Monday, September 3, 2007

Voice vs Tone: Part 2

It's time to unveil the poet's identity. Louise Gluck. When I first read "Purple Bathing Suit" in Hoagland's essay, I heard a male speaker addressing a female auditor. But then I went on to read Hoagland's analysis of the poem and was surprised to find the speaker described as "a woman watching her lover weed the garden." I wasn't sure if the auditor was spouse or lover, but I felt sure that the speaker was male. I was very curious as to why Hoagland identified the speaker as female, so I searched the internet for his email address and found one at his university. I wrote and asked what made him think the speaker was female. I wondered if he might reply that he'd heard Gluck say that that was her intention. However, he wrote back (how nice, how cool!) and candidly said that he'd made that old mistake of assuming that the speaker and the poet were the same person. And he said that since the collection had been published, he'd become aware of his error. But he also went on to say that he saw no more reason for thinking that the speaker is male than for thinking the speaker is female.

I think gender matters in this poem which is all about a relationship. I want to know who is who. And I think that there is evidence in the poem to suggest that the speaker is male, though my interpretation may reveal feminist leanings. On a superficial level, I've never seen a man in a purple bathing suit, but I've seen plenty of women in purple bathing suits. Weeding while attired in a bathing suit strikes me as a feminine thing to do. The arrogance in the voice strikes me as masculine: "You might give some thought to that mouth." And the way he speaks to her as if she is a naughty child: "How many times do I have to tell you. . . ." And the intellectual condescension in the use of unpoetic words like "notwithstanding" and "ostensibly." And the stance he takes of watching and criticizing her work without offering to help. And the blame: ". . . because you are all that's wrong with my life. . ." And the staking of his claim on her: "I claim you."

I apologize to every man I have just offended, but this voice sounds masculine to me. It also sounds full of contradiction and confusion, mixed eros and intellect. It is that complexity that makes this such a wonderful poem in spite of its seeming flatness. This is a poem that is utterly reliant on voice for its effect.

Now here's my prompt for you:
1. Go through the poem line by line. At the end of each line, write a word or phrase that describes the voice in that line. Do that for the entire poem.
2. Choose a subject for your own poem of direct address. You may but don't have to choose a person. (I chose a potato.)
3. Follow Gluck's pattern as if it were a blueprint. You must have as many stanzas as she has and you must have the same number of lines in each stanza. And your voice must shift just as her speaker's does. Your "I" must speak directly to a "You."
4. After you have written your draft, you are then free to make whatever changes you want to make. Lines may be added, deleted, or moved. Stanzas may be compressed or eliminated.

1 comment :

  1. I suppose we all have our sexist ways of seeing things. I thought of man because I thought, oh, a woman likes a man's back. A man likes a woman's front. I thought the purple slightly odd but not really. And I think of Louise's acid, arch voice, very New England to my ear, and always, well, bossy in its way. Or with that edge.

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