Cartography

One 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 Replies

  • 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.

  • 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):

  • 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.

  • 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.

Comments are closed.