Cartography

map.jpgOne of my cowork­ers is a poet. Last week we as­signed each other an as­sign­ment: to write a poem to be work­shopped by the as­signer on Monday. My as­sign­ment was to “write a mus­cu­lar poem about mas­culin­ity.”


Cartography

A man is an old map
charted in sharp lines and lies;
where north is up and west is left
where puff-cheeked faces blow and fume
where grim Atlas crouches at the bot­tom;
bear­ing up his leg­end — the half-truth map
where moun­tains have no height
where wa­ter is not wet
and past its pa­per edges
there be mon­sters.


What fol­lows is the text of the email I sent to her about what I was aim­ing for with this poem.

what i’m go­ing for is to show that mas­culin­ity is not a com­plete defin­ing con­cept for a man. like, a man is a three di­men­sional thing, but mas­culin­ity is only two di­men­sional. thus, the earth is three di­men­sional, but a map is only a two di­men­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tion of it and there­fore in­com­plete. i also wanted a feel­ing of im­pla­ca­bil­ity and tur­moil and maybe even a dash of de­ter­mi­na­tion. i was also think­ing about how dan­ger­ous it can be to be male and live try­ing to be ‘mas­cu­line’ only. to not give the other di­men­sion of be­ing a chance to as­sert it­self. i guess this could be called the ‘fem­i­nine’ side, but i think fem­i­nin­ity holds the same dan­ger. mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine are just roles that peo­ple play, but we’re all just peo­ple in my mind.

i don’t know if this is ‘mus­cu­lar’ or not, since i’ve only heard that used in your mouth, but i tried for my own feel­ing of so­lid­ity.

Feel more than free to work­shop or com­ment on this as much as pos­si­ble. And give me your own as­sign­ments if you want. I feel that, at this stage, I write bet­ter when I’ve been as­signed some­thing.

v.2

Cartography

A Man is like an old map charted
in sharp lines; a plot­ted thing —
where north is up and west is left
where puff-cheek faces blow and fume
where Atlas bears his leg­end — a land
where moun­tains have no height
where wa­ter is not wet
and past its pa­per edges
there be mon­sters.

7 thoughts on “Cartography

  1. you are right B?rd to think that the last line is styl­is­ti­cally dif­fer­ent. it is a paraphrase/​reference to the big un­charted spaces of old maps where the only thing writ­ten is ‘Here Be Monsters’ and it is sup­posed to tie in with the puns on Atlas and leg­end and the com­pass points and all that.

    Also, it makes me think that the un­charted ar­eas of a man’s soul, the parts mas­culin­ity knows noth­ing about, might very well be mon­strous in their very un­de­fined na­ture.

    or some­thing.

    i’m ac­tu­ally most con­cerned with the mid­dle chunk, i don’t think it is quite as strong. the Atlas line in par­tic­u­lar needs me again. i think.

  2. this might be my fa­vorite thing that you’ve writ­ten, or at least it’s up there. i like the premise a whole lot and i think you com­mu­ni­cate the premise well. i am won­der­ing about the way you phrased the very last line. it feels styl­is­ti­cally dif­fer­ent, like it’s in an­other lan­guage than the rest. i al­most read it in a pirate’s voice (like “thar be mon­sters!”), which turns a pow­er­ful con­clu­sion into a bit of a joke… but that’s prob­a­bly just my prob­lem.

    have you heard Elvis Costello’s “Poor Fractured Atlas?” it’s a beau­ti­ful song. you can read the lyrics here, but be­ware this site may have pop­ups and crap (no ap­par­ent prob­lem in fire­fox though): 

  3. ah, i didn’t know maps ac­tu­ally said that. in that case, great! i can see what you’re say­ing about the mid­dle part, but i have no con­struc­tive ad­vice. per­haps it can be im­proved but i do think the whole thing is very good al­ready.

    btw, i wrote some­thing sort of about maps ages ago, and your piece is at least 300% bet­ter.

  4. you know… maybe the 1st line could be re­con­sid­ered. it seems to me you start say­ing that a man is an old map, which is tak­ing the op­po­site view of the one you hold. yet, later in the poem, start­ing with “the half-truth map,” you are ar­gu­ing from the per­spec­tive of your view that be­ing a man is more than what the map says. i’m con­fus­ing my­self here, so i have no di­rect ad­vice, but i’m think­ing you might be able to squeeze a tiny bit more clar­ity out of this by ad­just­ing a word or two.

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  6. I won­der if I should add this quote to the be­gin­ning:

    “What is man? A mis­er­able lit­tle pile of se­crets.”
    –Andre Malraux

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