Ryan Baird, Connor Sullivan
Issues of Contemporary Poetry
“The Three That Speak to Us: [“Pachyderm”, “Stupid Sandwich”, “The Art of Drinking Tea”]
The goal of this activity is to find three poems from our Best American Poetry volume that we believe best speak to our generation. We took our three poems from the 2013 issue. 2013 was a very strong year for poetry, 2012 had passed and the world did not end, it was still very much intact and people were laughing at themselves for thinking that everything was going to be lost. That humor is abundant in this collection, especially in “Stupid Sandwich” and “The Art of Drinking Tea”. It’s not all fun and games with this collection, poems like “Pachyderm” evoke deep, emotional responses from the reader. This volume tackles numerous amounts of ideas and situations, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it is worthy of its title “Best American Poetry”. These are the three poems that we feel speak the most to our generation.
“Pachyderm” by Sherman Alexie is about a boy named Sheldon and how he and his family cope with the loss of his older brother who was killed in Iraq. The message of this poem is that it is better to move on rather than hold on after losing somebody close to you. This poem is very emotional as you truly feel for Sheldon and his family. Sheldon especially has a tough time dealing with the loss, as he tapes his hands shut for months. “He was supposed to toss dirt onto his brother’s coffin, as the other mourners had done. But Sheldon kept the dirt in his hand. He believed that his brother’s soul was contained within the dirt and if he let go of that dirt, his brother’s soul would be lost forever.” This was definitely not healthy for Sheldon as after the dirt falls out of his hands he begins to believe that he is an elephant. He even curses out God for taking his brother away from him in a very powerful moment of the poem. At this point your life must go on and while you should never forget, you shouldn’t let the loss of a loved one consume your entire life. We believe this message is relevant to our generation because most of us have lost loved ones and have struggled with that loss. This message is also relevant to our generation because we have all grown up with America at war in the middle east and many of us have friends or family members that have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Stupid Sandwich” by Nathan Anderson is a poem about a man expressing his frustrations from everyday life and his personal struggles through the description of a sandwich. The message in this poem is that there will be obstacles and conflicts in our lives and we can choose to allow them to drag us down or we can choose to hold back our frustrations and overcome them. The problems that this character faces are intense yet relatable, meaning they are serious problems but not so serious that it makes the poem challenging to relate to. The best example of an intense yet relatable problem would have to be the main characters relationship with his daughter. This relationship is only briefly touched on but delivers a powerful message, “I’m goddamn happy just to make a sandwich and have a job to hate and see my little girl once a week after those pricks down at County let me out and left me worse”. In these three lines Anderson captures the intensity of the poem, not only was he just released from prison, he hates his new job, and he can only see his daughter once a week. In my mind one of the reasons Nathan Anderson wrote this poem was to not only make the reader sympathize for the character but also to help us as readers come to the realization that our everyday problems that we glorify so much are not as large as we think. After reading this poem the reader should be left with a feeling of motivation in the sense that there problems are not as large as they may have thought they were. In a single phrase I would say this poem is saying, “It could be worse”. However powerful the message this poem is trying to get across may be, there is still the question, why did he use a sandwich to get his point across? In addition why did he use such crude language? After some research on Anderson I concluded that the use of both the Crude language and the sandwich theme both were used in order to make it easier for the reader to personally connect with the poem. The sandwich reference, clearly being the most unique part of this poem may have served more than just the purpose of helping readers connect. It may have also been intended to lighten what without it would have been a fairly dark poem or to connect the poem back to the idea of everyday problems by using a common item such as a sandwich to express serious problems. This poems uniqueness is what makes it some of “The Best American Poetry”.
“The Art of Drinking Tea” by Nin Andrews is a poem about a man who seems to have lost his way and seeks to find himself again through meditation and zen with the help of a women who he also sleeps with. This poem is not particularly special because of the story it tells, it is special because of the way that the story is told. Before explaining this poem further I found in my research that this poem can be more meaningful and deeply understood after having some background on the author Nin Andrews. Andrews actually is deeply connected to meditation and the idea of zen in her own life. She said in an interview that this poem is actually rooted in a story from her own life when she first started meditation. When she first started meditation she was felt lost and turned to meditation in order to help guide her. The man in this poem actually symbolizes her at that time in her life and the women is her meditation instructor. The reason she chose to use a man to symbolize herself and a women to symbolize her male instructor was to connect back to the idea of Zen and its concept that all beings are not male or female they are just beings. The aspect of the poem where the women practices meditation through drinking tea which in tone sounds sarcastic in the poem is intended to mirror the way she felt at first about meditation. She admitted that she felt silly at first but also completely understood and felt its benefits. One concept of the poem she did not explain was most likely the most important, this being the 49 days of one night stands with the women. “He pictures her first removing his hat, then slowly unbuttoning him from the dark coat of his life. She lifts him to her lips like a china cup and sips so slowly, a one night stand lasts 49 days and nights. In the end there is no woman, no tea, no man. Just thinking of it, he barely remembers his own name. In this way he attains enlightenment.” I do not believe that this literally means that Anderson slept or dreamt of sleeping with her instructor i think that the 49 days represent the 49 days it took her to reach zen and find her peace. “In the end there is no woman, no tea, no man. Just thinking of it, he barely remembers his own name. In this way he attains enlightenment.” this line in particular i think is directly saying that she had found zen, by connecting the end of the 49 days to the idea of women and men are not separate beings but just rather one being “In the end there is no woman, no tea, no man”. After learning of the hidden references, symbolism, and mirroring techniques used in this poem its complexity left me in awe. Nin Andrews was not trying to conquer society’s problems or talk about the complexities that exist in our lives, she was just trying to use her own experiences to put meditation and zen, the two things that helped her people her own problems in the best light possible.