Friday, November 17, 2006

A Tiny Crisis On a Finite Earth

A long time ago, DC had this story arc called "Crisis On Infinite Earths," and the name has stuck in my head ever since then for its very intense drama. It's not just a crisis on Earth, no. That would be nothing. It's like the gorgeously hyperbolic drama that is the superhero narrative, most of the time. The world is always ending. A villain has always kidnapped, not just anyone, but the president or whoever else in the story stands for the messiah. The superhero's life is always threatened, even though it's been proven, with Superman (and the aforementioned messiah) that death, while catastrophic, is only temporary.

So it's that kind of a crisis that I'm coming to you with now. Since I've been working on a book of poems about Batman for the last four years, and my handy-dandy neurosis has kept the obsession about the poems ratcheted into an infinitely high gear, I was excited to take the Which Superhero Are You? quiz at Even though I knew which questions would lead to me being called Batman, I was struck by how many questions led me away from him. Yes, I do like redheads. Yes, I like to fly. Who doesn't? Yes, I have inner darkness, but I don't generally hurt people without realizing it. And I turned out to be Superman. This is only a problem because, in the metaphorical schema that runs the poems, my next oldest brother, Ryan, is clearly Superman--hard-working, good-hearted, father of three, lost the coke-bottle glasses of his youth to become a buff, heroic computer programmer for Atlas Van Lines. Do I need to scrap the whole book?

No! You could have told me that, whoever you are. We're post-confessional, and, even in the confessional era, the poets didn't necessarily tell their life stories factually. The sense of authentic connection to the reader was used to channel a heightened emotion, which in turn fuelled the mixture of structure and abandon that lyrical architecture springs from. It was definitely important, but the mask was equally important--the sense that the poet was playing a part. Of course, even that can be an intimacy.

T.S. Eliot, in "Little Gidding," meets a ghost on the road, and they walk, and his
ghost, who has been generally identified as Yeats with other figures intermingled, gives him an authentic take on how old men view the world. It's one of the most straightforward passages in Eliot, in my teeny (or, sorry, Super) opinion, and it corresponds to a passage in a talk he gave about Yeats, where he's discussing the revelation of Yeats's age in a poem as a personal victory. That autobiography, that revelation that the poet is human, does something wonderful, but Eliot has to come to that point by a very different path from Yeats. But they end up being similar people, just as Batman, after lots of counselling, would probably take off his mask and discover that he was always Superman after all, and that to be human was to be superhuman.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, superfriend. Whoever you be.


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