Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poetry Challenge #19: Dramatic Monologue

First, as always, please check out the devoted efforts of Cicely on the OULIPO last week. You can read her new version of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (along with the original) here.

The dramatic monologue (as you may guess by the name) is a very theatrical style of poetry. It implies an audience and the poem takes the form of the thoughts of a character. 

Our professional example today comes from Sylvia Plath.

Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash--
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

My own dramatic monologue is from the perspective of a character I dreamed up for my "novel" that I haven't even written into it yet, but I thought this poem might be a way to start coaxing him out of my brain. Here we go.

I was handsome, once.
There were few
who would not stare
as I passed by.
Now they still stare,
but for opposite reasons.

It’s amazing how life changes
when you are confronted
with ultimate evil.
In my case, it saw through my bravado
to my true weakness:

If I didn’t wear this balaclava
you would shudder
at the sight of me.
Being repulsive was difficult
to get used to.
Evil nearly won me to its side
just by shifting strangers’ attitudes
toward me.

Some days I still wake up
and wish I would see my true
face in the mirror,
rather than the sorry ruin
of melted features
evil left me with.
Then I remember,
no beauty is worth
allowing evil to triumph.

Then again...

You can read more about this type of poem and read more examples here. This is an opportunity to get into the Halloween spirit!


paige said...

I didn’t know i’d live to regret –
What i once thought of as the dreariest bit of my life.
This chair beneath me
That supports the bones
And bits of wrinkled flesh
I call my body, reminds me daily...
That my carefree days have passed.
The days when my full lips held a dangling cigarette –
My phone held requests for my company –
My bed held the sweet comfort of a new conquest...

My regret comes from the strangest place...
That wee lump whose noise kept me from sleep,
Whose demands kept me from leisure
And whose sad childhood now keeps me from peace....
I didn’t know i’d live to regret –
My failure as a mother.

My thin lips, now smeared with gaudy red...
The phone that my blue veined hand has become too weak to hold,
That never rings...
& the bed that smells of antibacterial ointment –
Hold no more comfort, curiosity or draw...

The memory of his silken hair,
Strewn over sleeping features –
Cheeks that i failed to kiss
Eyes i rarely gave the chance to meet mine
drags me back
To that place
Of my failure –
That i never
Thought i would live to regret.

Minerva said...

Paige--I know you too well to think you would ever think you would resemble the sad character you've conjured up! I love your vividness of description here, as well as the tangible regret. It is nightmarish in quality for any conscientious mother! 1,000 points for a very scary portrait indeed!

fiddlincairo said...

y'know it's funny - i sent in my first draft... but i felt like i could keep going with her...

paige said...

sorry, that was me - with Cai's act.

Anonymous said...

The Book says, "Love thy neighbor as thyself",
The World adds, "...for a given value of "neighbor"".

Who is your neighbor?
Someone who lives on the same street as you?
Someone who lives in your town, goes to the same schools, shops at the same stores?
Someone who lives in your country, shares your economic and political environment?
Someone who lives in the same cultural environment environment, looks to the same historical context, shares your religious outlook (however narrowly or broadly)?
Who is your neighbor?

You are my neighbor.
Am I yours?


Minerva said...

Cicely--I would gladly consider you my neighbor. I totally agree that many people have an awfully narrow view of that particular word, even if they profess to follow the religion that made the specific phrase "love your neighbor" the adage it is today. Personally, I adhere to a very broad definition, as in neighbor = another human being. 1,000 points for a modern-day take on Frost's "Mending Wall." I think I'll do that one for this week's analysis thread. Thanks for the inspiration!