Poem Review: David R. Slavitt’s “Titanic”

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Titanic

Who does not love the Titanic?

If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,

who would not buy?

To go down…We all go down, mostly

alone. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,

well fed, with music, with lights!Ah!

And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do

and almost never does. There will be the books and movies

to remind our grandchildren who we were

and how we died, and give them a good cry.

Not so bad, after all. The cold

water is anesthetic and very quick.

The cries on all sides must be a comfort.

We all go: only a few, first class.


Wining and Dying:  An Analysis of “Titanic”

Approximately twenty years ago, many people turned their attention toward the infamous Titanic disaster.  Hollywood created a film based on the event, and interest grew in the minds of children and adults.  About ten years prior to that, David R. Slavitt published his poem “Titanic” that suggests a less popular philosophical notion.  This poem, while reminding a general audience of a tragic event, posits that humans would be inclined to knowingly die on a ship such as the Titanic and meet a similar fate.  In short, his speaker declares, there does not seem to be a more exciting and rapid method of inevitable death.

“Who does not love the Titanic?” opens this poem.  The speaker begins casually, as if beginning a conversation over coffee.  Before the end of the opening stanza, a hypothetical situation is stated.  Should people be offered to board the ship bound for certain peril, our speaker believes only logical thinking individuals would take that opportunity.  Later, the speaker reminds us—rather directly and grisly—that “[w]e all go down, mostly/alone.”  Immediately afterward, though, he reminds us that the elegance of the ship cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.  This notion continues throughout the poem.  While a vast majority of people do not get to decide their own method of death, the speaker is suggesting a utopian demise.

To further his case, the speaker offers predictions of the aftermath of this hypothetical death.  While it seems obvious any given person would like to be remembered or honored upon their death, the speaker takes it a bit further.  He states that the world would be “shocked” and that “books and movies” would “remind our grandchildren who we were/and how we died, and give them a good cry.”  This brutally honest vision of a deceased observing those left behind, it seems fair to say, is something the speaker believes is universal.  What, he might be saying, is the point of living if no one will remember anything we did?

To finish the dismal view of death, the speaker reminds us that perishing in the cold waters of after a ship crashes into an iceberg.  If one must die, should not the rapidity be an appealing factor?  The line “The cries on all sides must be a comfort” might disturb a reader, but it does offer a vision that makes death a little easier to accept.  The final line, as it should, summarizes this speaker’s perspective.  “We all go” could not be more direct and obvious.  “[O]nly a few, first-class” is perhaps his advice to the reader.  Death is inevitable, so why not enjoy it?  It seems like the obvious choice.

Slavitt’s poem touches on the popularity of the Titanic and the unpopularity of death.  Poets have long evaluated this final moment of life and have, for centuries, suggested advice or commentary on our mortality.  Slavitt’s angle is refreshing and deceivingly persuasive.  No one who ever reads this poem or this analysis will escape death.  Thus, if given the opportunity, we would most likely like to die in an elegant manner and be remembered generations afterward.

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Final Creative Writing Class Portfolio – Two Poems

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Here are two poems I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks.  They have been revised three times, but I’m not ready to say they are in their final form.  As always, I welcome feedback from all of you!

“Dormant in the Corner”

Ironically,

I am constantly

Immobile, which

Defeats my man-

Ufactured purpose

To provide a place

For my owners to

Walk, jog, or run.  I

Don’t think they made

Me to serve as more

Closet space, even

Though I hold empty

Plastic clothes hangers

And am adorned with

Monday’s boxer shorts

All week long.  I should

Be running at 5.0 on a

Moderate incline and not

Gather dust and serve as

A hiding place for the small

Boy they only yell at when

He comes close to me.

I remember when these

Two opened my box and

Marveled at my features:

A book rack, two cup

Holders, and a digital

Readout that accurately

Measures their health.  I’m

Supposed to be helping

Them lose weight, gain

Strength, and lengthen

Their lives.  Due to

Inactivity on both

Of our parts,

Their bones

Deteriorate

And my
Resale

Value

Goes.

When they

Are both awake

In bed on the other

Side of this room, I

Hear them, once

In a while, discuss

Parting with me

and admitting

They don’t

Use me.

I have,

they

say,

be

co

me

an

ey

es

or

e.

He always says he’s starting Monday.

She laughs and knows he won’t.

At least she has the dignity

Not to lie as she balls

Up her candy wrap

pers and complains

again about her

lower back

hurting

in the

same

spot

as

l

a

s

t

t

i

m

e


“Patience”

It’s four minutes after two in the morning

And raining like crazy out there

Beyond the automatic doors

That swoosh when people enter or exit

Or sometimes for no discernable reason.

I’m sitting beside a woman who wears

A winter coat, but it’s April.  I sense

That she’s not nearly as cold as I am

And perhaps has been here before.

Her steady, plain face is remarkably relaxed

While the rest of us toe-tap our nerves

into flat grooves in the thin carpet.

I’ve never been a nail-biter, but

It’s tempting.  On the suspended television

In one corner, a popular syndicated emergency

Room show illuminates an otherwise dreary

Real E.R. and I wonder why no one wants to turn the channel.
It occurs to me that the show was always twenty percent

Medical expertise and eighty percent Hope.  Neither the woman

Beside me nor anyone else here is watching.  But we all

Probably could use hope.  Faith.  Something to keep us

Here and not just give up.

My wife has been back there

For nineteen minutes and I’ve thought dreadful things

About our future son who may not survive.  I clench my

Hands in frustration and prayer.  They can’t make

Me sit here like this much longer.

The episode ends

The credits roll

The woman in the faded burgundy coat

Is asleep and clutching a picture

Of a small smiling child.

I stare at it for far too long.

So long in fact that I didn’t

Hear them call my name

And wheel out my family.