Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lines on the Poet's Turning Forty

Turning forty is one of those difficult ages that humans face. It somehow marks that you are "old" now, and that you're turning into the second half of your life. People make a really big deal of it, sometimes throwing surprise parties, but other people might slip into some kind of middle-age crisis.

In any event, turning forty is an interesting point of life to examine. The New Yorker recently published a poem on this very topic. Let's see what you think of it.

Lines on the Poet's Turning Forty

by Ian Frazier

And so, at last, I am turning forty,
In just a couple of days.
The big four-oh.
Yes, that is soon to be my age.
(And not fifty-eight. No way. That Wikipedia
is a bunch of liars.)
Nope, not any other age, just forty.
What other age can someone born in 1969 (and not 1951)
Possibly be?
(And please do not listen to my ex-wife, that sad, bitter woman in her late fifties.)
What does it feel like, old bones?
Yes, I have lost a step or two in the hundred-metre dash.
I accept these changes.
But if a guy stays in a published poem that he is forty,
As I am doing here,
It's obvious that it must be the age that he is,

Cattail down blows from the swamp like smoke,
Ice bares its teeth on the surface of the mud puddles.
It is fall--but not for me in any metaphorical sense,
Because forty, while not technically all that young, is hardly like "the autumn of life" or anything;
And also because Natalie Portman, the famous actress,
Is in love with me. And why not?
After all, there is not that much difference, age-wise,
Between a person who I guess is in her mid-to-late twenties
And a person who is just turning forty,
I.e., me.

You walk across the room carrying a bouquet of phlox in your hand
("You" being Natalie Portman, the famous actress)
As a present for me on my upcoming fortieth birthday.
Come sit besides me, my dear,
And I will tell you about my previous thirty-nine,
Except for the year when I was in sixth grade,
Which is a total blank.
I do remember fifth grade, when we had Mrs. Erwin,
And seventh grade, when we moved to the new junior-high building;
But when I try to remember sixth--nothing.
Let us not mourn what is lost.
Sixth grade was probably not that great.
Now, and on into the serious years that lie ahead,
You and I will have each other.

An alert reader may point out
That we did not move into the new junior-high building during the 1981-1982 school year
(As would fit with my being in seventh grade and having being born in 1969)
But eighteen years earlier, in the school year of 1963-64.
This is baloney!
Whoever says such statements is wrong.
I think that when it comes to the details of my own life
My own world should be trusted over that of some random reader,
Thank you!

Unfortunately, because of this business
About when we did or didn't move into the new junior-high building,
Natalie Portman's suspicions somehow were raised,
And she had a completely unnecessary "background check" run on me,
And then left me for Shia LaBeouf,
Who is hot right now.

This poem is becoming a disaster.
It happens sometimes--
I get into a poem, and the thing goes haywire,
And I don't know how to get out.
According to some nitpicker at the Ohio Department of Education,
Mrs. Roberta Erwin retired and left teaching entirely in 1967,
Two years before my birth.
Thus, the argument goes,
She could not have taught me fifth grade,
As I claimed in Canto III.

Look, I am turning forty, all right?
Let's just leave it at that.
Critics and people in the media who would ruin a celebration with this kind of "gotcha" behavior make me sick.
If you still doubt me,
Please be assured that this magazine has a rigorous policy of fact checking,
And all the information in this poem has been checked,
And directly verified with me.

Well, it's going to be great being forty.
I am looking forward to it.
There are plenty of other beautiful actresses around;
I may also try out for the forty-and-over division
On the National Professional Rodeo Association Tour.
Recently someone asked me if I remembered when the name
Of Idlewild Airport in New York City
Was changed to J.F.K. International.
"Of course not," I replied.
"That was long before my time.
Back then I had not even been born."

This poem has a lot of personality, and instead of saying that when a poet turns forty, he feels X, Y, and Z or he then behaves like X, Y, and Z, the poet shows us with his words. I think that's more powerful.

Throughout the whole poem, it seems that the poet is struggling with coming to terms and accepting his new age. He doesn't want to be slapped with the title of being old, yet he is trying to embrace it. He WANTS to be okay with it, but when situations arise when it would affirm that he is old, he tries to shun that, as a natural reaction.

He also seems to be trying to hold onto his youth, especially with this random connection of Natalie Portman. But, as it happens in the poem, Natalie runs off with Shia LaBeouf, a younger, hotter man. Younger women might make older men feel younger, but it doesn't work out for the poet in this circumstance.

Even by publishing his age in this magazine (encapsulating it in time forever), he is even preserving whatever youth he has left. This is the youngest he'll ever be from this point on, and he seems to want to hold onto anything he has left.

He's also very concerned with facts and getting information straight, but his inaccuracy of answers (and his push to validate that they are correct) make us wonder: is he lying on purpose or does he truly not remember and/or forget the details? Forgetting is a sign of old age. Or, maybe he just wants to appear younger, so he fudges the details a bit to retain some of his youth. But, he is in desperate fear not to be discovered for these inaccuracies, AKA showing extreme paranoia. It's quite odd.

I like when the poet goes on, in Canto II, about the "autumn of life" and the frozen mud puddles. They are images that reflect his point of life. He is in the autumn of his life though. He isn't old enough to be in winter yet, but the leaves are slowly dying on his trees (in a metaphorical sense) or maybe he's in the last phases of summer. Depeends on his health and youthfulness.

Throughout the poem, the poet does weave in some words of truth and life lessons he has learned so far in life. This is another trademark of people when they get older. For example: "Let us not mourn what is lost." He also tells wild stories that you could imagine an older adult raving on and on about, maybe something not even that interesting to you. But, you learn about the person through how they tell the story and how they portray themselves.

One might even be interested to go back through the poem and read how many times the poet actually mentions turning forty (which is quite a lot). He keeps bringing it up or reminding himself, maybe to try to believe it himself or to just get back on topic as he keeps rambling on. Maybe we all have our own little theories for what that means.

But, it must be a strange age to turn, but I think this poem encapsulates it very well. A lot is said in this poem, especially since it is very long, but do you think there is a significance among the amount of Cantos? When I turn forty, I hope to look upon this poem to see how much my own thoughts on turning forty parallel with Frazier. We'll see when that day comes.

What do you think of "Lines on the Poet Turning Forty?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the poem is actually a fifty-eight-year-old writing about pretending to be forty. read it again.