Thursday, June 18, 2015

Poem Discussion: "Self-Portrait, Nude With Steering Wheel" by Paul Durcan

When it comes to short stories and poems, especially with poems, I have realized that in order to discuss them as thoroughly and as efficiently as I am possibly able, I am not able to guarantee that I will spoil important information. In many cases, I may have to mention the twist or the ending, for it would take away from what I am trying to say if I did not. It is much easier with a book or novel, for I am able to discuss the structure of the work and not have to disclose any crucial information. When I film episodes of Literary Gladiators, all of our episodes are discussions, so I cannot guarantee what myself and others are going to say. With that being said, I have made the decision to alter the way that I present what I am writing.

1. All of my posts about poems and short stories will be in the form of discussions, for this will provide me with the opportunity to disclose information if need be. In addition, anything that says "discussion" will be subject to spoilers.

2. If I consider something a "review," you have my word that unless alerted, there was be no spoilers.

3. To sum up: Discussion = subject to spoiler. Review = spoiler free.

Now to my discussion. During my last semester in college, I had the opportunity to take an Irish Literature class. I thoroughly enjoyed the material and had the opportunity to learn more about Irish authors, playwrights, and poets. Perhaps the one that I was least familiar with, yet the one I grew to love the most after taking this class was Paul Durcan. Durcan is a contemporary Irish poet who writes about a wide range of topics, many of which are in free verse (which to me is what I would write if I wrote poetry). The poem that stuck out the most, after reading it in class, at the Open Mic Night held that spring, and in my Senior Seminar class, was his self-deprecating "Self-Portrait, Nude with Steering Wheel." The work is about a hopeless man-child, yet it is immensely hysterical to the point that readers are going to look at it and either feel shocked, amazed, or both.

The speaker begins by mentioning that he is 45 years old. No name, no background information, we just know that he's 45 and we assume that he is a he, because Durcan is a he, and that he is speaking to a female subject. We have absolutely no idea the gender of either person. He begins by negatively counting off everything he is not good at and admitting that he is given more credit than he truly deserves. For instance, he begins by saying that, he does not "know how to drive a car- and you tell me I am cultured" (L 2-3). More notably, he admits to being a "backseat driver" and yet he is "not an egotist" (L 8-9). Perhaps the person he is speaking to is sugar coating their thoughts or remains very accepting of a hopeless person like the speaker. At the same time, the speaker may be overthinking their situation.

Perhaps the fifth part stands as the most shocking section when he mentions that "45 years getting in and out of cars/And I do not know where the dipstick is/And you tell me I am a superb lover" (L 13-15). If there is any section that reads innuendo, this is the one. I, for one, see the entry and exiting of cars as the entry and exiting from relationships and of the multiple one night stands that this individual has participated in throughout his life. Also, there are not many more ways to get more phallic than with the term "dipstick." After looking at this line, perhaps it would only be logical to look at each section of the poem and point out which of these analogies is actually a sexual reference. The inability to distinguish different parts of the car may be attached to the inability to distinguish the situation at hand before actually making a move. In addition, the description of being a passenger with his hands "folded primly in my lap" causes the speaker's character to regress drastically (L 11). By the end of the poem, the speaker is in the most hopeless situation, without a car, just leaving a taxi, nude, and holding a steering wheel. The portrait is merely ridiculous and does nothing to the speaker's character except develop a question as to whether or not this speaker is sober.

This poem can be as much about operating a car as it is about operating oneself in their sex life. There is no gender provided, but it is very likely that using the car analogy and then placing a cloud over the situation and taking this all away from the speaker tells us that this is a man that is telling us about his situation. This poem is not filthy in its language, but it likely filled with hidden innuendos that are awaiting the opportunity to be uncovered. It comes off as immensely hysterical and is meant to be viewed in a hopeless manner, just as the subject's situation happens to be at the moment. You can find this and so many other spectacular poems, such as "Margaret, Are You Grieving?" and "Mary Magdalene at Sunday Mass in Castlebar," in this collection known as Daddy, Daddy. Paul Durcan captures the idea of the many thoughts and ideas that can be equipped to being an Irishman. In this case, one could argue that the speaker had too much whiskey, but there is no evidence that this is possibly the case. Durcan's writing has also been about religion, church, the world view, and a list that keeps going on and on.

I would highly suggest picking up a copy of Daddy, Daddy if you have not had the ability to do so. It is a bit of a challenge to find, but I will leave you with a link to the collection that can be found on Amazon. The copy I own is published by the Black Staff Press and this particular poem, "Self-Portrait, Nude with Steering Wheel," can be found on pages 17 and 18. These poems are relatively light in the way that they are not complex, so making your way through the collection should not be too much of a task. By all means, though, check out this highlighted poem.

Daddy, Daddy by Paul Durcan

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