Blog Post 1: formalist critique of stanza exercise.
(*note: This stanza is the complete poem)
Hi, I’m 5 and ¾ Today
Walking by Mathers Theatre
Mommy tells me not to look.
“P.D.A. They’re on display.
Figs,” she whispers, and hurries
So silly. Two guys aren’t
Developing a critical approach to analyzing the poem “Hi, I’m 5 and ¾ Today” requires a grasp of the Formalist Techniques. Employed correctly one can dissect the poem from a New Critic’s perspective. Since the poet is also the critic for this exercise, certain fallacies must be acknowledged preemptively. For one, the poet is looking at his own work and therefore is inclined to justify and reason out any inadequacies or confusion between the poem’s form and the poem’s meaning. Despite an effort to be impartial, there may be exploratory colorings that jade the supposed unbiased perspective. That being said, this poem articulates the paradox between innocence and stigma, confusion and fact, and tone and content. The general tone of the poem is informal, as the speaker is a young child who is “5 and ¾ years old”. The development of the poem is simple: an innocent child finds nothing wrong with two men showing affection together, but finds it strange for his mother to call them dried fruit.
First off, this poem has a certain pattern of meter yet it is not exactly even and classified in the normal sense like iambic pentameter. The juxtaposition of having seven syllables in the first two lines and then two syllables in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th lines give the poem a certain pattern of anticipated irregularity. This supports the meaning of the poem, as well s the tone, as the speaker is young and does not know enough to speak in grammatically correct sentences. The internal Rhymes are only “P.D.A.” and “display” (line 3). This draws attention to the fact that not only is this line critical to understanding the poem’s meaning, but it also functions as a way to give certain tone to the Mother speaking within the poem. The mother’s tone is in direct contrast to that of the young speaker.
The alliteration appears in the form of the “s” sound of “So silly (line 7) which gives an informal tone and childish feel to the speaker’s thoughts. The “S” sounds are apparent through which could give the poem a sliding train of thought undertone as in “Mathers” (line 1) “tells” (line 2) “Figs” ,“She”, “Says”, and “hurries” in line 5, and then “guys” (line 7). The specific usage of an endstop in “out” points to a short and very stark contrast to the ponderous word “look” in the lines above. The last word “fruit” could be considered an endstop as well, leaving the reader with a sudden and abrupt ending to the poem. There are many trochaic words in the poem, and line two in particular has many trochees. This gives the entire “Mommy tells me not to look” line a certain command quality, compared to words such as “display” or “hurries” which could be considered iambs which are more natural sounding and ruminative.
This poem leaves many questions unanswered, yet gives a certain amount of meaning through the diction and specific placement of the words. The entire meaning of the fact that the speaker is “hurried out” is a play on words as the boys showing affection for one another are “out” in public. The speaker is hurried away, but probably hurried into the closet as opposed to out.
The enjambment also provides a unique way for the reader to pause. Sometimes the literal words on the page tell the reader to do the opposite as in lines five and six (Figs,” she whispers, and hurries/ me out.) which supports the idea of the paradox between rushing the speaker out and the content requesting more contemplation. A caesura is used to show a longer pause in the third line (I look) which makes use of another device that adds a pause without using punctuation. This forces the reader to imagine the young speaker, in a moment of indecision, looking at the two males together.
The final piece to turn to is the exact words of “figs” meaning “fags” and then the point that fig leaves are used in many ways to cover up private parts and indecency, but fig trees and fruits could also be used in a sensual way (This could be argued to be a non formalist reading, but the critic would say that the meaning is purely in the word itself). The complications of this poem rise to the surface, and the deeper meaning breaks free after careful critical analysis.