Structure that fits into irony

The poem that most struck me most in the ironic poems section of Structure and Surprise was the Margaret Atwood poem “you fit into me”

you fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye

I thought this use of turn was extremely interesting. Instead of turning from one side of the coin to another (black/white, up/down, you get the idea), Atwood rearranges the images so that they mean something new. The first stanza is very sexual and even favorable. The idea of fitting into someone like a hook-and-eye clasp is comfortable, safe, and strong. However, by specifying what kind of hook and eye in the second stanza, the reader is shocked, horrified. The safe image is demolished by one of an unprotected eye in a battle with a barbed, sharp fish hook in which it is obvious that the eye will not be the victor. While the turn is still sort of from safe to unsafe, the images do not flip, but instead morph and evolve.

This idea of rearrangement is especially interesting to me. I was one of the people that voiced a frustration about not know how to turn my poems. The idea of moving concepts from one place to another, of working with alternate definitions, is very appealing to me. The wit/wordplay involved is one of my favorite parts of poetry. In order to use this use of ironic structure, one needs to be aware of the different definitions and connotations of words. I think that this is something I could personally accomplish, however, I think the use of this structure would come more in the revision of the poem than in the original writing of it. This seems as though if one were to try and consciously right a poem about this way, it might come out very forced. I wonder if this is the nature of the structure and the specificity of what is needed, or if structure is something that needs to be applied to a poem after its first written, more as a something to stream line it. Either way, Atwood’s poem and morphing of images was what most captured my attention in the irony chapter.


3 Responses to “Structure that fits into irony”

  1. I, too, was enamored of this tiny poem. It embodies one of my reoccurring desires to create concise language, language based upon brevity. I love that a single word (or perhaps two) exists as a package of other, technically absent words, and Atwood’s package is so deft.

    The ironic structure appeals to me also for its possibility of “wit/wordplay.” The execution of unpredictability snaps us to attention, makes us conscious of our tendency toward quick judgment. At the end, when the reader becomes aware that he/she has been tricked–and yet, not tricked, because the clues were there all along–it is not anger that is experienced, but admiration.

  2. Melissa Goodrich Says:

    I like that you point out how the images are not reversed so much as “morphed” – and I think its this complexity of reexamination that many of us are still struggling to figure out completely. Maybe it depends upon dealing with a subject matter that the writer herself has complex feelings about (clearly the speaker in this short piece remembers, with clarity, an exact intimacy, a feeling of feeling and working as a unit; then again, an unsaid something has gone completely wrong, and all we readers can gather is that she was the more vulnerable).

    The translation of feelings is probably the most impossible task any writer can ever face – and this poem embodies “betrayal,” but she doesn’t even use a harsh or violent or vindictive tone, and she doesn’t say “I hate” or “you tricked” but the gentle, almost sweet “you fit,” which glides us effortlessly into the revelation – and the sharpness of our reception is a token to language which is working effectively, with precision.

  3. I think you bring up an interesting point as to whether structure is something we do as we write, or something we apply during the revision process. Personally, I believe that we inherintly (sp?) use some form of structure as we write. It’s how we think, and most structures follow the natural flow of thought. Think of the ironic structure as setting up the punchline for a joke. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be funny, the turn is generally unexpected or surprising, something the reader didn’t think of while they were reading. The problem is, as you said, keeping this from sounding forced. This comes back to the revision process. The idea is to take what we have already written and flesh out the structure. Streamline it. We, as writers, also need to step back and become readers. What is the reader thinking as they go through the piece? Look for bits that might forshadow your “punchline,” and decide if that’s what you want. Do you want the reader to go back, like in “The Dancing,” and go “Oh! So that’s what that meant.” ? Or do you want them to get that feeling at the end, with absolutely no clues leading up to it?

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