Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Where the poem comes from: Beth Gylys

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Where the poem comes from: Beth Gylys

Friday, October 30, 2009

I met Beth Gylys online through an enthusiastic introduction from Dustin Brookshire. Beth is an associate professor at Georgia State University. She is the author of two award-winning poetry collections, “Spot in the Dark” and “Bodies that Hum,” and two chapbooks, “Matchbook” and “Balloon Heart.”

Here is her poem, “The Scene,” and her story behind it.


The Scene

Last April when Travis's band played a set
at the Zonolight, Michael got sloshed. 
Kelly had trimmed his goatee
because his book had been accepted.
Paul arrived in a limo with his girlfriend
who wore sandals with see-through plastic straps.

No one seemed to notice how my bra straps
kept slipping down my shoulders.  The set
had started, and I got talking to Paul's girlfriend
about breast reduction.  Michael was busy getting sloshed,
and Kelly kept bringing up his acceptance
for publication, stroking his well-trimmed goatee

as if it were a bottle with a genie, instead of a goatee
that we all thought he should shave.  The traps
we'd fallen into made us giddy with acceptance.
We loved Kelly anyway, and Travis too, whose set
had inspired two little girls to hula. Almost sloshed,
Paul unabashedly stroked the ass of his girlfriend,

while Michael told me a story about the girlfriend
of a friend of his who only liked men with goatees
and wouldn't have sex with him until he grew one.  Sloshed
on wine, Paul's girlfriend kept pulling at the straps
of her dress.  Travis was jamming, his drum-set
a blur of noise, when the conversation turned to the acceptance

of US world domination as a norm.  "Acceptance
on our part doesn't mean the world…." Paul's girlfriend
trailed off.  "Exactly!" exhorted Michael, who set
his wine glass on a chair excitedly.  Kelly's goatee
looked like a stain on his face.  He thwacked the straps
of his suspenders with his thumbs.  Someone's beer sloshed,

on my foot.   Michael whispered in my ear, "I'm sloshed,"
then burst out:  "We can't be complacent.  Acceptance
of tyranny is as bad as enactment. Patriotism is a cultural strap
used to bind us!"  Looking bored, Paul's girlfriend
left for the bathroom.  Kelly fondled his goatee
as if it were a rabbit's foot, and Travis finished up his set

with a flourish-even his goatee was sweating.  Paul's girlfriend
returned with a set of chopsticks in her hair. She looked sloshed,
one dress strap undone.  The air shimmered with acceptance. 


“This is a sestina that I published in Terminus a couple of years ago.  It's also possibly going to be in a sestina anthology edited by Daniel Nester.  The poem is a real mishmash, which is maybe true of a lot of sestinas. 

“One night several years ago, I went with friend Michael to hear my friend Travis' band.  My housemate Paul also happened to show up that night with his then girlfriend Leslie. Michael and I were all stirred up because Bush was hell-bent on this Iraq war, a war that clearly had more to do with his own need to assert power and impress his/avenge his papa than with any real defensive need. 

“The sestina seemed a good way to blend the political with the personal and social.  There's a party aspect to the poem that highlights the "theoretical" nature of the political conversation that's addressed in the poem.  The characters of the poem don't really have any stake in the political ramifications of the conversation. 

“What the poem is truly about, then, is the American political landscape.  We go to war as a country, yet nothing truly changes for most Americans.  Whether we are pro-war or against, we still live our lives unaffected.  And in a way that's what the poem speaks to.  There's a kind of frivolity to the whole 'scene' that implicates everyone in the poem.  The true horror of political domination in the world is framed against the backdrop of a party so that the characters in the poem all seem impotent and Dionysian.  

“I don't know exactly how I ended up with the end words, but the poem was a lot of fun to write with "goatee"  "sloshed" "traps" and "girlfriend" cycling in again and again.  Though the poem ultimately expresses a serious message, there's plenty of humor in the mix.  At least I'd like to think!” 

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