decade.

Let us prepare our palate with something appropriately bitter.

A blameless life

I wonder what would it be like

to lead a blameless life

and have my brittle pieces cut

but never fall

What was I trying to say?

“You do thoughtless things and never hold yourself to account for them”

Though it amounts to: How about that, you’re the nameless antagonist in poem you will never read…who’s pathetic now!

What was actually going on

 This falls under “Fuck you, you made sad so I’m going to slander you from the bully pulpit of an obvious poem that I don’t have to be accountable for” school of narrative verse. See the collected work of Mr. Trent Reznor for further reference.

Technical merit:

Not as bad as I remember. Nice cadence, flows well, efficient, conveys the inner state. Good effort linguistically, poor effort dignity-wise. As a general rule the person writing accusatory poetry lost the relationship on all cards.

The things that could have been

Beauty tried, and beauty failed, then never rose again
To make a better world without making better men
Dreamers looked, and dreamers lied, about wonders never seen
Searching for their failures in the things that could have been

What was I trying to say?

 I did the best I could with limited means but ultimately the world failed me by forcing transcendent love into an ordinary context.

What was actually going on here?

I’m fairly sure this was referencing a series of aborted hookups with a girl that I was not especially compatible with, but had talked up in my mind to such an extent that I couldn’t reconcile the reality with the expectation. Replace Beauty with Judgment and Dreamers with Whiners and it becomes a fundamentally more accurate recounting.

Technical merit:

The first stanza is decent and vague enough to be generously interpreted. The second is wooden and mopey enough it weighs down the whole piece. Brevity folks, it gives the illusion of competence.

After the Dragon

If I lay down by the dragons side
and neither fought, and neither died
just slept the night, so awful tired
could I still think myself a hero?

And would it be enough I tried
to hang the day, in mercy mired
forget the flesh, and thoughts acquired
at least until we awoke as strangers?

What was I trying to say?

I suppose I was trying to romanticize a fairly banal, if unhealthy, fling into something epic by evoking overwrought imagery. Note I make myself seem noble and heroic…by stating that I am noble and heroic. Subtlety thy name is AJ.

What was actually going on here?

Look, this was not a proud time in my life. This is the literary equivalent of gathering one’s Transformers to have them chant praise for your dignity and sexual prowess, and it still somehow devolves into tears and accusations.

Technical merit:

 Oh man, I was tempted to skip this one. It’s a shameful trifecta of embarrassing lack of craft, bad faith, and transparent self serving imagery. If Lewis Carol and Kim Jong Il had a child with mild autism this is the sort of poetry he’d write.

I suppose it rhymes, which is something, but it’s so trite and manipulative its only real value is that of cautionary example.

Rope burn

Sometimes letting go means adjusting your grip

and others, falling away entirely.

The trick is figuring out which

before you forget what you’re holding.


What was I trying to say?

Just that.

What was actually going on here?

I’m using the sophisticated metaphor of letting go of something to express my conflict in letting go of someone. My next work involved a river as a metaphor for a journey.

Technical merit:

The only thing that makes this a poem is the spacing. I’m just blandly stating an obvious sentiment without nuance or allegory. Not so ambitious.

I’ve slept with friends and woken up with strangers

Before our bodies hit the bed

the bookends  bled

and strangers made their pardons

for the time they were mistaken

and things they’d soon forgotten


What was I trying to say?

I’ve been reading this for ten minutes trying to figure out what the hell bleeding bookends have to do with anything. Was this a careless orgy where the spectators got there heads busted open and developed retrograde amnesia?

What was actually going on here?

I honestly have no goddamn Idea. I barely remember writing this, let alone what inspired it.

Technical merit:

Well, it’s short.

Beautiful Failure

We offered up beauty with two broken hands; the gathered best slipped, trembled from stiff fingers. And every “I love you”, became “I cannot explain”, how far we’ve wandered, and where we have changed. Still we reached, as far as we could fail; in the hope something made it through. Some word or consolation, to show that we were there, that the less we became, the more we tried to care.

What was I trying to say?

The dear and clumsy awkwardness of two people trying to set down something precious, but past its time.

What was actually going on here?

I had just amicably broken up with a lovely girl who was a wonderful influence on my life, and was trying to explain how the awkwardness that had crept in at the end was a product of position and timing, not value.

Technical merit:

I like this one, though the line “Still we reached, as far as we could fail” still reads awkward to me. It just misses the sentiment I was going for, and disrupts the sing-song cadence the rest of the piece has.

The first night gone

Last night I reached and turned in a clockwise search for the borders of our bed, where soft skin and cold feet set the limit to my sprawl. But there was none, no limit and no center, so I spun and wondered at the space. The time it took to sleep and the rise of unfamiliar springs against my back; how light she must have been.


What was I trying to say?

That I couldn’t sleep without her, and couldn’t reconcile her absence, or properly express how dear she is to me.

What was actually going on here?

This wasn’t technically breakup poetry; my girlfriend was just abroad for an extended period of time.

Technical merit:

When I’m trying to define a moment instead of defending a choice old prose carries a lot more weight. There is no axe to grind, no cross to bear, just a situation expressed.

An Apology

 This girl once said that I could only see women as hopeful shapes on the horizon. That up close I saw too little of myself to hide my disappointment. I’m paraphrasing a little. A proper transcription would be artlessly and unfair.  It stung. I hated feeling solved and ordinary. I suspect she wanted me to argue. To push for something that left us less diminished.  And I would have, but I couldn’t understand that she was asking, tell me why I’m different. And she was.


What was I trying to say?

I imagine this as the opening statement of the class action lawsuit my ex girlfriends will eventually launch against me. The title says it all.

What was actually going on here?

I used to be a really shitty boyfriend. I still have my challenges, but there is degree of maturity and self awareness tempering them. This was actually pieces of several conversations with some significant artistic license on my part, but the indictment was genuine as was the apology.

Technical merit:

This exists on the borderland of artful prose and blank verse, perhaps to its deficit. The sentiment is affecting enough to hide some of the technical flaws, but it likely would have been better with less structure or more length.


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