ABCs of Poetry: M is for Marginalized

Posted by on May 23, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Poetry: M is for Marginalized

The marginalized moments and objects surrounding the space one occupies are a poet’s most useful tool for crafting art out of the written word. While more grandiose moments can occupy a work to great effect—space battles and wizards are fine, I guess—writing poetry about peripheral happenings and innocuous moments can create a greater sense of empathy, belonging, understanding, and osmosis than deliberate explanation of meaning, or an over-reliance on transparent context. Some modern or more mainstream writers would rebuke the idea of writing about the sunlight hitting a wooden desk at just the right angle because it has “been done” and “no one needs to write about images anymore,” but any admirer of art can contest that an image speaks to someone differently from various viewpoints. That light could mean hope for one person of a certain generation, darkness for another of a different generation, and the desk could mean nostalgia the same way it could mean a nightmare. Nonetheless, the idea that such small objects, such seemingly insignificant moments, could move someone emotionally one way or another based on what angle or mindset they are in is what truly dictates the power that poetry has on a reader.

In terms of creating the best words through marginalized moments, and making them universal in emotion and feeling, one could look at (a personal favorite of mine) Yusuf Komunyakaa’s “Facing It.” The poem is a masterstroke in creating the feeling of unease and tension through experiencing a bout of PTSD without the images within the piece taking any real action beyond that of “brushing a boy’s hair.” Certain trigger words are utilized throughout the piece that do signify war to the general public: namely, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. While the granite acts as a grandiose display of honor and gratitude, the real message within the poem lies in the speaker’s subtle movements (I turn this way [away from the memorial, away from the expired army brethren]—the stone lets me go), his exact count of  the deceased and how that triggers survivor’s guilt (I go down the 58,022 names,/half-expecting to find/my own in letters like smoke.) and a haunting that he experiences that is not fully detailed in the least bit, but is drawn out for the reader to understand that these types of visitations are not natural, and have a profound effect on his interactions—not only with the wall of names he used to know—but with the functioning world around him (A white vet’s image floats/closer to me, then his pale eyes/look through mine. I’m a window.). The entire poem, if it were interpreted in real time, would take no longer than a few seconds to experience. However, poetry manages to take these moments and elongate them to a degree that allows for the senses to leisurely acclimate to the speaker’s imagination. We feel what the writer feels because, while many may not know the atrocities of war first hand, things like counting, movement, and memory are all feelings that are universal and can be manipulated for an empathetic effect. The little details within the every day human experience speak volumes more than the overt and plainly stated actions. Whether or not one has experienced war, the feeling of survivor’s guilt after reading that one person passed away in an event that could have easily taken your own life is tremendously heavy on anyone to comprehend—let alone nearly 60,000 people passing.

But if we can take a bit more of a lighter approach, consider William Carlos William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow,” a poem that illustrates usage of marginalized imagery to convey a sprawling array of possible meanings and emotion. The title itself is indicative of the what matters to the speaker of this work. With an opening of “So much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow” (which, in itself, is already half of the poem), the writer looks at an object with the same level of reverence as a loved one or a family heirloom. In a few words, the writer has already illuminated the every day object—an object overlooked and taken for granted even by farmers—and hinted toward the reader that the importance of this object is vital to the poem, and that the existence of the poem would be null if not for this object’s presence. The wheelbarrow is no longer a wheelbarrow, but a vital artery that drives the meaning of the poem and demands that the reader necessitate attention toward the wheelbarrow. The sparse usage of words draws even more scrutiny to the objects in question, with lines like, “glazed with rain/ water,” showing a distinction between the idea of water and rain: being transformed from a mobil resource for organic life and plantation in “rain” to that of stagnation and stillness of “water” in the very next line. Having “water” be its own line also lends to the idea that the still object—the water, the wheelbarrow, the whiteness on the chickens—deserves its own recognition. These objects, these moments, sometimes these people, any marginalized being that does not get proper recognition outside of the written word, will get immortalized by simply being written into existence, and in this case given a spotlight for simply being in a line with a paltry amount of words and images. It goes from an auxiliary item or moment and becomes the bearer of an immense weight and significance within the poem. All eyes are on the wheelbarrow and the even more minute items surrounding or engrossing the wheelbarrow. Nowhere but in poetry can such subsistence, such reverence, be dedicated to things, objects, people, moments thought to be fleeting and transform it all into something universally human.

Nothing more clearly states that something matters than addressing it in the surrounding space that everyone and anyone can fill. Not everyone knows the experiences of someone with different life experiences, skin color, mental issues, or the pleasures of meditation. Not everyone can look at the innocuous happenstances of rain dripping off of an inanimate object with a sense of wonder or foreboding. This is what makes the poet’s attention to detail, attention to the marginalized, so important: poets can bring life to the inanimate with their words alone, can create a feeling of majestic wonder out of the mundane, can transform a feeling from innocuous insignificance to that of transformative revelation from simply penning the image of a ray of sunlight hitting a wooden desk just right.                    

Marcus Clayton is an Afro-Latino writer who grew up in South Gate, CA, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from CSU Long Beach. He is an executive editor for Indicia Literary Journal, currently teaches English Composition at various colleges in Los Angeles, and will be starting a PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in the fall. Some of his published work can be seen in Tahoma Literary Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Glass: A Journal of Poetry , and DUM DUM Zine among many others.