Poem and a Robot, a Love Story

Experiments with form are necessary and often produce interesting visual qualities in addition to their challenge to experience an unusual poem. As with all experiments, they can produce the unexpected, and this unexpected result can either be a good or a bad thing. Joshua Bell, in his poem "Our Bed Is Also Green," has its mix of both (click here for the whole poem). Here is a sample:

Please speak to meonly of the present
or if you must bring up the past
bring up only that
which you and I
don't share. I know this is a selfish
thing to ask. Yes, as Ihave often
remarked, shore lunch at hanging rock
was lovely. Yourhair and mine
stayed put. Later on we didn't, as we
do now, pull it fromeach other's clothes
as if for final proof that we've been
sleeping with each other.

This double column provides a fun game for the reader in deciding how to read it, first, and then how to make sense of the form, second. For the first question, reading across columns quickly makes the most sense, though there is always the interplay and ability for double meaning because of the form. For the second question of Why? the poem's subject is the answer.

The poem concerns the "I" and the "you" and their romantic relationship. In this opening, we have the speaker pleading with the "you" as the dive into memory takes shape, continuing onward for four more equal length parts that make up one (two?) stanza(s).

Bell's choice of form does well to make the poem visually engaging, but when it comes to sound, how the poem actually resonates in my head when I read it, the effect reminds me of phrases fed into an all-too-ready-to-speak robot: the result is jarring by both removing me emotionally and not fitting perfectly with the poem's content. Here is another section that I challenge you to read out loud:

we scrape across with paddles toward
the weedtops,sticking up, like alien
flags, above the invisible
settlements, the castleyou've dropped
your hooks inside of. I love
how destructiveyou are with the fishes,
so go ahead and bring your war
against them, Ramona,against the duck,
against time, against any things
that swim. Our fiber-glass canoe is of

"[H]ow destructive you are with the fishes" is an interesting line that lends credibility to the poem's form, along with lines like "as if we were / two people." So the next question, what comes first, form or sound? Often the advice form follows content, or form creates content, or form and content in other combinations is proclaimed, but what about the sonic qualities at stake in a poem because of the form that is so intricately connected to content? Doesn't rhythm influence a poem's overall value in a way equal or greater to form? Rhythm that matches the poem's content?

The argument for this specific poem that the detached tone that comes from this robot-like phrasing matches the detached tone of the speaker does not work for me, because the speaker seems very attached: they have written the poem because of this attachment to the "you."

Experimentation produces unpredictable results. In this poem, the negative result was a sacrifice in sound, a quality so crucial to poetry's differentiation from prose. The positive result, is, well, I'm not sure now (I was going to say interesting line breaks).

"Our Bed Is Also Green" is a reminder of how difficult writing in unusual or nonstandard forms can be in poetry, as in all genres that balance so many elements at once.

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