Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Superman Sounds Depressed"

As Superman Returns to the big screen, I thought of putting up this poem, having read it some years back as part of an introductory course to poetry.


Superman Sounds Depressed

Nothing could have prepared me for this life
in which all hinges on me,

where it’s only me and my past now left
to reassure the world. The trouble is

they forget me fast and start counting
on krill, or thinking they understand

turbulence; so I have to make regular
appearances on the borders

of disasters, dropping through some backdoors
in space whenever I feel the gravity

of their need. Apples for the teacher
are all I get for it, for holding the railway

train on the high viaduct by a single joint
of my little finger, blowing hard

at the last moment to keep the water upright
in the shape of a shattered dam, for stopping

a model of the earth based on real chaos from
breaking through. I feel spelled all wrong,

stuck in the east wind
with my face caught in an expression

which would mean world financial crisis
if the president wore it. Give me dinner,

a lovely long dinner in dim light, with someone,
someone who will propose something rude

so it doesn’t sound rude — just delicious —
nothing personal, anxious or brutal about it

though it might seem all of those things
to others when it’s not night, over their ordinary

sandwiches: wholemeal, mustard
and fragile morsels. My head aches; I want

that woman and enough passion to blast away
any hope of understanding what’s happening

to me. And I want us to eat scallops,
and I want to lick the juice from her chin

as though I could save the world that way,
and I won’t even ask what passion is for.


By Jo Shapcott

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Far from the unruffled, heroic Man of Steel, Superman comes across here as a lonely, unloved figure in his soliloquy. The use of the couplet form (stanza with two lines) with run on lines that flow from one line to the next breaks the smooth flow of the poem, slowing it down, giving it a sad, plaintive tone. The caesuras (pauses created through the punctuations in the middle of the lines) further enhance this effect further of a world-weary Superman.

The run on line that breaks at “…gravity” emphasises both the magnitude and ‘weight’ of people’s expectations on him. The “Apples” he receives also plays on the “gravity” of Newtonian physics which he is less subjected to compared to the human ‘laws’ that are thrust upon him. It also highlights the disparity between all that he has done and the little gratitude he gets in return, sadly repaid with greater demands that rob him of his life as a person, an individual with his own needs, wants and desires.

Not surprisingly, what Superman craves is normalcy…not to be super, but to be just a man – a man who can enjoy a dinner with a lady he fancies. One can almost feel the desperation of his “want”, the “ordinary” that he yearns for…to “blast away” from the “gravity” of being Superman and just live life, passionately.

Although this is Superman’s soliloquy, does this poem just speak only for Superman?


[On a completely different note, S.B.Toh of The Star wrote an interesting review of Superman Returns, giving a cultural analysis of Superman as an American icon representative of its perceived benign world saving moral duties]

Labels: , ,

11 Comments:

Blogger Leon Wing said...

This poem doesn't just speak for Superman.

It speaks for all the super-fast programmers in the world
who could code and run a program in a single day,
when their project manager has estimated 3 and thinks
if you can do it so easily, she too can do the same,
and in less time.

It speaks for all the super-perceiving students
who stand up in class in a single
bound up from his chair to tell the teacher,
"But, Miss, what you have just written
on the blackboard is not correct. It should be.."

10:30 AM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hahaha, thanks Leon. There are also probably some celebrities and people in power who sometimes want to throw off the pressures of their position and have a simple, 'normal' life.

But, in a way, this poem, for me at least, does speak for some of us too... who may feel stretched to super-human limits, as if we were carrying the 'world'. Leon, is there anything you like about this poem? or any interesting technical aspects ?

6:58 PM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i like this poem very much. it reminded me of the poem Ulyssesby Tennyson, where the great hero is growing old by the fireside. actually it's so good when a poet takes a well known figure and invents an alternative life for them as carol anne duffy did with various historic characters in the world's wife

i was both amused by this view of Superman, and felt extremely sorry for him, not being able to let go and be himself because everyone's expectations are on him. the most poignant phrase for me is "I feel spelled all wrong". and i love his vision of sensuality in the last few lines - the licking of scallop juice from a loved one's chin - how sexy!

the poem is so beautifully topical with the release of the new superman film too.

i didn't know what a caesura was until you explained it - thanks! but yes, the effect is to slow the pace by introducing a little pause for breath in the middle of a line.

glad you also pointed out about the apples!

altogether well chosen and nicely explained!

10:11 PM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thanks Sharon. Hahaha, I agree, that bit is a sexy idea, and it also adds that dimension about passion to the poem.

The last line "and I won’t even ask what passion is for." is a cry for passion, to live fully...something that we would sometimes be wistfully missing, even as we go about performing our jobs robotically, unreflective and unfeeling, as it were. Indeed, one doesn't need to know "what passion is for". one just lives it!

12:36 AM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

The last line "and I won’t even ask what passion is for." is a cry for passion, to live fully...something that we would sometimes be wistfully missing, even as we go about performing our jobs robotically, unreflective and unfeeling, as it were. Indeed, one doesn't need to know "what passion is for". one just lives it!

DI -- Well said! If you had to ask, you've probably never known it.

One thing that interests me about this poem is its form... I agree with you that the use of couplets lends a weary pace to the poem -- visually.

When you read the poem out, the caesuras become more prominent, marking the pauses and breathing points while also performing their syntactical functions.

Notice that the sentences begin in the middle of lines... to me, it shortens the time you would pause when you encounter the full stop at the end of the preceding sentence, leaving no time to dwell on the words, but to quickly move on to the next lines, pausing again at the next caesuras.

At first, the first part of the sentences sentences are longer, but they get shorter as the poem develops i.e.:

-- Nothing could have prepared me for this life in which all hinges on me,

-- The trouble is they forget me fast and start counting on krill,

-- Apples for the teacher are all I get for it,

-- I feel spelled all wrong,

-- Give me dinner,

-- My head aches;



You are pausing earlier as you start each new sentence... lending to the air of weariness.

The final sentence is a bit different...

And I want us to eat scallops, and I want to lick the juice from her chin as though I could save the world that way, and I won’t even ask what passion is for.

Starting the sentence and each syntactic part of the sentence with the word 'and', the final sentence is more energetic... more enthusiastic. As if Superman is getting carried away by the idea of that dinner...

Anyway, hmm... I hope I'm making sense to you. I just feel that it's a very theatrical poem.

Sharon: Thanks for the links! My eyes glazed over when I started to read the Tennyson poem, but The World's Wife seems interesting. Will keep an eye out for the book.

7:27 AM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

oh... and it's a study of the use of punctuation too! This one is going into my scrapbook. Thanks DI!

7:42 AM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

DI - Sorry, I've taken so long to add 'any interesting technical aspects?' I'm waiting for someone to do the honours first (you know who). But, your wait - and mine - has not been in vain.

I'm awed with MM's discovery of the shortening intervals of the commas. And the use of 'and' and the final sentence, as if Superman, here, wants to go on and on, withour pause, as if he's flying straight towards his object of love. Yes, MM, you are making sense to us. And you are being very perceptive, again, with the observation of the poem being theatrical.

DI, sorry, I think Shapcott doesn't intend this poem to sound off in a 'plaintive' note. She has something more tongue in cheek, and 'theatrical' is just the right tone here. Superman is complaining a bit too much about the attention he ought to be getting for his feats,and the love, too. And his stance is quite theatrical, as if he is seeing himself on stage, declaiming. Take his over-the-top 'I have to make regular/appearances on the boarders/of disasters'.

Just one more pointer here:
The 1st stanza shows up the speed at which Superman goes about doing things:

Nothing could have prepared me for this life
in which all hinges on me,

In between 'No' in 'Nothing' and 'pared' in prepared', the speed of delivery is a fast one. And the next beat is towards the end, on 'life'. Here we would have expected to pause, as if this is where the end-stop goes. But, no, there is an extension, on the next line, which begins on a non-beat or non-stess, so that we have to rush swiftly towards 'hing' of 'hinges', and pause on 'me', which has a comma, to explicitly tell us to do so. But it is a pause that's not a full-stop, and like the last extension, there is an extension here, as well, starting with 'where ...'.

The effect is like a bee buzzing from one flower to another: zip here, zip there.

In the words of MM, hope this makes sense.

9:21 AM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

very well analysed both of you ...

i like what you say about it being almost theatrical, leon ... you could actually call it a dramatic monololgue ...

superman never quite gets the girl, does he? he's been in love with lois lane for so long (since i was a kid and read the comics and way before that too) but the love never gets consumated ... poor,poor dear ...

5:59 PM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hahaha, wonderful comments. Machinist and Leon, as always, getting to the rhythm and sounds of the poem.

Machinist, I didn't notice the gradual shortening of the lines, before it comes to the continual "and...., and... and... " effect at the end, making it urgent and desperate. I should be the one saying thanks instead.

Leon, no worries about the differences in reading. Your reading brings out the poem's theatricality. Thanks for that insight.

Sharon, yes, it's a dramatic monoloque, but different from Browning's in style.

7:23 PM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

In the comics, I'm quite sure that that Superman was tight with Wonder Woman. An Amazon with a golden whip and invisible aircraft? Mamma mia! Who wants puny Lois Lane?

Leon, wish I can sense the beats and explain it like you do... it must take a lot of practice!

10:26 PM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Sharon, yes, the piece could well be some dramaqtic monologue, the way Superman goes on and on lamenting. No wonder the Advocate magazine suspected he might be a little camp,u know what I mean.

And, Superman being theatrical, the credit is due to MM, he (MM, ie) found that out himself.

DI, you have done a commendable piece of analysis yourself, with your take on it. Kudos.

MM, actually there is a method to sensing beats and rhythm. Perhaps I'll post a piece of this soon.

9:13 AM, July 11, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home