Sunday, April 8, 2018

Day 8: Bola Opaleke on "Dogs to the Chain"

I linked to Bola Opaleke's Empty Mirror poem, "If the Monster Looked Like Us", on Day 1 of 30 Days of The Five-Two, and he volunteered this commentary on John Patrick Robbins' March 19 Five-Two poem, "Dogs to the Chain".

—Gerald So

This poem came from a very sad part of the hellish abyss (not for the writer but for the art itself).

Confessional or not, its gripping display of emotion was almost unbelievable. You almost feel like you’re reading a folklore written backward:

"I remember the moment time stopped"

This also stopped (for me) something in the reader, something hard to define the very moment that first line exploded into your face. Perhaps, that is a wakeup call, a kind of warning to get the reader to brace up for the wordy storm that would follow. The poet, I think, successfully invokes sympathy in that his crime was diminished or even overlooked by his breezy portrayal of himself as the victim.

The language, simple and oddly friendly, makes the delivery outwardly embracive.

"It didn't take balls to pull the trigger"

appears to be open-ended, or at least intended to be. This is the part where the reader has to make his/her mind about whether to fall in love or out of love with the narrator. In my case, I tried to make excuses, even assumed the story was being told on behalf of someone else. But eventually in the end

"Except in his case, it was a mercy killing and long overdue"

makes every single excuse above excusable. Though, manipulative in a way, the writer needs not try too hard to convince the reader that murder and killing (mercy or not) are not the same. It is already assumed. And the guiltiness of that unblind judgment shifts, so it could be different for different readers.

"I never knew freedom I simply knew a bigger cage"

is a perfect way to end this poem. It is like the last words a lawyer would say to the jury. Whatever your verdict, just know this is what I was made to become.

In taking someone else's life, you also give up yours. John's ability to juggle blames, in an artistic maneuvering, between accusations and acceptances, albeit confession, makes this poem quite arresting for me. I think this is a great poem, written in a way that leaves room for self-reflection, but also fluid enough to be enjoyed. —Bola Opaleke

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