Not a final draft.

Edward Lacie (edwa318@webtv.net)


I prefer to read poetry with an eye to understanding what makes it good, while enjoying it when it is good and having an understanding why it isn't when it isn't. I mention this in contrast to how I (usually) read prose: I am far less critical or demanding of prose.

What few times I'm likely to criticize prose, the reason is likely to be my feeling that the prose is "overwritten" and the writer is "trying to hard." (I've found it prevelant in the prose of usual writers of poetry, incidentally.)

While overwritten prose is somewhat easy to recognize (see George F. Will on a bad day; a baseball fan, he'd make a more likely poet, I venture), the same criticism is harder to recognize in poetry which is supposed, in its way, to be overwritten (I'm asking for trouble saying that, I know).

There are a number of poems by Baysans that walk a fine line between being overwritten and being, in the words of Goldilocks, "just right." A poem that is overwritten, it seems to me, is the ultra-political "Uncle Sam Tamrin".

Like the DC sniper, whose story is detailed in the poem, the ending is "out of control" and has little or nothing to do with the sustained tone of what has gone before which is, without the ending, a successful presentation of a difficult point of view: when is the system to blame (or racism or anti-Islamic culture in mainstay U.S. institutions) when a person with potential "goes through the motions" of finding the reasoned (rather than homicidal) path in life?

Structurally, "Uncle Sam Tamrin" (the title overwritten too, eliminating the first or last word might eliminate its cartoon quality) is like a bad dream. There's a familiarity to an emerging phrase ("Ask not what you...") that the reader realizes he doesn't want to ask himself.

By the time there's no question that the emerging quote is in two parts, the first and last parts of Kennedy's famous phrase about self-dedication, the verses in-between have painted a picture of John Malmo, the DC sniper, as someone who volunteers for the Marine Corps, serves in the military, is nearly outstanding but is never rewarded with that inclusion into "the mainstream." Despite military awards, the man is living in a homeless shelter ("The Light House") in Seattle not long before the shooting rampage begins.

The point, the political point of the poem, that achievement does not equal success when discriminations get in the way, is lost by the confusion of the last verse. A poem that already has veered on the obvious, collapses. I doubt the intent is to make the allegory that much more like what happened in real life.

Even the politics of the poem change from "the system is corrupt" to a more casual acceptance of the injustices. To quote Bruce Hornsby, "That's just the way it is. Some things will never change," the last verse says, but without irony. 

What had seemed political anger in the writer has "limped out" and gone in unknown directions all at once, a herd of ideas scattered before caught.

Noting my disappointment with only the closing of the poem, I imagine the poem without it and am unsatisfied still, so I recognize the need for an "ending." Too much like the sniper case itself, I'm left with no choice in the matter and have to accept it as it stands.

-Edward Lacie 11/14/2002