I just found this analysis of "Spinal Language." I appreciate anyone who takes the time to analyze anyone of my poems.
give me a tattoo
deeper than skin
on the bones of my spine
onto the surface of every vertebrae
in every human tongue
tattoo their word for “poetry”
so that no language feels foreign anymore;
so that each human voice
can speak a word in me
let Arabic and Hebrew
sit side by side without throwing stones
let Cantonese and Hindi characters
link hands to hold Swahili and Hutu in a hammock
let Basque and Zulu finally touch lips Vietnamese
while Navajo rests it’s head on the shoulder of Malay
we speak six thousand tongues
but i’ll endure the pain and the time
so no human voice can speak to me
without being felt
down to the bone
let African syllables
share space with European articulations,
and Aboriginal pronunciations,
line them up and engrave them
like an organic barcode written in Braille
readable by the worms that will one day convert me back
to the religion of dust and ash
that we believed in once
before this cult of flesh and blood
brought us out from clay
to play brief characters in the rain
let them taste the flavor of our words
let them consume poetry
and give it back to the soil
so the earth can feel the weight of our words
and not forget us
when we extinct ourselves
like the species before us
carve the last word
in morse code
at the base of my spine
so that I can hear the rhythm of the word
in my hips when i sleep
.--. --- . - .-. -.--
let dots and dashes spread
across all my bones in a virus of comprehension
so if i lose my voice
I can still speak a word
by tapping my fingers,
pounding a drum
or changing the rhythm of my heartbeat
to speak with my blood
six thousand tongues
playing my spine
in 33-part harmony
making a symphony of me
with a melody that reverberates
up my spinal cord
echoing louder and louder in the tunnel
amplifying the compounding music
all the way to the base of my brain
where it detonates
and resonates inside my skull
six thousand new expressions
for the same word
with the voices of six billion singers
into my six trillion thoughts
until I can take no more chaos
and their song explodes from my lips
offering the world
a moment of synchronized understanding
of one song
of one voice
of one man
for one instant
before the world blinks
and listens to the echo
slowly fade away
Analysis by Inziladun from deviantART
I share your fascination and your awe of human language. It is something which strikes very close to home for me, and so this piece holds a special personal significance. Your use of language even within the piece is fascinating and alluring, you create images and feelings that all amount to a magnificent metaphor.
I read this piece months ago, and have only now worked up the courage to critique it. I hope you do not mind the length.
The opening line, (For Christmas), really begins the whole theme of solidarity and union of humankind by referring to a common and widespread celebration which advocates love and adoration of people for one another. It does not necessarily represent the exact holiday of Chistmas, it is more like a representation of any great celebration which brings people together in joy. The idea of Christmas here, more concretely perhaps, gives the concept of presents, of gifts. And I think by this it is meant that it would be a gift indeed to have the people of the earth be united thus through language.
With tattoo I am personally reminded of a kind of skin-deep, matieralistic set of Western values, which praises outer beauty and wholesomeness above the inner. But you immediately dispel this thought, with the words deeper than skin . And the idea of 'tattooing' words in all languages on your spine, an idea that is repeated throughout, truly strikes a chord: the spine is most commonly associated with pain and with injury, and so the idea of sticking a needle in it raises this idea. But this idea again is dispelled by the idealism of tattooing the word for "poetry" in every human tongue; it is an aesthetic and amazingly romantic notion. Poetry, in a way, is the truest form of linguistic expression because it is designed to raise emotion on a whole different level; it can even be said to be the soul of language. And what I think is meant by the repetition of this concept of tattooing of the spine (by the way, isn't the word vertebrae plural?) is that both the conscious and subconscious of each human person is alledgedly given this universal awareness; the spine relays the reactions of the brain, and is a veyr central part of our nervous system. This is a fact known to most, and it is that which I believe you play on here, fantastically well. The pain mentioned before gives the concept an air of seriousness and sombreness, and the mind-related connotation really delivers the ultimate meaning. It is like a sudden shock of understanding, and it's a wonderful feeling.
My very favourite lines of this entire poem, I think I might be so bold to say, are: so that each human voice / can speak a word in me. This rings of one of the greatest lines in poetry ever, it is something that I can imagine being quoted by future generations and repeated in awe. There really is something inherently awing and beautiful in the idea of being able to communicate in every language in the world; perhaps it is what would ultimately link humankind together. With a common language, nations and cultures could understand one another and be apart of one another. In fact, I was surprised to find that you did not mention or even refer to the Tower of Babel, the myth of which would tie into the themes of the piece excellently.
The second stanza truly illustrates the heart-warming theme of worldwide solidarity and union; the anthropomorphism is utterly brilliant, and highly fitting since the whole idea of solidarity is linking human people. Language is only the mode, it is the means but not the end.
Let Arabic and Hebrew / sit side by side without throwing stones: the concept of throwing stones is a biblical reference, and also a judicial and factual one since stoning was and still is a legal penalty in some countries. Without throwing stones is another kind of reiteration of the theme you mean to convey, of warring nations ceasing their fighting and ending violence.
By using the word 'Cantonese' instead of 'Chinese' you make the reference individual and uniquely respective, instead of generalizing both Cantonese and Mandarin under the generic word 'Chinese'. Indeed you never do generalize in this piece, you mention each language and each element as a singular and real entity instead of blaketing them, and I commend you for it. The word characters is great here, because both Hindi and Cantonese use different written characters and yet you want them to link hands and become one, despite their difference. You indirectly create the image of some flowing, wonderful script, which entails all human languages in one; it's quite astounding.
The hammock of the fourth line connotes rest and peace, which is just what you are advocating. The touching of lips and resitng of heads of the last lines are very sensual and personal acts, and really make the entire 'process' being described a degree more heightened.
The next stanza is a collection of synonyms really, and you encompass all the speaking world and the origins of speech in this. Asia, Europe and Africa are represented, three of the world's continents; and though 'Aboriginal' does sound like a reference to Australia, it can just as well refer to the original inhabitants of any country or continent. You leave nothing out, though it may seem that you do.
I don't see why you have broken up these four lines from the following, longer stanza. It does keep the layout clear, but it's a small jump on the part of the reader which dones't really serve any purpose. I suggest, if I may, that you change the comma at the end of the fourth line to a period, and begin the next line with a capital letter; and remove the space from in between.
An organic barcode written in Braille, another brilliant line and really the most complex imagery yet presented in the poem. There is a kind of irony to the wording here as well: while organic barcode represents a kind of permanent reminder of sorts, the tattoo described earlier which enables this person to unite mankind, and thus is a very positive thing, the idea of a barcode on its own isn't quite as positive. It is like a label, a pricetag, which connotes conformity and lack of individuality. But uniting mankind through language would not destroy individualism, it would just eradicate the negative effects of it (i.e. barriers between types of people).
Readable by the worms that will one day convert me back, though not a very appealing image, is a foreshadowing to the later lines where the earth is made able to feel the "weight of the words". But this line opens the opportunity for an amazing concept; the "religion of dust and ash". Religion is another thing which separates humans from one another; but perhaps you are tring to say that even that barrier can be eradicated through language, because all religions are really the same, just working with different language games.
The concept of a religion is repeated with the word cult a line or two later, and you clearly contrast the two; our former 'religion', where perhaps we recognized the ethereality of all things, is presented as a vanished ideal, and the 'Cult of Flesh and Blood' is an obvious reference to materialism and the brand-driven world of the modern West. And the words brought us out from clay is an image of being pulled out of one way of life and existence into another. But despite the general negative air you give to this cult of flesh, the final line of this stanza is among the most beautiful in the whole poem. To play brief characters in the rain; at first this created the image of a person dancing in the rain, and as he waves his arm rhythmically he etches symbols and letters onto the air, but those characters are 'brief', and so they vanish with the falling drops. But another interpretation, one which I think you meant to convey, is that the word character actually means a human person, but the element of fictitiousness is very poignant here. It is as though you've saying that materialism brought us out of the clay, where we were one and where we were free of strings, into a world where facades and made believe were what the world was perceived through. These characters, these dolls of ours, are 'brief' because they do not survive society. It's a very powerful thought indeed.
At the word taste in the next stanza I was alerted to the fact that I have only skimmed the sensory imagery you've used thus far. And I see now that most of it has, understandably, been auditory. Playing brief characters in the rain involves the sound of rain, and perhaps of laughter, and so forth with all the other images. But the Braille of before represent touch, the morse code represent a different kind of sound, and the tattoo is a visual symbol. Let them taste the flavor of our words is really the first instance of gustatory, that is taste-related, imagery. The word consume in the second line is a litle pun on the idea of eating, consuming food; but here the idea is to overwhelm it and transmit it back to the earth.
The whole idea of the earth 'remembering' or not forgetting humankind, after we are gone, is very interesting indeed, and quite humbling. Though who are we to say that we won't take the Earth with us when we end ourselves?
This next stanza really is wonderful, and your use of morse code is a wholly valid but amazingly original take on language. I actually looked up those Morse letters, and I was thrilled to find you had actually written "poetry" with it. The visual effect the sudden line of this code creates is subtly powerful, it is a sharp and clear sensation of realization. A lot of great poems, like Eliot's The Waste Land , feature words or phrases in different languages (Italian in that case, as I recall) which flavour the poem and give it a new dimension. That is what the Morse code here does, but in a completely new way.
The importance of hips and the lower part of the body is emphasized here; the hips are normally associated with jovial movement and dancing, but perhaps more concretely than that they symbolize childbirth. 'Hearing something in your hips when you sleep' is a concept which vaguely reminds me of a pregnant woman, who carries a child within her, and perhaps experiences things through it.
The phrase virus of comprehension is practically an oxymoron, because you ask it to spread across your bones; and 'comprehension' in this case is a highly positive element, because comprehension is what language is mostly about, making oneself understood.
The rest of this stanza introduces an extremely important idea; that language is not only spoken language, it is every form of human communication. You emphasize this beginning with so if I lose my voice, and the tapping of fingers and pounding of drum is described and explained as a language, the language of rhythm. It seems that there is a trend with your final lines of stanzas, they all end on a highly dramatic and absolutely beautiful note (pun intended). You slowly build up to the idea of blood, one's lifeforce; first with rnythm, then with beat, then with heartbeat and finally with to speak with my blood. This is a wonderful and even epic concept, but in a minimal way; like an implosion of meaning.
Having imagine be a monometer is a very sound decision to make; because the rhythm and scheme of the piece is freeverse already, the inconsistancy does not stick out to its disadvantage. Rather it puts an emphasis on the meaning and on the tone of the word. Imagine could be what the speaker in the poem sighs to the reader, dreaming and looking upwards; or the word could be in this imperative form because it commands the reader to ponder the connotations of it. The imagination is without a doubt one of the most important and central features of language; perhaps that is why poetry is so appealing to so many people, because it mimics the creativity of language itself.
This penultimate, 18-line stanza hashes out the theme of music more concetely than before. Hints to it have been made, and the drums of the previous stanza clearlt foreshadow it. Playing, harmony, symphony, melody, music, resonates: these are all concepts related to this aural artform, and you create imagery related to it brilliantly with these subtle word-additions. (And the similairty of the words offer chances of hidden internal rhyme, as ~tasheen pointed out here)
The tempo also quickens here, as though building up to something; the words louder and louder in line 7 continue this, whipping the reader into a kind of controlled frenzy of rhythm. But even a detonation does not quell the pace because it happened within, without sound; and only when you yourself explode with song and voice does the frantic flow end.
The use of numbers, of thousands, million, billion, trillion, also aids this building up, counting ever higher and higher. (6x10^4) languages, (6x10^9) people, and (6x10^12) thoughts; this is a logical sequence, but a poetically rendered one as well.
But the way you end the poem is a great surprise; after all of the action, all of the emotion and the whirlpool of thoughts, as well as the idealistic dreams of the beginning, you suddenly say that all of this can only be experienced for "one instant". This instant, of course, represents the course of a single worded utterance, which is no more than a carefully formed sound escaping one's lips.
But these two final stanzas seem like more than that to me; they seem like a criticism, no, a description of Time and of humankind's relation to it. Even if we reach this heavenly goal, rebuild the Tower of Babel, it will all have taken place in the tiniest fraction of a second in the course of the universe.
The final stanza is a brilliant way to end it all; losing focus, echoing, fading slowly.
This is one of the most incredible poems I have read in my life. There are TS Eliot-esque and Sylan Thomas-like portions visible throughout, but it is all you. The piece is like a humble but excited recital, a proclamation of the staus quo of the universe.
You have shaken me with this, and nothing can erase that emotion; I will keep it stored in my memories.
This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.