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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

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About the Author

Welcome to the website of the English poet and critic, Ben Wilkinson.
Ben was born in Staffordshire and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He received his first degree from the University of Sheffield, and holds an MA and PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. He has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Business Competition and a 2014 Northern Writers' Award
His debut full collection of poems, Way More Than Luck, appeared from Seren Books in February 2018.
He is a keen distance runner, lifelong Liverpool Football Club fan, and among other things he works as poetry critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can find many of his reviews on this site.
To contact Ben about readings, workshops, or for any other enquiries, you can drop him a line at benwilko(at sign)gmail.com. Unfortunately, I am not able to consider unsolicited requests from authors for book reviews.

You can follow Ben on Twitter - @BenWilko85 - and on Facebook.

You can find B…