A few years after I graduated from Iowa Wesleyan, I got a letter from the Design magazine staff—meaning probably from ideal professor Mildred Bensmiller—informing me that the Sigma Tau Delta group intended to make the upcoming issue of Design special by including poems or other writing from alumni. Never one to pass up unpaid publications (witness this blog), I immediately sent them about five poems, one of which, being brand-new, I really had high hopes for. It isn’t the poem below, which is the one they accepted and printed. This one is good, probably among my very best, but I was so excited by the other one (you’ll get to read it, if you can, one of these days).
Since people generally figure poets write about themselves (songwriters, too), I thought I would definitely not write about myself. The closest this poem comes to my life is fantasy perhaps.
This one is deliberately the most callous, shallow and manipulative poem I have yet written (I was going to say “that I have ever written,” but one shouldn’t take the future for granted—even at my age). I wanted to create an outgoing, attractive but selfish speaker (and I mean that—create). And since just about every poem I have ever written has had to be about love somehow, it became a seduction poem.
The link took you to the most polished and famous seduction poem of them all, and learning about it and poet Andrew Marvell is highly advised. By the way, following the final link on the Wikipedia page (to here, in case it judiciously vanishes) is also worthwhile—even though I (obviously) find the poet soundly mistaken to believe Marvell is the speaker in his poem.
I had trouble devising a title. Originally I called it “Sportsmanship,” but considering the evolution of slang in the last thirty years, I could have been genuinely prescient and just named it “Player.”
• • •
Pretty girl, let’s play a game:
pretend I love you. Not so hard,
is it? Look now, just pick a card,
any card. I’ll tell you its name—
hearts. Here they’re all the same.
In my deck, girl, they’re hearts
every one. No tricks or clever arts
to change them each to suit my aim.
A simple game. Now just pretend
you love me. Good girl. I’ll send
the rules away and we can play
together nicely. No mammas to say
you better get yourself home now.
A pleasant game. I’ll teach you how.
Published as by an alumnus in Design magazine 1978
16 November 1977
On a relatively recent episode of 30 Rock, Tracey Morgan, the most utterly shameless player on TV now that Two and a Half Men has tried taming Charlie toward marriage (maybe), in a very funny moment got to say, “Does that mean every girl is someone’s daughter?” or words to that effect. Tracey, becoming a father to a girl, had realized that women were not just sexual prey.
The guy speaking this poem hasn’t gotten there yet (mothers and family propriety are just inconveniences). And notice how shamelessly he lies, flat-out and directly.
I had wanted to end the poem with an ellipsis, but in the end I figured that would be just too obvious.
So is there some biographical connection with this poem? I could only have wished: I am too much an introvert to be this kind of guy.
Finally for today, if I were still teaching (and coaching speech), I think that Marvell’s poem and A.D. Hope’s reply would make an interesting reading/duet acting…