26 July 2010

The First Second Poem (Landmarks)

Because my previous experience with Haunted was with the audiobook version, I had always assumed that "Landmarks," a poem about St. Gut-Free, was the first poem in the book. However, the index in the back indicates that "Landmarks" is the second poem. "Guinea Pigs," which I had previously identified as the cold open turns out to be the first poem, or perhaps I should say "poem." Due to the structure of the book, I had come to the conclusion that all off the poems are told from the point of view of a single character, who in the visual scheme of these poems stands on a stage, as if presenting at some odd open mic night. "Guinea Pigs" is from the collective perspective of the rest of the framing story, with no visual sense of being "spoken" by any particular character, so I'd always assumed it was just another section of the framing narrative.

The poems are sort of an interesting feature, though not so much for the poetry themselves. Even calling them poems is a bit of a stretch. Now, I confess I consider myself a pretty unsophisticated reader of poetry. My general approach is to read a poem out loud and judge it by how it feels being spoken. This doesn't give me much more than a general impression of whether I like a poem, but it beats poetry read silently, which usually feels a little flat to me. By that standard, these poems don't quite work. The language doesn't vary much from the style Palahniuk uses in the rest of the book.

What sets the poems apart is more their visual and structural elements. As I mentioned above, the poems all feature the visual of a character standing on a stage speaking. There's a short physical description of the character as well as a short introduction. Some of these are proper stories, others are more of a general rambling either about themselves or something of interest to them. The other common feature is of a movie playing over the characters, as a form of spotlight, which tends to echo whatever the character's theme is. This heightens the sense that these are archetypes of a sort.

In terms of the narrative structure, the poems are each told by the character whose story immediately follows. There are a couple of stories that are not preceded by poems, but I'll get into that later.

"Landmarks" brings St. Gut-Free who is so skinny that "his hands touch in the middle of his back." He tells a story of the job he used to have, where he drove a bus for tourists. One day, he takes the bus by his parents' house, and on spotting his father out front, dubs him "Saint Mel, the Patron Saint of Shame and Rage." He comes back the next days and adds, Saint Betty, "The Patron Saint of Public Humiliation." He later drives by his sister's condo and adds Saint Wendy, "The Patron Saint of Therapeutic Abortion." When he drives by his own apartment, he christens it the shrine of "The Patron Saint of Masturbation."

Overall, the poem is fairly amusing and interesting. If I praise it slightly at this point, it is because some of the impact should come from the discomfort of the combination of sainthood with these rather terrible things. This is pretty standard for Palahniuk, so seems a little less innovative now that I'm more accustomed to his shtick.

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