Thursday, April 26, 2007

'A Rough Guide'

A Rough Guide
by Mark Haddon

Be polite at the reception desk.
Not all the knives are in the museum.
The waitresses know that a nice boy
is formed the same way as a deckchair.
Pay for the beer and send flowers.
Introduce yourself as Richard.
Do not refer to what somebody did at a particular time in the past.
Remember, every Friday we used to go
for a walk. I walked. You walked.
Everything in the past is irregular.
This steak is very good. Sit down.
There is no wine but there is ice cream.
Eat slowly. I have many matches.

Mark Haddon, who won the 2004 WhitBread prize for best novel for his phenomenal Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was also longlisted for the 2004 Booker, which DBC Pierre won, has a poetry collection, called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea.

In the first line, even though the initial sounds are made up of plosives (‘Be polite’), they are understated. The b and p’s are in non-stress syllables. It sounds like the speaker is lowering her voice but still maintaining a sense of earnestness. After these two syllables comes the first stress syllable, ‘lite’. Then the speedy reading after this, over ‘at the re’ makes me wonder if the person is speaking with a slur. The stress at ‘cep’, the non-stress at ‘tion’, and ‘desk’ – they all give an image of someone collecting herself. Especially so when the mute consonant at the end of ‘desk’ makes the end-stopping here more poignant, like someone stopping for breath or someone bringing up short.

The second line is full of nasal sounds, like someone is still in her cups: ‘are in the museum’ makes this patent.

‘Pay for the beer’ in line 5, repeats the plosive scheme of line 1, but this time they are in the stress syllables. And this time, the speaker sounds adamant in her insistence, but she softens a little in ‘send flowers’ and in the next line, which has a lot of tongue-rolling sounds.

The next 4 lines talk about the past. And the word ‘past’ itself is repeated and it also sort of circumscribes these lines. The speaker reminisces about the regular walks they take on Fridays. The line with 3 repeats of the word ‘walk’ is interesting. Notice this line has 3 sentences, so that there are 2 pauses. Also, the first and second sentences are similar in structure. However their symmetry belies any congruity. Rather, their separation by a pause between them shows up a contrast, a distance separating them: she and he were walking but not together, and this is affirmed by the line ‘Everything in the past is irregular’. Which, indeed, the pace of this walking was: irregular.

The penultimate line is a slurred rendering of ‘There is no wine but there is’. Then she perks up at ‘ice cream’, with a high-note end-stop.

The last line repeats the nasal sounds of line 2, with more labial sounds. The caesura or mid-pause, and ‘many matches’, which puts me in the mind of ‘knifes in the museum’ of line 2: something sinister or naughty is going to happen.

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Blogger Nicholas Wong said...

Thanks Leon for the poem. I laughed very loud at the line

'The waitresses know that a nice boy/
is formed the same way as a deckchair.'

But I think focusing on the poem's technical aspects, in this case, its sound qualities, is to overstretch the analysis and ignore the poem as a whole. Why not try a more general exploration which encompasses meaning, diction, form for example?

9:30 PM, April 26, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Haha, Leon is our resident sound and rhythm maestro... his passion and expertise is with the sounds, even the most minute ones, in poetry. Sharanya goes for exotic and sensual poems, Machinist brings in both scientific and 'romantic' wonder, Sharon her heartfelt feelings for the poem, and me, haha, little bits and pieces.

Would love to spend more time with this poem, and stir some discussions, but am travelling to KL tomorrow, with stuff to pack. So, I'll be seeing you guys around soon. :)

12:30 AM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Quick read b4 I go. It seems like a 'cheeky' date poem.

12:33 AM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Ha Ha,that's Nic the future Prof of Lit talking. I'm just pin pointing sounds and rhythm - that's what I love most about poems - so that I don't have to write pages and pages if I do go into "a more general exploration which encompasses meaning, diction, form". I do go into those areas sometimes; you can check out previous postings.

9:35 AM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Antares said...

Pwah! Never seen poetry analyzed so technically - not sure whether to be depressed or impressed! But I feel reassured and thrilled that there are literary blogs like this one in cyberspace, so utterly refreshing, good work, Leon :-)

8:41 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

It came upon me that these might be snippets of (overheard) conversation.

9:04 PM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Overheard conversations? Mmmm... that's a curious observation. Conversations, yes, but I'm not sure if they are overheard. Let me know why.

For me, at least, it appears to be a poem about two people on a date together, perhaps at a restaurant, after or before visiting the museum? There are the usual formalities, and what not to mention about a "somebody" from the past... so, in that sense, it is like the title of the poem "A Rough
Guide" on dating, if you will. Off course, that's a nice cheeky bit towards the end, I believe, of having no wine but icce cream... and that curious or ambiguous bit about matches.

10:58 PM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Anyone has any ideas?

10:59 PM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Gabriela Sellart said...

restrained -that's the adjective that comes to my mind. The short sentences give me this idea of control.
the emotion is repressed, but lurking:the knives, the matches

10:55 AM, May 03, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Ah yes... Restrained but lurking, before the passions get unleashed. Thanks so much, Gabriella.

11:57 AM, May 05, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i like this strange little poem - which totally intrigues. and the short lines,

i don't think this is about a date. but perhaps are just scraps of overheard conversation, distorted a little, glued together, separated from context.

(and does a poem need to be about - anything??)

"I walked. You walked. Everything in the past is irregular."

sounds like an English lesson - someone learning about tenses. of course in English not all past tenses are irregular, which is why the line is so pleasantly surprising.

i'm still pondering the boy and deckchair comparison - but what a nice image!

there's a slight menace in the line about the knives and the line about the matches, don't you think?

nic's comment is interesting. funny thing is that over the time we've been blogging together i've noticed that all of us respond in very different ways to poems and get pleasure from different things. i've discovered i like narrative and voice in poetry perhaps more than others ... and yes, leon is the techie who takes the cover off to look at the wires and pipes inside. i can't analyse a poem like this - mostly because i can't be bothered to - the surface is enough for me!

leon would have made a brilliant professor of applied linguistics where analysis and love of details counts

7:54 AM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

sorry, it's just struck me that the poem is all written in imperitives "do this, do that"

someone's giving someone else guidelines 9which is why the poem is called a rough guide)... and that someone seems rather overbearing and threatening

this is a nice puzzle!

7:59 AM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger msiagirl said...

Sorry to show up everywhere. I think this blog is amazingly ambitious, wonderful and so competent! Leon's analysis of the sounds is so detailed I am in wonderment. wow.

A Rough Guide makes me think of travel/survival rules (this is so modern it probably does refer to the series of travel guides) - this is the speaker's rules for travelling through conversation to someone over dinner. I'm not sure it is a date, more like a mentor - man to man/boy.

yes they are very restrained rules for survival, very keep your head down and no one will hurt you rules. Some of these rules are my rules too!

eg Be polite at the reception desk. This is a very good rule and inevitable along most journeys, as you always find yourself at a reception desk or two. Making a fuss often gets you stonewalled, so being polite often gets you further along the journey.

I love this poem because all the rules seem to have a little back story, an elaborate image which springs to my mind when I read each line: Not all the knives are in the museum. I think of all the places knives could be, what they could be used for, and not just actual knives but the hurts we hand each other every day. (OK I'll stop now, it's obvious I have a very active imagination.)

Very enjoyable blog.

4:47 AM, May 11, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

msiagirl - you are hereby invited to contribute to this blog. choose a poem you love by someone else. write about it as you like. no need to be techie like leon or a surface skater like me.

and then we'll post it.

i like your interpretation. it fits very well. ... why do i hear the voice of an elderly bossy aunt talking to an impressionable nephew?

8:31 PM, May 11, 2007  
Blogger msiagirl said...

That's what I love about poetry - we all find it in our own images, our own meanings.

As a writer of poetry, that is what I love about poetry too - we can send these packages out and people can read in them what they will. I like that, I've a difficulty in pinning down the exact meaning of what the writer meant when they wrote it - it is an admirable discipline, but i am happier going it means this to me.

I am honoured you asked me to choose a poem to write about. Thanks, I will think about one and email you soon (one week before I fly out to Malaysia!)

3:18 AM, May 12, 2007  

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