December 6, 2016

Broken Things

"Action Man" by Jeremy Richardson via Flickr

Things break. Usually, we try to fix them, or find someone else who can fix them for us.

Today, we often hear that things are more disposable. "Planned obsolescence" is a phrase that goes back to the 1930s. It describes a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing. This is achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials.

In the more than 70 years since the concept was introduced, that idea has moved from automobiles, television sets, phones and other hard goods to much softer ones. People discuss how things like relationships and marriage have become disposable.

In Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "The God Of Broken Things," he tells us of a very human "god" who can fix just about anything you bring into his junk shop.

He's in a lopsided heaven at Maggie's
Junk Shop. Objects of wood, iron, ivory,
Of veneer, lead, stone, glass, flimsy
Cardboard, of tin, brass, bronze . . .

He could go on forever fixing
Cracks, fissures, dents, fractures,
Rasping & gluing together what is
Unheard-of with what can never be

All of these very real things that range from "Objets d'art to "bric-a-brac" can be mended in some way. The poet says that they are "Broken or hurt beneath the architecture / Of planned obsolescence."

In Komunyakaa's collection Talking Dirty to the Gods, he gives us 132 poems of 16 lines (four quatrains) with most of the lines being of four stresses. Like sonnets, there is a formalism to the poems and they include many allusions to mythology and religion. Besides “The God of Broken Things,” there is a “The God of Variables” and “The Goddess of Quotas.”

Some poets find beauty in broken things.  In her poem "Broken Things,"  Sara Teasdale writes:
    Broken things are loveliest,
            Broken clouds when dusk is red,
    Broken waves where a rainbow rides,
            Broken words left half unsaid.

    Broken things, broken things—
            How quietly they comfort me,
    Riven cliffs, where I can watch
            The broken beauty of the sea.  

In Alice Walker's poem "I Will Keep Broken Things," she wants to save everything, broken or not.

But in his "Ode To Broken Things," Pablo Neruda suggests letting all the broken things go.
Let's put all our treasures together
-- the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold --
into a sack and carry them
to the sea
and let our possessions sink
into one alarming breaker
that sounds like a river.
May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.
So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway

None of these poets talk about broken hearts, broken relationships, broken homes, broken promises or broken lives, but we know that many things break and are much harder to repair than all those objects.

This month,we are writing poems about broken things and about our attempts to repair them. From Neruda, we will use his poem as as a thematic model, and from Yusef Komunyakaa we will borrow a short, controlled form for our poems: 16 lines in four quatrains. You may also want to meter the stresses, words or syllables to maintain line lengths - in his poem he uses mostly four stresses per line.

Submission Deadline: January 2, 2017

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