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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