Saturday, 5 April 2008

I'm a sucker.......

Thanks to Emily I have been thinking this over, and decided that I cannot resist the poetry challenge. It's over at Kate's Book Blog who, funnily enough, lives here in Ottawa. No, I have not met her. though I'd like to one day!! Anyway, she is hosting a poetry challenge for April, (since April is National Poetry month for Canada and the US. All you have to do is post about poetry once this month! No category, just a poem, or collection. No pressure, just the love of words and poetry. So, haul out T.S. Eliot or something by Tolkien, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare.....

Myself, I just bought Ted Hughes "Birthday Letters", and while I was supposed to wait until August to read it for the Birthday Challenge, I find the book is calling to me, and I am unable to resist. So, I will be reading and reviewing it during this month.

However, to convince you reluctant(or shy to critique) poetry readers that poems can be fun and found anywhere, in the most unlikely spots, I am going to give an excerpt of and critique Neil Gaiman's "Locks," which a kindly Gentle Reader brought to my attention this morning (commenting on my post from yesterday).
Locks

We owe it to each other to tell stories,
as people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:

There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw-"


"-cows." You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.

Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but she also saw a house."


"-a great big house," you tell me.
"No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy."

"A great big house."
You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certitude.

A. Yes. A great big house."
And she went in...."

I remember, as I tell it, that the locks of Southey's heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears....
Perhaps they had been golden once,
when she was a child.

And now, we are already up to the porridge,
And it was too-"
hot!"
And it was too-"
cold!"
And then it was, we chorus, just right."

The porridge is eaten, the baby's chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,
unwisely.
But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear's gruff boom scares you,
and you delight in it.

(...................(excerpt several verses))

And then Goldilocks jumped out of the window
and she ran-"

Together now: "All the way home."

And then you say, Again. Again. Again."

We owe it to each other to tell stories.

These days my sympathy's with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.

Again.

Again.

Again.

- Neil Gaiman, "Locks", from "Fragile Things"

- Note to my Gentle Readers - I had originally put down the entire poem, but then I started worrying about copyright, and using with permission of the author, so I left out part of the poem - not because it's not good! It's very! and all important - nothing in a poem is wasted (or ought to be). I just have to find out about copyright laws on the internet.

In fairy tale poetry there is a darker thread that runs through it, just like in the fairy tales they are based on. "Locks" is a good example of this - all along Gaiman drops hints of fear - in line 16, "I wish I had such certitude." What is he afraid or uncertain of? And then the line "The bears go upstairs hesitantly, their house now feels desecrated. They realize/what locks are for." (lines 46-48) This isn't a poem just about Goldilocks, which is what I first thought upon reading the title. It's a play on "locks", keeping the unknown out - keeping innocence in. Why? "And if I could," my father wrote to me,/ huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,/ "I would dower you with experience, without experience,"/ and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you./ But we make our own mistakes. We sleep unwisely." (lines 55-60) These lines reveal the poem is about wisdom, and growing up. Notice the little girl is 2, at the beginning of the poem. We know as readers that 2 year olds know nothing, and like this two year old are full of certainty. The same certainty that lets Goldilocks eat someone else's food and sit in their chairs and sleep in their beds, without knowing until too late that she would have to pay. She runs away, in the fairy tale. But the little girl in the poem wants this story told to her again, and again, and again. Note the use of three, which in fairy tales is a charm number, as well as a learning-by-repitition technique. The little girl, the author of the poem when he was young, and ourselves when we were children, all know that Goldilocks is doing something wrong, even though she is lost. We learn to ask permission, through this fairy tale, from Goldilock's point of view. But in this poem, Gaiman turns it on its head - its the bears who are afraid, and he identifies with the bear in the line "These days my sympathy's with Father Bear." (line 71) Why? - "that's what locks are for."(line 48) To keep things out. Why? Experience. Because one day his little bear (the little girl, our own children, us once upon a time) will be touched by the world outside. Someone has broken into their house, used their things, and slept in their beds! From the bears point of view, their house has been invaded. His child's things have been used! Who among us wouldn't get angry naturally? but in this poem, the bears, and the father/teller, are afraid. They know they can't stop their children from growing up.

We tell each other stories to keep each other wise, to warn each other, to teach each other. If you find yourself in the woods, don't just go into a strange house. Don't go into a stranger's house - that's Goldilock's lesson. The bears teach - lock your doors. Someone will steal your children away, but if we tell them enough stories, maybe, just maybe, they can learn without having to experience - but always, even the teller in this poem admits, children have to. Maybe a fairy tale can save a life, so they don't get in that car with the stranger, they don't go into that house, but even with that comes experience. Having to say no is an experience. The world is a big forest, and always, eventually, innocence is lost. So Gaiman treasures his little daughter's "cows", and "big house", and "again, again again," because one day "her mouth will curl at that line" and she will for a time, outgrow fairy tales (or so she thinks) and sleep unwisely instead.

I love the play between father and daughter, how Gaiman has caught the enthusiasm and joy of sharing in books - in stories - between parent and child, of the delight of being safe together while someone else faces the danger. You can never read enough with your kids, you can never tell them enough stories, because one day they won't need you tell them anymore, and they will have to make their own way through the woods with only our stories to guide them.

So, do you have a favourite poem or poet? Let's celebrate our poets who still work with this, the oldest tradition of all. And please, link to Kate's Blog, to join up, and let me know too what poem you are picking, or poet.

Now I'm going to go out for my walk near the woods (no bears there!), and see what birds are here, and enjoy the warm April sunshine. After snow and rain yesterday, it's beautiful here today!

15 comments:

Nymeth said...

wow Susan, I love this post! Locks is my favourite of Neil's poems, which equals saying it's one of my favourite poems ever.

I loved your reading of it, especially because it's different from mine in certain aspects, and that always makes for interesting discussion.

I'm definitely with you on the themes of growing up, being touched by the world, making mistakes, losing one's innocence. And on the importance of stories, of course. But when he says "We owe it to each other to tell stories", I never thought of their cautionary value (though that's certainly an interesting point), but of the fact that stories are such a great part of our humanity - in some ways they define us. So when a father and a daughter share stories, they are sharing something unique, something important. It's a moment of emotional closeness. When children are young, there's no one they are closer to than their parents. But as they grow up, they make friends, as they cease to be children, they find lovers, and their parents are no longer number one. And as much as a parent understands that, there is some degree of loss involved. For me, there is some sadness at the inevitability of this in the poem. There is also understanding, and no wish to hold the girl back, but a sad resignation to the distancing that is to come. And like you mentioned, fear about what the girl will face when the father is no longer there to protect her.

And the "One day your mouth will curl at that line" bit - there's the loss of interest that you mentioned, but I also always thought that it also had to do with the fact that the girl would one day understand the sexual innuendo of the line "Someone's been sleeping in my bed". She would gain sexual knowledge, which is a part of the process of loss of innocence and emotional distancing from the parents.

As for my favourite poets: Fernando Pessoa. e.e. cummings and Catullus are among mine. And I'll sure up now because I'm sure this comment is huge :P

Nymeth said...

*among them

*shut up, not "sure up"

Sorry for the double comment, and for the embarrassing typos.

Susan said...

Hi Nymeth, I'm glad you enjoyed it so much! I mostly wanted to show how easy it is to say what we love and don't like about a poem, and there are fun poems out there! I love "Locks" now too....I'm almost half-way through "Fragile Things"and I have to say my breath is taken away by Neil's writing.

I agree with you that in the line about "owing each other to tell stories", they define us - I never would have thought of that myself, though! Good point :-) and I like how you talk about the sense of 'inevitable loss" in the poem, which is an undercurrent in a lot of the poems in "Fragile Things". Sadness, regret, or loss. It's part of what makes the poem more meaningful, I find. And the "someone's been sleeping in my bed' - a whole book could be written on that line and how the daughter's mouth will one day curl at it! I like your reading of the sexuality of it, which I didn't really get to mostly because my post was already so long! I didn't want to scare anyone away....

I wish you lived closer, I think we could have a great time reading the same books and discussing them! Online here will have to do....I'm really happy we're reading The Enchanted Castle at the same time in May!

and I love ee cummings as well, Mary Oliver, Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope, and Nikki Giovanni are some of my favourite poets. Is Fernando Pessoa Spanish or Portugese?

And you can write long comments! I love reading them! If we can't sit across a table discussing books, this is the next best place! :-)

Dewey said...

I think that technically, you're supposed to get the author's permission to post an entire poem. I have no idea about excerpts. When I first started blogging, I was oh-so-careful to ask permission if I couldn't find the poem elsewhere on the internet and typed it into my blog myself. If I could find it elsewhere, I usually tried to just link to where I found it, but if I wanted to post it, I'd link to where I found it. Now I'm more careless, but I shouldn't be. :)

Susan said...

Hi Dewey - I think you are right, you have to have the author's permission, so I'm glad I left out a chunk of the poem. I'm assuming almost everyone interested in reading it has a copy anyway...at least I hope so. I think it would be so helpful to have an online lawyer/ethical site where we could go ask these questions!

Nymeth said...

Fernando Pessoa was Portuguese - you can find some of his poems online here.

It is too bad we can't discuss books over a cup of tea or coffee - I'm sure we'd have a lovely time. At the lack of that, the internet will have to do :)

Susan said...

Nymeth - thanks! I've bookmarked the site already, so I can take my time reading the poems. I'll let you know as i read them, but i must say he looks interesting -writing under 4 names/alter egos!!!

Becky said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing :)

Alessandra said...

I had never read this poem before, but I love your interpretation. Thank you for sharing!

Tasses said...

Here's Gaiman reading the poem "Locks" on You Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3I2BmIlYpY

(jumped here from Bookworms Carnival)

Lightheaded said...

I've yet to read my copy of Fragile Things; I started on some but not the poems yet so I can't comment much except that I look forward to reading Locks much later on, when I've the time to crack open my copy of Fragile Things again.

I just love this Bookworms Carnival! It's making me scour my bookshelves for must-reads :)

Mrs S said...

What a great poem - and a fabulous post about it too. I wish I could learn to appreciate poetry this much...

Amanda said...

I realized that for being a Neil Gaiman fan I haven't read nearly enough of his works. Thank you for the post and I'll definitely check out the whole complete poem and works.

tracy said...

Thanks you for the lovely and thoughtful post for the carnival I really enjoyed reading it:)

Rebecca Reid said...

"You can never read enough with your kids, you can never tell them enough stories, because one day they won't need you tell them anymore, and they will have to make their own way through the woods with only our stories to guide them."

Thanks for the reminder to go read to my son!

I love that poem. Did Gaiman write a collection of poetry?