MEDIUM WELL

by mike

comments by: Nate I Greg
 
        It is now safe to be turned
        off by your computer.
        One of those days where you begin

        with "Happy Easter, Happy Easter,"
        and end with " I've got the bullets!"
        then on to the Million Dollar Movie

        where at least Cybil Shepherd
        skinny-dips her way to class
        unconsciousness.  just the right boy.

        Surfs without water.  I'm Glen, a
        joke on water and a pun on glen.
        "I just canít describe it, I

        just can't describe it in words."
        Edit: Copy, Edit: Paste.  I'll show you
        yours if you'll show me mine.

        You can if you able     
	but, even if you ain't, "'em's"
        fightin' words.  How much longer

        can I continue at 33600 bps?
        the rings of a tree cut and left
        bark rough crunching against your rub.

        It was a simple age - 106.
        Everybody could say it and many did.
        One filed it.  archived it.

        another searched it and found it.
        there it is, under "tree."  under
        a tree it isn't.  under a

        tree is me.  a high fidelity
        version of me staple-gunned
        to the trunk.  In the trunk

        are the rest of the copies.  Distribute
        them evenly over all the trunks.
        Trunks a lot.  Trunks for your help.

	Hand full a bullets.  Old prayer
        card in their wallets.  A rehearsal
        of four tunes.  I am those three tunes.


From: nchinen@dept.english.upenn.edu (Nathan T Chinen)

Hey everyone,

A few thoughts on "Medium Well":

This is a difficult poem to digest, because of the ways in which
conventional "narrative" is supplanted by thematically-linked phrases and
repetition.  So it seems as if the poem proposes its own rules, which a
reader has to accept in order to get "inside." I hear James Tate's voice
at certain points, like: 

                It was a simple age - 106.
                Everybody could say it and many did.
                One filed it.  archived it.

The opening line makes a lot of sense after a complete reading. In a     
way, "It is now safe to be turned / off by your computer" describes my
own immediate response to the Microsoft-inspired imagery. For
example, "Edit: Copy, Edit: Paste," which is so familiar to me that it's
scary. I, for one, am certainly turned off by my computer.

I'm also reading a sort of struggle between those technological phrases
and the quasi-natural images. The twist is that, rather than natural
imagery, we get a warped techno-translation, a web search of "tree," which
yields:
                        ...a high fidelity
                version of me staple-gunned
                to the trunk.

Okay. So through this hyperlens, we are perhaps defining a neo-Naturalism,
but it's all gnarled and twisted with issues of identity. The original
"me" is nowhere in this poem. Instead we get various versions, "copies" to
be distributed, to be "pasted."

Somehow, the final tercet is gratifying, although I can't quite place why.

 		Hand full a bullets.  Old prayer
                card in their wallets.  A rehearsal
                of four tunes.  I am those three tunes.

The reappearance of bullets, obviously, but also the illogical, Tate-like
final line. Which three tunes? This is a crucial moment in this poem, I
think, because of the definitive tone of "I am ____." This is as close to
the narrator's subjective voice as we get. So what does it mean? You can
read "I am those three tunes" several different ways in relation to the
sentence preceding it. Either the poet is saying that 4 = 3, or he's
saying "I'm *those* three (out of a possible four) tunes." The only reason
I'm haggling here is that I think this is an important distinction. I get
the impression that the obscurity of this line is quite intentional.

Also, the title, which I feel should be a key to unraveling this mystery.
"MEDIUM WELL"... I'm drawing a blank. Aside from the fact that 9 hours at
a computer leaves me fried.

So... that's my initial reading. I like this poem a lot, Mike. I'm not
sure whether it took me in the direction you had intended. I struggled   
with it, keeping disjunction in mind. In addition to the "content
analysis" above, here are a few picky detailish things:

- should the line "you can if you able" be "you can if you're able?"
- should "bark rough crunching against your rub" end with "rib?"
- first line, last stanza: "Hand full a bullets" is vernacular but a bit
distracting, I think. Perhaps "Hand full o' bullets?" Hmmm. Maybe not.

That's all folks.

                                -Nate      


From: djanikia@dept.english.upenn.edu (Greg Djanikian)

Nate, that was a very good reading of Mike's poem, especially since, as
you say, it is a difficult poem.  I suppose its difficulty comes in part
because one suspects that the computer has almost taken over the writing
of the poem, turned the poet off, because, well because it is very good at
constructing phrases, lines, transposing passages through its
technological facility; it is, after all, a medium which in a sense has a
well of words and rhetorical functions, and how easily one can begin with
"Happy Easter" and arrive finally through cut and paste and copy at "I've
got the bullets."  It is an almost too luscious a journey because of its
easiness, though what is undone, I suppose, along with authorial intrusion
is a sense of presence and identity, and Mike, for good or bad, ends up as
a virtual Mike stapled to a tree. And maybe that's why we could be "turned
off" by this entire process: who wants to be a sheet of paper on a trunk,
or in a trunk for that matter?

Mike, I think you effect a nice balance between a cohesive narrative line
and disjunction in your first five stanzas, and I know things are going to   
get wackier, and should, but I wonder whether the poem gets disjunctive
too early?  After "You can if you able" (by the way, is that a Cain/Abel
pun--now you've got me seeing puns everywhere!), I think the poem hits a
tonal plateau and I wish the narrative would unravel more gradually until
the 10th and 11th stanzas when the speaker, after having scrolled (or been
scrolled) down the page seems only to be Abel to pun on trunks, reduced to
it I would guess.

I like the final stanza a lot, especially the last line, though I don't
know why either.  I think the prayer card image is very interesting though
I can't make sense of it right now.  But I like how four becomes three,
and it does so with authority and maybe the author reclaims some of his
identity in the last line (I also find the line allusive, as well as
elusive, and I'm reminded of, strangely, Cohan's "I am that Yankee Doodle
boy!"). The "I am" seems very strong there, hits hard.


Greg