Saturday, April 13, 2013
BPR LIT TRIP 13 with Joshua Gottlieb-Miller
On day 13 of the Steiny Road Poet’s odyssey through the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40, she meets up with a couple of young men in Joshua Gottlieb-Miller’s “Power Animals.” This free-verse poem, organized in nine unrhymed tercets with a stand-alone end line, contrasts neatly with Daniel Anderson’s “Someone is Burning Leaves.” Like Anderson’s poem, Gottlieb-Miller’s poem deals with male-on-male relationships in a similar worried way, employs colloquial male lingo without uncensorship, and exhibits coping techniques on how men can survive what life throws at them. The main difference is generational and shows the younger man exercising more politically correct behavior by today’s standards. Here is how the poem opens:
I was meditating on compassion
for all the people who need it. Not those assholes
who have enough compassion already. I was sitting in an igloo
with my power animal, a young male, like me,
in khakis and a plaid short-sleeve button-up. He wasn’t Jewish.
As the first line indicates, this is a poem about compassion and that word is used ten times in a way one might hear filmmaker Woody Allen chatter on screen about such a subject. G-M shoots the breeze about how appreciative his power animal buddy is—they carpool together to compassion events in the narrator’s igloo of a car and the power animal writes thank-you notes for the rides, nevermind that power animal pays for the gas. Here the narrator pauses to reflect, “Some people/ don’t appreciate when other people appreciate them.” The Steiny Poet says this thought is a lot like Anderson’s —“We love you, Danny Anderson./Now, we’re not gay or anything like that,/ It’s just, we love you, baby, you be safe.” The main difference between the two expressions is that G-M shows compassion for others caught in this situation and does not get snagged in politically incorrect queer sex assertions that deal with straight men being liked too much by other men who may or may not be gay.
Starting with the title, spirituality threads G-M’s poem throughout. Power animal is terminology that entered the English lexicon only in 1980 with anthropologist Michael Harner’s book, The Way of the Shaman. A power animal, often associated with a spirit animal or totem, is a protective and helping influence associated with primitive cultures such as the Inuit people of the Artic. The Steiny Poet noticed how G-M never said Eskimo but only igloo, showing again his P.C. solidarity with others who suffer from the elements, whatever those elements might be.
Buddha, who taught the path to enlightenment is through wisdom and compassion, figures prominently in how the narrator is trying to understand and participate in compassionate behavior. “The Buddha says if you meet the Buddha on the road/ kill the Buddha, but he doesn’t say what you should do/ if the light’s turning yellow and some schmuck is really testing/ everyone’s compassion before the compassion parade/ has every begun.” The I narrator also wonders how he will know he has achieved compassion and likens this trait to Buddha, complaining, “That’s the problem with the Buddha: he doesn’t say/ what to do if you encounter him on public radio, or running// by in the park, or if you close your eyes/ so the guy paying for gas [the power animal] won’t see you cry…”
In the final lines of the poem, the narrator, who also considers himself a power animal (therefore the plural form for the title), redefines compassion and widens his quest to self-love, “if only you had enough compassion/ for yourself, the worst kind of compassion/ to not have—people say compassion means being kind//to others, but it doesn’t. It means being kind.” It’s an eloquent way to open up compassion by paring down the definition. Quite Steinian in the Steiny Road Poet’s mind.