Skip to main content

A Reasonable Thing To Ask

It's not often that one poem can provide a straightforward answer to another poem's question. After all, if poetry always worked in such ways, it would cease to be the questioning, affecting and constantly challenging art form that it is. But in the latest edition of Poetry Review (Vol. 98:1, Spring 2008), the poet Christopher Reid has 'A Reasonable Thing To Ask', a poem alongside two others, 'Conundrum' and 'Afterlife'.

The poem's reasonable query is that the reader, or at least someone out there, 'please explain tears'. 'What', asks Reid's narrator, 'do we gain by it' ... 'a faculty that interferes / with seeing and speaking / and leaves [us] feeling weaker'? The question is a good one, as the poem's allusion to Darwin, and by extension, evolutionary theory and survival of the fittest, throws into question the evolutionary benefit (if any) of such a disabling, emotionally-triggered reflex.

Almost incredible, then, that Nick Laird's second collection, On Purpose, published last summer, provides a near perfect answer to Reid's poem in a short little piece titled 'The Perfect Host'. For it turns out that recent scientific research has uncovered the benefits of emotional tears by comparing them with basal tears (constant, moisturising 'tears' that lubricate the eye) and reflex tears (as in 'those that flow / because an onion is reduced to pieces / or smoke strays from the barbecue', as Laird puts it). And the results have shown that emotional tears contain a greater number of toxins and in particular, higher rates of manganese, which is 'thought responsible', as Laird's poem notes, 'for sadness'. In spite of crying and its physically and socially debilitating effects, then, emotional tears help to rid our body of certain toxins, and also explain why, after a good cry, people often feel much better...

because you must know by now
that it loves you, your body,
and wants you to stay.

Quite a cheery sort of conclusion, don'tcha think?

Comments

puthwuth said…
Possible answer to your question here:

http://georgiasam.blogspot.com/2008/05/i-know-not-what-they-mean.html

Popular posts from this blog

The Trouble with Poetry: Billy Collins's Aimless Love - review

Dubbed the “most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, Billy Collins has won countless admirers for his chatty, witty, wholly dependable poetry. At pains to welcome the reader with avuncular charm, he writes lines that are more serious than they seem, though by how much, you’d be hard pressed to say. Wry and self-mocking, his favoured territory is the suburban everyday – a pop song stuck in your head; people-watching on public transport; a “perfect” spring day – though he is most at home striking a knowing and self-referential pose, “looking every inch the writer / right down to the little writer’s frown on my face”. ‘If This Were a Job I’d be Fired’, quips the title of one poem, its narrator swanning off having penned the most inconsequential of verses. Philip Larkin would have surely labelled him the “shit in the shuttered chateau”. But while some critics have called Collins a philistine, there is a productive quirkiness to his poems, finding surprise and profundity in unp…

Poetry in Motion

POETRY IN MOTION
Why one Reds supporter is committing his love for Liverpool FC to verse


Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …