Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fleur Adcock: “Against Coupling”

1. What immediate differences do you notice between Adcock’s poem and Wright’s poem?

In Adcock's poem the other is male and the gaze is his - "avoid those eyes would help", "his gaze stirs", "her own eyes blur". Though both have the nature imagery, Adcock also brings in cultural references. And, in general in all of Adcock's poems in the Norton, she describes more day-to-day details - the bath, the Sunday papers in "Against Coupling" or the water, cigarette and a pee in "On the Border."

2. What do you think the title means?

A suggestion against partnered intercourse.

3. Listen to this interview with Adcock: Does she live up to or defeat your expectations? Why does either response matter?

After reading the poems included in the Norton, the interview deepened my appreciation with her playful style. Her voice in the interview seems to well match a poet who'd write about masturbation. I loved that it exasperates her to be remembered for it and I'm intrigued by a poet who takes on the theme of bad sex.

4. I won’t spoil the surprise here—check it out!

I don't at all understand this line in the lecture: "The "immoderate plea" of the image in the mirror in Wright's poem can be paralleled with the polyp-like mouth surrounded by tentacles in Adcock's wicked imagination."

1. The difference in tone and attitude in these poems is crucial: If Adcock is mocking and reductive (although the allusions to "the lady in Leeds" and the "school drama mistress" may be as compassionate and self-deprecating as they are stinging), skewering the "participating in a total experience" and emphasizing the repetitiveness with which desire, need, and ecstasy overwhelm the body and dull the mind, how would you characterize Wright's tone, mood, and attitude to the "hole in the wall?"

Wright's poem reads more as one of fear or trepidation, of a lack of knowledge. She's attempting to reject and ignore the stirrings of desire at first, and then seems resigned to them.

2. Think, too, about shifts in diction in Adcock's poem "vegetal rustle" and "trespassing tongue" versus the prosaic character of "There is much to be said ... exercise" or "fronds" undercut by the epithet "polypal." Why do you think Wright does not resort to such jarring shifts?

I think Adcock's use of diction really shifts from the more involved sexual act to describing an act that is very day-to-day, much like brushing your teeth. Wright's persona, however, is not possessed of that experience yet, perhaps, and so the diction in the poem remains more mysterious than prosaic.

3. Is Wright's poem "monologic," even if it appears to be a conversation between self and body (there's a leading question if ever I saw one!)?

Yes and no. Since the thought process is actually of the body, it can't really be separated out, but the use of the mirror allows for a dialogue.

4. Why does Adcock write her poem as if she were writing an advice column addressed to school drama mistresses and ladies in Leeds? What evidence would you use to suggest this poem is more like a letter addressed to "every woman" or indeed "a letter to the editor"?

The line "I advise you, then, to embrace it without / encumbrance", and the entire last stanza opens the poem up to a wider audience. Not only does she use you, she seems to be advocating a solution to a problem that she's made to sound common to others by including the references to the lady in Leeds and the drama school mistress.

5. What does one make of the use of the pronoun "one" rather than "I"?

The use of the term "one" was very much more common in the UK, particularly of middle class or upper class people, when I lived there. Aside from distinctly British tone it sets, I think it also serves to slightly distance the acts from "I" and to universalize them.

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