Bent Double, Like Old Beggars Under Sacks

There is little less masculine than a profession of love for poetry.

No one can claim ownership of the words masculine or feminine. Some things in this world are rough, tough, and angular (or handsome, ruthless, and stupid, in Dorothy Parker’s idealized conception) and some are soft, bending, and curvy. Whether those extra broad generalizations can be safely applied to men and women is outside the domain of this discussion. Suffice it to say: dogs are boys, cats are girls, PCs are boys, Macs are girls, and for whatever reason you care to cite, we all seem to agree.

Poetry is graceful, pretty, emotional, and flowery. The flow of the words; the sound they make when repeated back to oneself is paramount, and while it is inescapable that poems have meaning, for words mean things, deciphering the hidden meaning, if  there is any to be found, is missing the point at best. However, a man’s love of things graceful or pretty or emotional or flowery is supposedly limited to what he can fuck, and any further pronouncement of joy at the sight or sound or experience of delicate waff, makes him a poof, a nancy boy, or a fag.

Nothing new in the above. We are all too aware of the reputation risked by any boy brave enough to carry Emily Dickson without camouflage, but the cliche to my limited experience is abnormally felt, and I wonder at the cause. Men like music and lyrics, can appreciate a turn of phrase wittily and adroitly presented,  read books, and seem to run the gamut of stuttering neanderthal to elegant wordsmith with the same frequency as women. Social pressures, no doubt contributing, cannot possibly explain everything. There must be something specific to the art form or its reputation making the males in my social group bored at the mere prospect.

Boring. There it is. That word. There is nothing worse than boring (perhaps homicidal or smelly if we are talking about people). I was manifestly uncomfortable and terribly annoyed at being forced to read E.E. cummings or Robert Frost in high school. And rightly so. The beauty of language is not a subject worth discussing with partially developed minds, and Shakespeare elicited a similar response. No, what the dreary high school matron (my English teachers were invariably dull and female) was left with was a search for meaning. An accounting of facts. An exercise in: “Well, why the fuck didn’t he just come out and say it then?” Sure, some of the students were ready for poetry, and genuinely enjoyed it. They tended to be girls. No, not tended, were girls.

But I loved books, and was perfectly happy to engage fully with a difficult metaphor and not feel in the least put out for having to decipher it. Be that as it may, the contradiction in finding poetry irritating for failing to be direct, and not holding literature to the same standard, has only recently struck me.

Nowadays, I can approach a poem without any precedent angst, but it required a genuine effort to displace the notion that deciphering meaning was the task. I was never scared of being called a fag.

Try this. I dare you not to get a little moist.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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