One of my favorite poems from What I Say is “Parable” by Deborah Richards. I didn’t catch all of it at first, its a fairly longer poem, 11 pages, but after reading it several times it really sticks with you. With the title ‘parable,’ it sort of sets up an expectation for the the poem, to tell a story that teaches some sort of moral or lesson, which gives you a way of approaching it, because at first the poem seems to meander a little. Because it’s not really the same format as a parable—its a poem broken up in an odd way, with a lot of spacing in between phrases. And it also seems to be starting in the middle of something, like you are catching part of conversation. It starts with “then there was a film on TV      about a good time girl” you don’t get the before this ‘then’, or the context, you only get whats happening right now. It jumps from film to film, describing the plot, going over the relationships different women have, their role in the story, talking about the role their gender and race play. It just sort of gives you enough to let you know somethings there, but the narrator isn’t going to tell you exactly what the point is. It’s really worth reading several times.

I was really attracted to the flow of the poem. The unusual spacing between phrases isn’t actually that odd, it pretty much replaces punctuation, acting like a comma or a period, but instead of using a million commas, which I believe would be visually overwhelming and distracting, the spaces give each phrase a little room to breathe, and give you a second for each thing to marinate with you. It feels very casual, very natural, almost like how a friend would tell you a story, or recount an episode of TV. It felt like speech, and it also felt very colloquial, very modern, and also very feminine—the way I hear young women and girls talk to each other, excitedly recounting things, sharing stories. The consistency and frequency of the odd spaces almost felt like, but not literally, the way the word ‘like’ is used; not entirely necessary, but casual, and makes the story flow better. The brief interjection of the narrator’s thoughts and comments also gives it that young colloquial feel. For example, when she’s describing the story about the woman and the psychiatrist and says “but this time / he thinks she should stay with the scientist          I don’t know why he’s convinced      except that      the boyfriend wrestled the murderer to the ground” (247). The narrator cuts in with a quick opinion, but gets right back into relaying the story. And then continues with, “telephoned the police on springfield 7 double 2 1  that’s not the point but it adds to the plot” its very directly speaking to the reader the way a friend would talk to you. It’s also just, funny. I was impressed by the way the narrators humorous commentary is able to make such strong points. Like when she was talking about the 1949 film Pinky, and how Pinky turns down her white male love interest in the end, “it is lucky pinky said no     then he could marry a really white woman                and have really white children          2 is a good number” (250), and goes on to say, “and his really white wife would be marginally under control” (251). The narrator makes these consistent digs at these films and the characters, and moves on, because it’s enough to get what she’s saying.

There are parts that are very clearly commenting on sexism and racism in these films, such as the visual: “the woman bends backward            you can see her pure / white neck       open and vulnerable” (246). Even the way she describes metaphorical visuals such as “he stands above her / she disappears underneath     then it ends” (248), and her very critical observations such as “now she has someone more important than herself” (248). She even goes back to that first visual again, when talking about Pinky’s white male love interest who wants her to continue to pretend to be white: “he kisses her     her neck bends back / like a white woman’s act          though   she is  a   stand-in for true / beauty             she is close enough to the real thing       but he never / kisses her again” (249). She puts in these lines to point out the consistent sexism and racism in these films, without overly explaining them, and then switches to talking about herself, stating “this is my research on american culture” (252).

She goes back to that backward bending visual a THIRD time, but this time in reference to herself, saying “and I could / stumble on someone    who   would kiss me     and bend my neck / back                   it would be nice to surrender and be supported    oh / joy    rapture”. She talks about how lovely it would be to be this type of represented person, while knowing who ridiculous it is, and that none of it is real anyway. She goes on to say “yet when I get home I’d have to look in the mirror     and get used / to it   and stop feeling sorry for not having all those nice attributes   pretty skin       and hair that promises deliverance when you put / your fingers through it” (253). She goes on to talk about not only how being black especially makes it hard to be this image, but that no woman really can.

The one reference that leaves me confused is how she compares herself to Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining: “I’m a bit    a little bit      like jack nicholson in the shining      he’s a writer who feigns     gets angry at his wife      for breaking his pretense of busyness” (252). Because even if her comparison ends there, he is still this monstrous white male character who has just about all the control, and attempts to murder his family. I’m still not quite sure about that part, and what that comparison means on a larger scale, because if the comparison really is that small, I’m not sure why she would want to bring that whole mess of a situation that is Jack from The Shining into it at all, but I’ll keep reading ‘Parable,’ and maybe it’ll make more sense later, but maybe not.

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One Response to parable

  1. Erica Mena says:

    The questions you’re asking at the end are really good – why is she comparing herself to Jack Nicholson in The Shining? Is she comparing herself to the actor or the character or both? What are the points of similarity that she claims specifically? What are the points of similarity that are implied by the comparison? What are the points of difference that make the comparison surprising / difficult to understand? How does the comparison change given the context of the poem – i.e. does the rest of the poem create a context within which the comparison is constrained or made sense of?


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