Vicious, You Hit Me With A Flower by Natalie Saunders

VICIOUS, YOU HIT ME WITH A FLOWER
-Lou Reed. “Vicious”. Transformer

by Natalie Saunders

Poetry, like an essay or any piece of writing partaking of both literary composition and a theme of nature is green literature. Poetry differs, but only slightly in it’s presentation, from other forms of literary work. Usually, poetry incorporates rhythm and metaphor, and is both song and speech. Poetry’s sonic aspect allows the author to add stress on particular words by their placement or repetition. Punctuation can also be used to add stress on particular words or syllables. What constitutes a poem? And is a nature poem the same as a green poem? My theory is green literature is a message to humanity that asks that we recognize ourselves in the text and put an end to the desecration of nature. Some poems are meant for us to marvel at nature’s beauty and not a call for action. While it may not be the author’s intention, the appreciation of the imagery in their nature poem can influence our action. Poets can document their story differently than other fiction. Similarly, short stories manifest their green agenda more concisely than a novel. The elements of fiction in poetry are not always as blatant and at times can be abstract. Still the elements of fiction: setting, character/characterization, climax, plot, and theme that we’ve seen in various forms are present in poetry as they are in other forms of literature. Structure and a theme of nature constitute green literary composition. How the author illustrates their green theme (short story, essay, poem, novel) is a matter of preference. What’s important is that we recognize our relationship with nature. In this essay are three original poems that reflect on humanity’s nature (wicked, remorseful and speculative at times about the consequences of our endless invention), in three different styles that will be explained by their inspiration and relation to green literature.

Transformer, the second studio album by American musician Lou Reed, was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and released by RCA Records in November 1972. The songs on the LP are some of Lou Reed’s best-known songs: "Walk on the Wild Side", "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love". The song "Vicious" notes Reed’s time in the Velvet Underground and their association with Andy Warhol. According to Reed, Warhol told him he should write a song called Vicious. When Reed asked what kind of vicious, Warhol replied, "Vicious, like I hit you with a flower”. (Classic Albums)

Lou Reed’s lyrics are a great example of poetry. In fact, poetry inspired Lou Reed’s lyrical style:

After graduating, [Lou Reed] attended Syracuse University where he developed a defining friendship with poet Delmore Schwartz. A mentor to Reed, Schwartz’s ability to create complex emotional landscapes with a simple vernacular language, impressed on Reed the possibilities within the everyday voice of the streets. After Syracuse, Reed moved to New York, where he worked writing popular songs. (Lacy)

Inspired by the meter: rhythm, time, and punctuation of Lou Reed’s Vicious – the following poem, Wicked, follows the same structure. The first and second lines rhyme while the last line of each section repeats, Oh, baby, you’re so wicked. This continues until the bridge that begins, When I…, transitions the rhythm from the shorter first two verses to longer lines, and then bridges back to repeat the rhythm of the first two verses. There is a second bridge that uses a variation on phrasing from the original bridge. The second bridge begins with: When I turn on the tv, instead of: When I hear the news. Finally the coda occurs when the rhythm breaks from the established meter to add intensity at the end of the poem. Coda is a term used in music primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece to an end. The coda in Vicious and Wicked repeat the title line. At this point the rhythm becomes freer allowing the reader to use any tempo.

1

Wicked

Wicked
You poked me in the eye
You do it every time
Oh, baby, you’re so wicked

Wicked
Bayer bees stopped makin’ honey
You do it for the money
Oh, baby, you’re so wicked

When I hear the news
Baby I just want to go, far away
You’re not the type of crowd around I
like anyway

When I hear your chainsaw blissed out down the street
I spike the trees and I chop your feet
You’re not the kind of company I want to keep

Oh, baby, you’re so wicked
you’re just so wicked

Wicked
Your fracking makes dirty water
Your noose is getting tauter
Oh, baby, you’re so wicked

Wicked
Hey, why don’t you paint a wallflower on the mirror
You must think that I’m your oyster
Oh, baby, you’re so wicked

When I turn on the tv
Baby I just want to go, far away
Fingers crossed for better news
the next time I’m awake

When I hear your chainsaw blissed out down the street
I spike the trees and I chop your feet
You’re not the kind of company I want to keep

‘Cause you’re so wicked
baby, you’re so wicked
Wicked, wicked
wicked, wicked
Wicked, wicked
wicked, wicked.

Following my theory that green literature is a message to humanity, Wicked, is a poem to humanity read from the voice of nature pointing out how unpleasant we are. Throughout the poem are examples that allude to actual events and people in literature. For example the line, Bayer bees stopped makin’ honey, is in reference to the number of bees that died because of the effects of Bayer pesticides. In early May 2008, between 330 and 500 million bees were killed in the Western part of Germany by Bayer’s clothianidin pesticide. In June of that same year, Greenpeace Germany published the report, "The Dirty Portfolios of the Pesticides Industry", that gave information of the world’s leading agrochemical companies and the danger of their pesticides on humans and the environment. (Greenpeace)

Edward Abbey, a conservative anarchist, radical environmentalist and author of Eco-Defense is also referenced. The word company has a connotative value in my poem. It refers to any number of people to be a friend of and the logging companies and their effect on the American wilderness. The following bridge in my poem, Wicked refers to Abbey’s belief that we should defend nature by any means:

When I hear your chainsaw blissed out down the street
I spike the trees and I chop your feet
You’re not the kind of company I want to keep

The line, Your fracking makes dirty water, is in reference to fracking in the United States; a mechanical process that uses fluid pressure to obtain natural gas and petroleum. Some believe that the process can stoke earthquakes as well as contaminate ground water.

Your noose is getting tauter
Hey, why don’t you paint a wallflower on the mirror
You must think that I’m your oyster

I wrote the above lines to refer to our self-destruction. Paint a wallflower on the mirror, is a dark reference commonly used to describe the literal mess left after someone commits suicide with a gun. The line, You must think that I’m your oyster, refers to the idiom the world is my oyster. This idiom is used to mean you have the opportunity to do anything which you can take advantage of at your will. The oyster is a living thing that we take pearls from. The world is compared to an oyster that we can take something valuable from. This is often how humanity behaves towards nature.

2

da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum

Humanity.     Been a day since we saw each other last
Hey moon, chase the damn sun out of the sky
Oh goodbye brightest star! The night’s begun
Hey moon, alone again with you tonight
Goodbye sunshine! Let the world sleep tonight
Bees, birds their nightmares are a Silent Spring
Goodbye sunshine! Let the world sleep tonight
Cause with closed eyes I can’t ruin so much
Humanity.      Been a /day since/ we saw/ each o-/ther last/
Hey moon/ chase the/ damn sun/ out of/ the sky/
Oh good-/bye bright-/est star/The night’s/ begun/
Hey moon/alone/ again/ with you/ tonight/
Goodbye/ sunshine/ Let the/ world sleep/ tonight/
Bees birds/ their night-/mares are/ a Si-/lent Spring/
Goodbye/ sunshine/ Let the/ world sleep/ tonight/
Cause with/ closed eyes/ I can’t /ruin/ so much/

 

My exercise in writing a poem in iambic pentameter proved to be the most challenging.

For me, an obvious source of text to reference was Shakespeare and hearing it spoken was my greatest source. Again I watched the 2008 PBS Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear as well as several episodes of David Milch’s Deadwood. I was interested in how Milch and Shakespeare adhere to the parameters of iambic pentameter without sacrificing the intensity of their language. Iambic pentameter describes the rhythm of the words in each line that is measured in groups of syllables. These groups of syllables are called feet. Iambic indicates the type of foot: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Pentameter indicates that the line has five feet or iambs. The rhythm of a human heartbeat is the most common example of the rhythm of an iambic foot. The rhythm can be shown as:

da-Dum

And iambic pentameter is five iambic feet in a row, and can be shown as:

da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum

To write this way and still have depth was complicated. Not to mention the language of Shakespeare is foreign now. I was comforted by the simplicity of some of my favorite pop songs- the Beatles, Lou Reed…that use simple lyrics that still have depth. But the Beach boys were my greatest inspiration. The juxtaposition of their complicated harmonies, layered musical arrangements together with simple lyrics was what I wanted to capture in this exercise. Paul McCartney’s favorite Beach Boys’ song “God Only Knows” from their 1966 Pet Sounds album was a great example. The song is more technically mature than anything the Beach Boys had done previously:

According to Brian there were 23 musicians present during the ‘God Only Knows’ sessions, though only 16 are credited as being present on the actual take that was used for the final song. At the time, 23 musicians was an astounding number of musicians for a pop record. All the musicians played simultaneously, creating a rich, heavenly blanket of music. The song features three voices on the track. Carl Wilson is featured on lead vocals, with Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston backing him. Bruce Johnston explained that, Brian used the production technique of double-tracking Carl’s voice, so that his voice is simultaneously singing the same part twice, to give the vocal a fuller and richer sound; Brian Wilson used this technique often during the recording of Pet Sounds. (Leaf)

With all the complexity of the musical production the lyrics are very simple and yet powerful. The music builds as Carl Wilson sings the verse and then drops when he says, God only knows what I’d be without you; similar to the rhythm of breath or rhythm of a stretched out single iambic foot (da DUM). The escalating rhythm combined with the lyrics makes for an intensity that’s palpable. You cannot help but follow. Although the lyrics were intended to be spiritual, they are so simple and easily universal. This too was an element I wanted to imitate. My poem, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, does not compare to Brian Wilson or Shakespeare’s talent, but it is inspired by their structure. The title is a nod to the rhythm of iambic pentameter. Instead of addressing humanity, the poem is humanity addressing nature – specifically, the moon and references Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which discusses the effect of humanity on nature as does this poem. It acknowledges our reckless behavior and how this is only timed out when humanity sleeps. Even if during the day we cannot admit this, I was imagining that in private we are aware of all our transgressions. The image of the moon hanging there in darkness, seemingly all alone, was the perfect, modest witness. The conversation to the moon is our confession, an intimate moment of remorse.

The beauty of green literature, and writing in general, is it can serve as a platform to address the intimate feelings that are otherwise hard to express. Ideas, and people seem less isolated. When we read and can connect with green literature, we create a symbolic harmony and togetherness with others.

3

Letters to Kurt

Staples. I’m overwhelmed with staples
I use them on my green paper.
“When I attach them I say it’s your job after all to keep this whole thing together.”
I have dreams tonight of you, Kurt Vonnegut, as
I struggle to think, thirsty,
worried, searching for new words that are green.
I leave my house,
A much needed break from Steve Jobs’ slave labour machine.
I wanted to be exalted so I read out loud Galápagos
from my Mandarax .
A fool gave me a penny but everyone else ignored me.
I think I can see you, Kurt Vonnegut,
affected by the massacre of war, a ghost like Leon, watching
to see if we make burgers out of blue footed boobies
I hear you ask: Are we still in Iraq?
Beats me.
I search for the answer on Google, but the answer doesn’t come to my screen.
I’d ask Walt Whitman but he’s out wandering the aisles of a retrofitted Whole Foods, perplexed
by produce organized like a rainbow with so much color!
Blueberries all year round!
Organic bananas all year round!
Local apples in every breed! –and an iPhone app that
Tells me “what’s that produce” and “how to eat”
Read my paper! Tell me what you think
Erdrich is right, the problem is within me
What’s going to happen Kurt Vonnegut? How long ‘til we have webbed feet?

For the final poem I was inspired by three prose poems addressed to interesting deceased individuals, specifically: Walt Whitman, Sergei Yesenin and Kurt Cobain. What was impressive about each was how the author’s locate the issues that exist in their time in their poems. The correspondence in each are one sided because they are writing to the deceased. However, as readers we can still relate and understand. The titles of this poem, Letters to Kurt is a direct reference to the title of the book by the same name, written by Eric Erlandson- songwriter, and lead guitarist of Hole, which he cofounded with Courtney Love. Erlandson’s book is made up of 52 prose poems to Kurt Cobain that shares intimate observations of everyday occurrences. I had the opportunity to attend a reading with Eric Erlandson about his book at City Light Books in San Francisco. It was cool to reconcile my thoughts of the book with his, as he talked about writing his first novel. When asked about the format he chose, he cited Jim Harrison an American author known for his poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and writings that pay attention to nature and humanity. Harrison’s characters are usually occupied in nature. Erlandson said that specifically Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin (a book of prose poem addressed to Russian lyrical poet, Sergei Yesenin) as his inspiration for his own novel, Letters to Kurt. He explains again in an interview with LAist, a website about Los Angeles where Erlandson lives:

Instead of a memoir or tell-all, you chose to write 52 prose poems. How did you decide on this genre?

I was inspired by Jim Harrison’s book, Letters to Yesenin. I began writing my own letters, and at first I resisted writing to Kurt. He seemed such an obvious muse. I think I even tried John Lennon or my friend Joe Cole. But then I gave in and these prose/poems began to pour forth from my psyche. Blurs from all areas of my life.

What was your writing process for Letters to Kurt?

All the letters began in my journal, written by hand with pen, old school. I would read poetry, listen to the brainwashing news on the radio, or go on a hike with some music, and when the emotions welled up inside, the memories appeared, I would begin writing. Some mornings I would wake up and it was as if Kurt was there with me. (LAist)

Poetry begets poetry. Before Erlandson and Harrison shared their observations with the dead, Allen Ginsberg called on deceased Walt Whitman to reflect on consumerism of the twentieth century in his poem, A Supermarket in California. While the other poems, and song lyrics have been referenced more for their structure, the structure and lyrics in A Supermarket in California relates to both the theme of green literature and the structure of poetry:

I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, (Ginsberg)

In this blurb from A Supermarket in California, Ginsberg is likely commenting on the difference from how food was obtained in Whitman’s time and his own. Whitman died at the end of nineteenth century the penultimate stop in antebellum consumption. Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University traces the change in consumer culture in her essay, Consumerism and Consumption:

In the first decades of the nineteenth century most commercial connections within the United States were local. New England peddlers, for example, hawked Bibles, almanacs, and hymnals to individual farmhouses in rural Vermont as well as to regional merchants.

Nearly all the stores were small, measuring a few hundred square feet in size.

As the twentieth century began, most Americans had access to a substantially higher standard of living than that of their ancestors in 1800. The things that most Americans once considered luxuries such as a bed frame and springs or a clock, had become indispensible to all but the very poor. (Koehn)

Ginsberg imagines Whitman strolling down the aisles of a supermarket, an experience that would have left an impression on Whitman. Ginsberg’s use of prose poetry does not follow any specific form. Like, Letters to Kurt and Letters to Yesenin, A Supermarket in California has long winded sentences, a style that Whitman often used. Unlike iambic pentameter that follows a very specific structure, prose poetry is more flexible. There is still an attention to language, and metaphors are often used in a narrative style. I address Kurt Vonnegut in my poem, Letters to Kurt. I find Vonnegut’s approach to talking about nature and his observations of humanity interesting. For me, he was an obvious choice to direct my own thoughts about nature. Vonnegut uses human drama to discuss humanity. His ideas as well as the style of other poets influenced my approach to this poem. The opening lines of my poem Letters to Kurt:

Staples. I’m overwhelmed with staples
I use them on my green paper.
“When I attach them I say it’s your job after all to keep this whole thing together.”

are in reference to the ninth poem in Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin and the task of writing for this class. Other references in the poem include various explorations of human nature: the wisdom of the fool in William Shakespeare’s King Lear; Louise Erdrich’s Line of Credit; Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos; and Apple technology, one of the most popular consumer products of the twenty-first century, that has recently come under scrutiny for its unethical labour practices:

I leave my house,
A much needed break from Steve Jobs’ slave labour machine.
I wanted to be exalted so I read out loud Galápagos
from my Mandarax .
A fool gave me a penny but everyone else ignored me.

My poem is a reflection on technology in the twenty-first century. A topic that I believe is a factor in our tumultuous relationship with nature. The consequence of technology is something that Vonnegut would understand and has elaborated on in his own work. Technology affects the foods we eat, the way we travel, how we communicate, how we interact with our environment. Technology is a double edge sword. For every impressive advance forward, we’ve surely lost some organic things that preceded it. The consequence of continuing on a path of infinite technological advances without integrity is the loss of humanity, an integral part of nature.

The numbers used to separate these three poems in this essay is in reference to the structure of both Harrison and Erlandson’s book of prose poetry. I have added titles to each poem to identify them easily from each other. It was important to note my inspirations for each poem in order to understand the many sources that guided me through the process. I wanted my letter to humanity to be easily understood so that the reader could recognize a few of the many parts of our human nature. Yes, humanity can be viciously destructive, but I would like to think we know better and can philosophically think about our behavior. This is why literature is so important in stoking the conversation. Green poetry allows us to comment on humanity and the natural world in a spoken lyrical format using the elements of fiction. It can deal with issues that are paramount to survival and can be exaggerated to push the urgency of the message like an essay, novel, or short story might do. Green literature in all its formats, asserts how precious the natural world is and how important that humanity recognize it’s dependency on nature.

 

Works Cited

1. Reed, Lou. “Vicious”. Transformer. RCA Records, 1972. Vinyl.

2. Lacy, Susan. “Lou Reed”. PBS: American Masters 18 November 2006
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/

3. "Lou Reed: Transformer”. Classic Albums. Director Bob Smeaton. Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2001. Netflix.

4. Greenpeace Germany, The Dirty Portfolios of the Pesticides Industry. http://www.greenpeace.eu., June 2008.

5. Leaf, David. "The Making Of Pet Sounds", Capitol c.1997. booklet notes.

6. Harrison, Jim. Letters to Yesenin. Port Townsend : Copper Canyon Classics, 1973. Print.

7. Dorset, Adrienne. “Love and Loss: Eric Erlandson Pens ‘Letters To Kurt’”. LAist 26 March 2012: Arts and Entertainment. Online

8. Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Bookstore, 1956. Print.

9. Ginsberg, Allen. “A Supermarket in California” [Read by the author]. Howl. [New York]: Random House Audio Voices, 2004. MP3.

10. Koehn, N. F. "Consumerism and Consumption." In The Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Morton Keller. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2000.

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