On “On Sentimentality”

Andrew Hudgins’ “On Sentimentality” begins as what sounds like a film critique, and his tone implies he is taking the unpopular positions of “it didn’t move me” (about as dangerous a thing to say about Twilight now-a-days). This puts the speaker in a place of vulnerability (he has chosen to make public his dislike for what is widely accepted), a decision which is risky in that it can lose its readership (if the reader is, say, a fan of Limelight). However, for the agreeing reader, the one who nods his head (I know exactly how you feel, Hudgins; Tereza was absolutely over the top), he is in for quite a surprise by line 10 where the acknowledgement is made, “But life doesn’t scruple at anything.”

This is why it’s essential to read an entire poem as a whole. The poet is addressing the complexity of not merely a realistic reaction, but the concept of “earning” the right to a certain emotion. There is almost a note of envy in the line, “Because she isn’t real/ she’ll do everything I did and do it better” and despair in, “We’re real, we cannot do it for ourselves.” This poem addresses authenticity and even the authenticity of art (such as a movie) – does art have the right to be more authentic than reality? Would he dare criticize a real Tereza screaming in the doorway? And what does it say of the speaker, who has himself experienced a similar tragedy (or is it because he has had the experience that he’s offended at the dramatization)?

Especially in experiences of vulnerability, it seems that people tend to push away – and this poem shows that kind of pushing (“it didn’t move me,” “I thought the scream was too much, sentimental”), begging the question of why. It appears like self-defense, once the speaker reveals he, too, has shared Tereza’s experience. Having made that connection, the speaker goes one step further and reconsiders Tereza and her scream (“The second time I saw Tereza there…”). The concessional structure is fundamental because it allows an entry into the sometimes reactionary defense a poem presents itself with. It allows for a transformation, for a revealing of different layers…for instance, the speaker at the beginning of this poem is self-sufficient, indifferent, and unmoved; by the end, he is in distress and helpless (“we cannot do it for ourselves”). This is achieved by peeling layers; each concession makes the initial statement more complicated and complicates the speaker’s feelings and point as a whole. Maybe the beauty of the concessional is that it gives a mode to those subjects which are the most difficult to discuss, for the subject is supposed to be approached from many considerations and because the mode is so fundamentally honest.

2 Responses to “On “On Sentimentality””

  1. I like the idea you’re presenting about the layers that the concessional structure can create within a poem, giving it depth and human honesty and providing “a mode” for “those subjects which are most difficult to discuss.” It seems that when a poet has something at stake in his or her writing, or perhaps when the work itself has something at stake, that the resultant whole is more complex.

    I especially like what you’re saying about peeling layers. It seems that in the process of the turn, after the speaker of the poem crafts his or her concession within layers, he or she must then reveal them again line by line until he or she reaches the truth tucked behind the innermost layer of concession. Perhaps the concession is a structure ideal not only for discussing subjects we find difficult to discuss, but also for finding truths we are unaware of until, turning, we find them beneath our own layers and between our own lines. Maybe this is a whole other subset of the concessional poem, like the concession/confession, but instead a concession/discovery.

  2. I like how, as you have brought up, the concessional structure truly works as a whole. One thing I have found unique and appealing about the concessional structure is how it works with each line to build and build to a crescendo. While most poems, do, indeed, rely on every line, every word, the concessional structure heavily relies on the placement of these words and lines in order to truly make it’s point.

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