Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Mairead: Chiasmus and Circus

I know what you're thinking - this is a slow read. But I'm as usual juggling all the responsibilities that family, young and old, entail!

"Chiasmus," from Talk Poetry, is a unique take on the aftermath of a split. The word itself is very interesting. Wikipedia tells us that it is 'a figure of speech in which two clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a bigger point.'

In this poem's case, the point is partly how intertwined the lives of a couple can become, as 'When you marry & divorce your dreams get mixed up.' Seems a simple premise, taking the mick out of the female dream of cosying up the home, 'You wanted an overstuffed leather living room set,' and then conflating this with the male dream of going out and conquering the world: 'and next thing you know you're heading an expedition to the South Pole and making a pretty good fist of it.'

But the other point of the poem is that things go on after a break-up: life after a break-up pretty much like an expedition anyway? So, I like this poem for the feeling it leaves behind: its hopeful without being maudlin, upbeat rather than whinging; we try, we fail, we fail better, as Beckett once sort of said. Nothing is perfect.

"Circus," looks into the dualism or binary qualities of the body, again with that quirky humour that Byrne just can't suppress. It begins: 'There is so much emphasis on the individual we forget how much a person is actually a double.' We are doubled, though aren't we: we are a product of a process that took one set of genes from a female, and another from a male and combined them in the gene washing machine to make another person. Byrne goes on to show how complex our bodies are: '2 shoulders, 2 arms, 2 lungs, 2 kidneys, 2 testicles, 2 ovaries, 2 bums, each one divided in two... We are actually 2 people in one.'

The poem then extrapolates showing how our single/dual units seek a further pairing in couples: 'And what do we do? We pair up. We get married, shackled, whatever... We are already getting quite enough action being 2 people in one...' Oh the complexity of human beans!

Byrne then throws in a concrete example of procreation: 'Ben Franklin... the 15th child out of a total of 17 born to his mother... Mrs Franklin... a woman or, practically two women, who had 17 children proceed through her, i.e., 34 or 38, (keep up!) in addition to providing accommodation for the regular visits of Mr Franklin.' It's that slipping in there of Ben's father, Mr Franklin, and his 'visits' that make this poem so wryly humorous.

The poem ends by going to the cellular level: 'Is it any wonder we thought of mitosis and meiosis and all that. It's written all over us...' Indeed it is - our genetic code is a mighty wonder sometimes and putting it in such a straightforward (!) way makes it seem much more alive than a dusty textbook.


apprentice said...

Sounds a great read. I love the eveasdropping poem. She must have a pretty good chance to cast a fresh eye over things arriving from this side of the pond.

The double bit in the body is all about symmetry I think, something I struggle with now. And we only have one heart and it takes everything else with it.

Cailleach said...

Lovely point, A, and one which I think Byrne leaves out deliberately...

chiefbiscuit said...

Terrific stuff - and fun to boot. Happy reading, and thanks for sharing it with us as well. :)

Minx said...

Just trying to unravel the dreams and nightmares of the last 26 years - Chiasmus was very poignant.

Cailleach said...

That's the great thing about Byrne's work: how relevant it is to everyone - thanks Minx