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.

Comments and conversations on this post

  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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