Completely Subjective: Alan Bernheimer’s “20 Questions”

Ever since I can remember, I have always been a very curious child. Why is the sky blue? How do fireflies make light? Do dogs see color or black and white? These are all questions I would constantly ask my mom, hoping she would have an answer that would blow my mind. Most of the time she would effortlessly give me an answer putting it into simple terms so I could understand fully. Some questions though, even she couldn’t answer, and these were the questions that frustrated me most, making my eagerness to know the answer grow even deeper. Sometimes I would even brew up my own answers to the questions to mend my curiosity. One of the main reasons why I think I like math and science so much is because there is just one right answer. It is straight to the point, whereas with art and philosophy, things are not quite as simple. As I age, I start to accept the fact that there are some questions that I will never have the answer to, and some that have infinite possible answers. Nevertheless, I have always been engaged in learning as much as I can be, and it is through asking questions that I learn the most. New ideas constantly pop into my head, and with new ideas, come new questions.

As I was flipping through the pages of the 2004 Volume of BAP, Alan Bernheimer’s poem “20 Questions”  caught my eye because it reminded me of my own curious self as a child. The poem consist of 20 questions that have no correlation or connection to each other but at the same time they have one thing in common; they make you think. The poem introduces one mystery after another making the reader more curious as you read. Alan Bernheimer doesn’t ask yes/ no questions but instead focuses on questions that are more broad and that can make the human imagination soar. The more detailed questions are the ones that are the most meaningful because they are often symbolizing an even bigger question. For example, the line “ are you in this for the overalls” may not necessarily be talking about overalls but it implies a bigger more important meaning.

The first line of the poem reads “ What can be said of the unspeakable that has not already been said”. Readers may interpret this in many different ways but Bernheimer’s reason for asking this question took me by surprise. This question came to Bernheimer in the event of the terrorist attack of 9/11. Many people thought that the enormity of the 9/11 event was too serious to be written about in poetry. This opinion of others on the fact poetry was not serious enough to write about 9/11 angered him and caused this question to come to his head. Soon after, Bernheimer realized that there were a good number of questions he had not had the answer to, a good number like 20, and it would be interesting to put them into a poem and publish them to spark interest in his readers. The handful of questions that Alan Bernheimer did pick were by no means dull questions but instead were questions that mattered and that would grab the reader’s attention. Bernheimer chose to not ease his readers into his poem and instead decided to make his poem more realistic adding questions that could make a difference.  


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