The Perfect Life #11
Dear Dr. Perfect,
My girlfriend always wants me to listen to her read her poetry. At this point, listening to her recitations takes up about ten hours every week. I don’t know how she can write so much verse. Frankly, the poems aren’t that bad, but her stentorian reading voice raises the hairs on the back of my neck. I’ve asked if I can just read them without the performance, but she let me know how insanely unsupportive I was. My alcoholism seems to be worsening. What can I do?
A captive audience
Dear Captive Audience,
That sounds wonderful. With so much poetry at your disposal, you’ll never be vexed by the mysteries of life again.
Forgive my sarcasm.
I dated two rather accomplished poets in my younger years. One believed she was Emily Dickinson incarnate, and the other was a vegan transcendentalist who liked to burn things. Fine women, but I would always wind up as some abstract metaphor, slipped into one of their pieces. Something about the wispy strike of the serpent tongue or the piggish rankle of the beguiling bore. It wasn’t flattering, but what can I say? They became quite bitter toward the end. I, of course, have no room for bitterness in my perfect life. Holding grudges against self-absorbed exes who tried to publicly sully my good name would be a disservice to my loyal readers. The iridescent malaise of what she doth spew turns the tide of knowledge against her.
Your girlfriend needs an audience, a kind ear that will build her confidence. She might be a little overbearing in her delivery, as you suggest, but that’s what artists call “passion.” She’s also apparently prolific. A poet doesn’t want you to just read their work. You should know better. Recitation is half the effort. I recall accompanying friends to some beatnik bar in Greenwich Village during the seventies. They had spoken word and bongo drums and all the works. Some of those cats could go all night, I tell you. This isn’t to suggest that your “old lady” is part of that scene. That’s what they called female companions back then. She might be a classical poet, publishing volumes of lyrical soliloquies for your ears only. Therein lies the problem. There’s only so much time in the day, and you can’t spend it emulating an audience for your girlfriend’s radio plays. Poets are particularly sensitive, so I’ve heard. Writers in general are a mess. So, whatever scheme you employ will require more tactical planning than the Normandy Invasion.
The first step toward any well-meaning imposition is to establish ground rules. Certain people understand things like personal space and consideration and certain people don’t. Your poet extraordinaire might fit somewhere in the middle. For all I know, you’re equally annoying, but I make no presumptions.
My college roommate was a theater major who would demand my attention as he paced our dorm, practicing his solo-performance plays. Increasingly baffled, I asked “Are all of your plays just one big monologue?” He would never break character or give me a straight answer.
Limit the poetry in your life. Wean her from ten hours to five each week, eventually relegating her to an hour or less. You’ve recently embraced a new model ship building hobby that requires your utmost devotion. That’s what you’ll tell her. She might scoff at first but remind her that it keeps you from drinking. “You have your hobbies, I have mine,” you’ll say. After realizing that you’ve stepped into it by referring to her poetry as a hobby, you’ll apologize profusely and watch as she storms out of the house. This will give you an opportunity to rearrange all of the furniture in the living room while she’s gone.
Once she returns, attend to your model ships in the study, as though everything’s normal. She’ll ask what you’ve done with the living room. Remain oblivious and suggest that it’s all in her head. This is known as gaslighting, a favored tactic among sociopaths. It’s perfectly harmless in small doses. You’ll say that she’s overworked, that her many endless verses have transcended even the most open of forms into madness. Like Icarus, she’s flown too close to the sun.
The important thing to remember is to be happy. Life is too short to suffer silently through the doldrums of appeasement. Shorthand was designed to conserve time when writing. Emoticons have sped up communication. Perhaps your girlfriend is just looking for a 👍 to let her know everything will be okay. Award shows and speaking engagements have strict time limits for a reason. Artists would go on forever if they could.
I enjoy poetry as much as the next freak, but we all have limits. Poems are supposed to be brief and enjoyable. I even prefer the kinds that rhyme. To share one’s work is an intimate exercise. Your girlfriend values your opinion, and that’s not to be taken lightly. Maybe your opinion holds no clout and she just needs someone to listen. I don’t know. But I do know that you should take up some kind of model building. It’s the perfect activity to do while you drink.