Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Suburbia Is a Noun


What is your reaction to this photograph?

What would it look like as a poem?

Who would write it? Who has written it?




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Take Warhol’s Campbell soup cans and take Levittown and you have the Suburban dilemma: Is this scene pleasant or horrifying?

The desire each of us has for creature comfort translates itself into middle class, machine-made lives, one side might argue. The desire each of us has for personal trimmings, for a spice of uniqueness within the comfortable, when seen from a middle distance, serves only to heighten the blandness of comfort. There is a disquiet in the tension between similar and dissimilar lives, the threat of being average within the solace of being unthreatened. There’s always TV, of course. But "suburbia" is a noun.

We make the texture:

Backing up a little further from a field of Campbell soup cans, one can see the ordered beauty of Mondrian. The beauty of the lines. This is the true ambivalence of the contemporary.

The nothing happening is the goal.

11 Comments:

At 2/07/2007 6:24 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

it would be a villanelle.
it would use simple words
with mostly vowels--so many that the words would hardly adhere
there would be no birdsong
it would seem bland, be frightening

Mark Doty wrote a terrific essay in a book of essays about place that addresses such landscapes. He has more sympathy for them than I do.

 
At 2/07/2007 7:37 AM, Blogger C. Dale said...

Yes, it would be a pantoum or other such grossly repetitive form. I don't find this photo frightening, but it is disturbing to me in a way hard to describe. I know exactly which poet living today would write this poem.

 
At 2/07/2007 7:53 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I posted it thinking of Ashbery. But now I'm not so sure.

 
At 2/07/2007 7:55 AM, Blogger Heath said...

I'm no poet, but here goes:

My pool is longer than yours
Hell
my house is longer than yours

I got your spiteful note
about zoning laws
and co-op rules
But who are you to me
with your nightly dance
of howling mob
and flaming brands?
The right to skip the public hearing
was all mine

It's what America was built on
1776 feet of frontage

 
At 2/07/2007 9:53 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Heath,

I agree. That does seem to be the response. It looks a bit Desperate.

But backing up? I wonder. It's visually quite plesant... maybe that's because some of my earliest memories are of a street like this in California. (This street here depicted is actually in Chicago.)

 
At 2/07/2007 11:22 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

C. Dale called me out. I am that poet.


Suburbia

Streets named by theme: Different trees,
Signs of the zodiac, Greek gods, all laid out in order
stretch beyond the horizon to build a sea
of endless homogeny and sprawling order.

Signs of the zodiac, Greek gods, all laid out in order.
The passant poses of their form showing the only difference
of endless homogeny and sprawling order.
all built behind the same eight foot high fence.

The passant poses of their form showing the only difference
from yard to yard, often leading to confusion
for the endless homogeny and sprawling order
to which one must finally admit to being illusion.

From yard to yard, often leading to confusion
Stretched beyond the horizon to build a sea
To which one must finally admit to being illusion:
Street names by theme: Different Trees.

 
At 2/07/2007 12:49 PM, Blogger Talia said...

Suburbia gets a bad rap...its lifestyle could be worse...much worse!

 
At 2/07/2007 2:55 PM, Blogger louise said...

Sure, it's visually pleasant. Ordered. Clean.

But what it *represents* makes me shiver in horror. Like Heath said.

The American dream: own a McMansion.

That tension, between the pleasant, clean, visual aspect of it, and the potential emptiness lurking underneath could make for a very interesting poem.

In fact, JG, I think you could write it. Maybe even have.

 
At 2/08/2007 2:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Justin:

"Streets named by theme." I really wish I would have thougth of that.

Louise:

That is such a difficult tone to balance, isn't it? As for it potentially being me, well, "yikes," is all I can say.

!

Code: popotat

 
At 2/08/2007 6:54 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

Of course I screwed up. The third stanza should have read thus:

The passant poses of their form showing the only difference
from yard to yard, often leading to confusion
all built behind the same eight foot high fence
to which one must finally admit to being illusion.


ver: bedyd

 
At 2/08/2007 10:50 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Doris Lessing, "Going Home" (1956), on Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe):

"Salisbury was a wide scatter of light over spaces of dark. To fly over it is to see how fast it is growing not vertically, save for a few tall buildings in its centre, but outwards, in a dozen sprawling suburbs. [...] A few years ago [...] it was only a small patterning of lit streets in a great hollow of darkness. Now the regular arrangements of street lighting all these cities are laid out on the American plan, with streets regularly bisecting each other confine the veld in sparkling nets of light."

 

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