Sunday Soapbox: Looking Below the Surface

>> Sunday, January 17, 2010

*Steps on soapbox*

Last week, those of you who have come to expect quality bitching from me were likely disappointed. Well, good news for you; you should get your money's worth today. See, today, I'm going to complain about people who don't see past the surface and then complain about the superficiality. Complain, perhaps, isn't the right term. Perhaps a better word is "fuss."

It's a pet peeve of mine and goes back to when I first started writing, poetry, as it happens, in the beginning. I'm going to provide for you nice peoples, a poem written when I was thirteen or fourteen (decades, by the way, before Saving Private Ryan; the name is a coincidence) - it is unchanged and I was idealistic. Bear with me. Then, I will explain why this leads to one of my pet peeves.

Ryan's Dream

Soldier Ryan had a dream
Much worse than any thought.
His mind and body gave a scream
That, in his throat, was caught.
He walked along a bloody beach
That he had seen before
And his bloody footstep fell
Upon the bloody shore.

His comrades' corpses lay around.
'Twas in their blood he stepped!
Ryan all at once came 'round
Then bowed his head and wept.
Abhorréd vision, go away!
The sight made to deplore,
The squelching crimson food that fell
Upon the bloody shore.

He vowed to save his comrades
When, the next day, they would fight.
He vowed he'd save them all from raids;
He vowed it all that night.
But his eyes just saw the scarelet sea
And heard his terror roar,
As the broken boot, so bloody be,
Upon the bloody shore.

In rage and in denial
He killed opposing bands.
No comrade would he let fall
Upon the shifting sands
'Til, fin'ly he had finished;
The en'my was no more,
No friend or comrade vanquished
Upon the silent shore.

But now he walked in glory
On the beach's stainéd sand
But stained by his adversity
Who stained his feet and hands.
The vanquished lay around him
But his heart will cry no more
As he steps a bloody footstep
Upon the bloody shore.

(No surprise, I'm sure, that I had very few friends in high school)

Anyway, I gave this to my biggest fan at the time, my freshman English teacher, and he gave it (along with several others) to a college professor friend of his to look over. The comment on this one (and a few others) was, why are these stories so superficial? On this one, he added, "Why are you glorifying war?"

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Glorifying war? It's an anti-war poem (as, in fact, many of mine were back then). I was absolutely floored that anyone could think otherwise, could miss it. Then my English teacher, my biggest fan, said he thought that was what I'd intended and suggested I make it more obvious.

Well, I didn't. I feel and still feel that people who don't want to see past the surface won't see it if you make it more obvious unless you make it so obvious it's, well, surface. And, for those people who get the depths - and my teacher's daughter got it first off - it makes the piece that much more effective.

Also, I'm a firm believer that no reader's/watcher's reaction is wrong, even if it wasn't the one I intended or wasn't the one the original artist/director/writer's intended. If you read something and get nothing from it, it's a perfectly legitimate response. Hell, I've had it quite a few times myself.

But, I also realize that my perspective and past make me more receptive to some things than others, that teenage or child protagonists often make me roll my eyes (even if written really well), that there are some perspectives I just won't understand and others I will identify with even if eveyrone else thinks the character is shallow.

In other words, just because someone thinks something is shallow, doesn't mean it is. And that, if someone decides ahead of time how he/she feels about something, it's a pretty safe bet his mind wasn't open. I try to remember to make the distinction when I describe something as something I didn't like as opposed to something without worth.

Not enogh people, in my opinion, do that.

*Steps off soapbox*


  • Jeff King

    I find myself being very closed minded. i only noticed it when i look back, in the moment i think i am being very open minded... yet i am not nor do i listen good enough. one day i hope to fix this issue.

    i guess at least i am working on it.

    thx for the reminder, we all need it.

  • Aron Sora

    Could it be the time period you wrote this in? The political environment at the time? Because, If I was to isolate the first paragraph to get a person's first reaction, this poem is anti-war. At this point, your teacher's response doesn't make sense at all.

  • Stephanie B

    I have to work on it, too, Jeff. Getting angry at "crap" in print when you aren't in print yourself is very easy.

    I didn't see how anyone could miss it, either, but he did. You, of course, know I'm somewhat pacifist and that would likely tinge the way you look at my stuff, though. It was 1981-1982 or thereabouts, when the cold war was still pretty freakin' big. I've always been pretty much anti-nuke - still am - and, in fact, often have fighting and warfare in my novels, but I tend toward sword and sorcery in that you knew who you were killing. Not innocent bystanders but people who stood on equal ground and were a legitimate threat.

    War with people because they were born in a different geographical place, pray to a different god or wear a different uniform scares the hell out of me. We're all people.

  • Boris Legradic

    Hey Stephanie,

    I think your poem is a very good example on how different people can get different meanings out of something, be it prose or verse. Reading through your poem (which is not bad at all, and there you go on my blog saying you have no artistic talent!), I also would also think it is pro-war, although I don't think it glorifies war, per sé.

    It is the last two stanzas I think - your unnamed soldier killing all his enemies in rage, and "his heart will cry no more". True, the poem paints war in a very negative light, but still, in the end the soldier seems to emerge victorious, and less in anguish than before. I guess for me- and here I hesitate to offer advice, since my poetic skills are very rudimentary, but then forge ahead because who lets ignorance stand in the way of dispensing unwanted advice? - the last stanza does not sufficiently point out that even though he has won, the beach is still stained by blood, and nothing much has changed except for the identity of the dead. I get the feeling that the soldier is somewhat sad that so many are dead, but still glad that he has taken revenge for his comrades, and that he would do it again if called upon it.

    But in the end this just goes to show how not even the author has control about how people will perceive her work - my favourite example is Tolkien, who wrote in the foreword of the Lord of the Rings that all he wanted to do is write a good "yarn", with no allegory on (then) current events or the nature of mankind. Still didn't stop people from writing books upon books of secondary literature about it, dissecting every line for hidden meaning or unintentional allegory...

  • Stephanie B

    Ironically, you hit on the two things I thought absolutely made it anti-war - that the beach was stained, just as it was before, and that the nightmare was played out just as he imagined. It didn't matter whose blood was spilled.

    However, it was a lesson to me about the differences in reading things and perception, one I have tried not to forget. And I do think, absolutely, that whatever anyone gets from a work is legitimate. I don't doubt people put lessons and subtleties in work they, themselves, don't appreciate when they write their work. However, my reaction that someone bitch to me about having no depth when he didn't plumb the depths remains unchanged.

    And I'm still not changing it. For one thing, this is not the best example of my poetry (and since most of my poetry is unmarketable) will likely never have anything done with it. And, for those that see it the way I intended, it is more powerful for the subtlety. I'd lose the power by making it more obvious.

    But thank you for the compliments on this poem. I am touched, as I was with my old English teacher (sadly deceased now) who appreciated the poem, even though he'd seen something different than I'd intended from it.

  • The Mother

    On the other hand, I just love the folks who are convinced they've read deep meaning into something, when it really has none at all.

    Famous SNL skit: Reporter to soccer player: What were you thinking when made that amazing goal?
    Player: Well, Bryan--I kicked the ball, and there it was in the back of the net.

  • Stephanie B

    I once felt that way myself, but I don't any more. With a few exceptions. I feel if someone gets something useful or meaningful out of something, if it speaks to them, who am I to take it away?

    Every once in a while I find something that so turns my stomach that it's hard to be open-minded, but I suspect we all have those sort of things. Still, I make a point of not begrudging someone else their happiness.

  • Relax Max

    Why is this post so superficial? Why are you glorifying the opinion of a shallow, mind-locked professor?

    The poem is nice, though.

    I see we still have to have our talk about why much good writing goes unpublished and why so much crap sells. I wish you would write a whole post on why that is true. (And define "good stuff" while you are at it - I'm pretty dense, as you know.)

    Unless you find doing so to be superficial. :)

  • Stephanie B

    I'd be happy to write a post on it, Relax Max. Why don't you Ask Me Anything?

  • Relax Max

    I would. And I should have, but I already lost control and made a post of my own. Of course, my post doesn't express how YOU feel and what YOU think. I am interested in you filling in the information I left out, so I still would like to see your post on the subject. Before long, I will put in a formal requisition. :) :)

Post a Comment


Blog Makeover by LadyJava Creations