Friday, February 24, 2012 | By: Brianna

Poetry Friday -- Initiation

Today is Poetry Friday.  This week I remembered, and I was really excited because this meant that I got to read a poem and talk about it rather than studying for my Statistics exam that I'm going to have to take at 1 PM today.  We're excited about this procrastination because it'll give me time to forget that I literally just looked at the answer sheet for my study guide and if I try doing the practice problems, I'll probably remember what the answer looked like, and that's akin to cheating.  On the study guide.

Thank you, Google!
Anyway, I'm going to talk about Matt Guenette's "Initiation" from his book American Busboy, a book which everyone should read because it's fantastic.  You should be able to see my review of it on Goodreads somewhere because my Stand Up Poetry class read it for class and I really enjoyed it.  PLUS, Guenette came to campus just last week, and I thought I would do him homage by reading and talking about one of his poems if I could find it online, and luckily I did...because otherwise I wouldn't have known what to write about.

"Initiation" is a poem about initiating a new busboy into the culture of the restaurant in which he is about to work.  The manager sticks his hand in breading and then into the frialator (which Chrome says isn't a word) to scare the busboy into obedience.  The second half of the poem assures the reader that the manager treats the busboy more kindly in the following days but turns around and slaps all the readers on the face with the twist at the end.

When you first look at "Initiation," you're struck by the arrangement of the poem.  It's not all left-aligned and it's not centered to make it look more like a poem.  It looks like it's all over the place, but really there has to be a method to the madness.  I'm not going to say that I know what that method is, but there's gotta be a method.  Perhaps just as the manager in the poem is initiating the new busboy, this poem is meant to initiate the reader into the world of this poem or maybe Guenette's poetry as a whole.  Somehow it shows us what to expect from the poems to follow.

One feature of this poem that I thought was particularly interesting is the semi-repetition.  You can see it in "The manager sticking / his hand in the breading.  The manager / sticking his breaded hand..."  First off, the second line ends with "the manager," bringing the reader's attention back to the manager with that line break directly after the title.  This happens two more times throughout the poem.  But like I was saying about the repetition-ish.  I can't really say it's true repetition because we're not getting the same exact thing twice, but "sticking his hand in the breading" and then "sticking his breaded hand" turns around some of our expectations.  Sure, we know that once the manager's put his hand in the breading his hand's going to be "breaded," but the way this is executed dances in front of us and flaunts its cleverness.  It's just a couple rearranged words, but it still intrigues us.

We've also got some dialogue going on here, and it's italicized, which is nice because frequently quotation marks distract and just look weird.  But the dialogue flows along rather nicely.  The only times when we hear the manager speak are when he's talking to the busboy and messing with him because we've got "Don't mess with me" and "Well he's on the phone now asking for you."  Guenette could have added in "Oh yeah, do you remember blowing bubbles when you were a kid?" but he didn't.  I can see why, because if he had then the poem would probably have been too dialogue-heavy, and also we'd hear the manager setting up his own joke, and that would detract from the manager's messing with the busboy.

And then there's "blowing bubbles."  There's not much more to say about that only because when I finally "got it" during class discussion, I may have made a revelation "OH MY GOSH!" exclamation and applauded Guenette's cleverness.  So upset I didn't get that on the first reading.

1.  Write about a time when you were initiated into something.  A club, a class, a friend group.  Fictionalize the horror, but no hazing...
2.  Take a tip from Matt Guenette and end your poem with an innuendo.  Because you know you want to.
3.  How about using some of that repetition.  Switch some things up a bit so it looks and sounds new, but you know the're just using the same words in a creative new order.  (Beware: Avoid sounding like Yoda.)
4.  Experiment with line breaks and re-aligning your poem.  Maybe it'll look strange at first, but see if you can justify (haha) your madness.
5.  Integrate dialogue.  Sparingly.  For effect.
6.  Create a character like the manager.  Menacing yet well-meaning.  See if you can create this character and  emphasize the fear that his subordinates feel.  Have you ever worked with a manager like that?

The manager sticking
his hand in the breading.  The manager
sticking his breaded hand
in the frialator just long enough 
so when he pulls it out
a frequently nightmare-looking thing encrusted
in sudden crust emerges.
- Matt Guenette, "Initiation"
(I had to remove the formatting so it looked pretty here, sorry!)


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