First Contact

by Deep Thinker on 23 December, 2010, no comments

Right, let’s try to do some content! 😉

One of the (many) things I like about London is the underground railway, and one of the (few) things I like about the underground are the Poems on the Underground.

I remember the first time I lived in London, in the smoky summer of 1988, when I was riding in a crowded tube and it was all exciting and different. I noticed the posters stuck on the walls in place of the familiar adverts, and one caught my eye.

It was a poem, unexpectedly. (I have forgotten how it goes, and have been unable to find it when I thought about this recently.) I was surprised initially, and did not quite get why there would be a poem, and what it was advertising for. When I later figured it out, I found the idea of simply putting poems on the tube, just because they can, wonderfully British.

Anyway – I am not a big fan if poems. There are way too many bad ones.

Apparently, many people in Britain write poems, and I think most of them are cringe inducing. It seems that as long as it rhymes, or does not rhyme but on purpose, it’s a poem. And many of these abysmally bad poems are heartfelt and really mean something to the person making them, that it’s even harder to tell them that they suck.

A poem – and again, I know zilch about poems, but I know what I like and this is the internets where everyone is an expert – is not supposed to be a bloody essay, and it doesn’t matter if it rhymes. A poem is supposed to create an emotionally resonant image painted by words and melody. It’s about communicating something beyond the actual meaning of the words.

Most people don’t really get that, and even if they do, they are not capable of writing something like that.

So it’s rarely that I feel touched by modern poetry – of course, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, any of the other classic masters are a different matter. But most new poetry I read these days, I go “meh”. And as I said, poetry is not something I actively check out, but usually run into accidentally.

That’s why I often check out the poems on the underground, since it is the most frequent way I get exposed to poetry. Now, a lot of them are strained or simply not good or just don’t affect me – but this morning I saw one which did, and here it is:

First Contact
by Hattie Grunewald

The day the optician unframed my face
and took away my childhood:
I would no longer hide behind glass;
I would wear eyeliner and wink
at boys with smiles and piles of math textbooks.

I balanced my new life on the ball of my finger,
its translucent rim and pooled blue rainbows,
I said “This will make me pretty.”
My spectacles rolled their lenses
and dozed in the bottom of my bedside drawer.

The first day I wore contact lenses,
my eyes glittered. But no one noticed,
looking right through me with their 20/20 eyes.

Now this is a poem about contact lenses. Contact lenses. It doesn’t get more trivial and current than that – and it is written using puns and word plays and phrases associated with seeing. It should be bad. It should be cringe inducing.

It isn’t. Instead, it’s beautiful.

Because it takes the words and draws a picture, conjures emotions and memories all of us have experienced – and it is at the same time hopeful and excited and playful and sad.

I like this poem. And not only because I remember how it was when I first put in contact lenses as a teenager. I like it because like any good poem should be, it is beautiful because it is true.

Well done, Hattie Grunewald.

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