Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Bill Holm


Earbud--a tiny marble sheathed in foam
to wear like an interior earring so you
can enjoy private noises wherever you go,
protected from any sudden silence.
Only check your batteries, then copy
a thousand secret songs and stories
on the tiny pod you carry in your pocket.
You are safe now from other noises made
by other people, other machines, by chance,
noises you have not chosen as your own.
To get your attention, I touch your arm
to show you the tornado or the polar bear.
Sometimes I catch you humming or talking to the air
as if to a shrunken lover waiting in your ear.

For the generation who’d rather listen to music in the form of MP3, rather than as music issuing from large speakers and spinning from a CD, the earbud is one of a pair, each a “tiny marble sheathed in foam”, as Bill Holm puts it, in his poem.

The way Holms refers to it - you stick it into each ear, much like “an interior earring”, for enjoying “private noises” – it is nothing you would want to show off openly. It’s an object to hide behind, to be “protected from sudden silence”; which says plenty about the brashness and loudness of such a society.

Holm uses the s alliteration in "sudden silence", to make more audible, for the reader, the abrupt hushness of no sound. He also repeats this alliteration in "secret songs and stories". But this time the collocation has a different effect. The "songs and stories" are audible only to the wearer of the earbuds.

For old people who needs to protect themselves from silence, like deafness, the earbud is like their ear piece which near-deaf people wear, who also require to “check your batteries”.

Holm views the earbud, and its concomitant “pod” (the iPod) as something you hide “in your pocket”, just like the “secret songs and stories”. Like a pod you are cocooned, protected, in your own “private noises”, not those from “other people, other machines, by chance,/ noises you have not chosen as your own.” The earbud does not belong with a social environment of sharing and communicating, as the triple repeats of other suggests.

Another triple set of repeats, of noises, works similarly to the s alliterations of lines 4 and 6. While the wearer might assume that other noises would encroach into her audo privacy, the observer (non-wearer) considers the tinny sounds from her earbuds noises.

Just like wearers of those ear pieces for amplifying sounds for the hard of hearing, earbud wearers sometimes have to be communicated to tactilely (“I touch your arm”). They can be so immersed in their own private world (“humming or talking to the air”), they have a narrow view of the other world, the natural one, particularly (“the tornado or the polar bear”). Their view of their own world is similarly reduced (“shrunken lover”).

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Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

not great but a neat execution of the idea

7:13 PM, May 06, 2009  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

I still kinda like this poem though, as there's a nice, little ambivalence to it. There's a marvel about what this modern device can do, when it is described as "a tiny marble sheathed in foam", and how with a I-"pod", we can "copy/ a thousand secret songs and stories" - capturing the beauty of this private world, "protected", "safe"... and yet it also express a little of what I would call, the self-walling up of a kind of narcissistic me-culture, as evident in the repetitions of a "you" that keeps put "other", those "not chosen as your own" (which I feel is emphasised, coming at the end of the line, with the next line ending with "your arm"), such that one has to "touch" the person to awaken him/her to the other things missed out - nicely exaggerated with "tornado" and "polar bear". And yet, it is also this little thing that allows one to escape into this self-revelry - "humming", "talking to the air", as to a "shrunken lover" - a nice metaphor which as Leon puts out, shows a slightly negative sense of being reduced, but the word "lover" also suggests something personally intimate (positive).

10:43 PM, May 06, 2009  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

DI, you are so spot on about "you" and "other".

MM, the poem is really a "neat execution of the idea", as u put it. It may be fair to say it is "not great", but you have ommitted to say it is quite a good piece, though.

Which, I am partly at fault in not going into the poem's mechanics further, yesterday, as I was a little too precipitate.

So, today I'm redressing this by adding more analysis of the sound treatment Holm uses in some lines. Please see the additions in paras 3, 5 and 6.

12:51 PM, May 07, 2009  

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