Monday, April 25, 2011

National Poetry Month Draws to a Close with "Ship of Fool" by William Trowbridge

Turns out that both Dave Bonta and I were reading William Trowbridge's Ship of Fool on Easter Sunday.  I've been trying to get in the habit of carrying around a volume of poetry with me everywhere I go so that I work poetry into the crevices of my life.  But that means that I rarely read a volume straight through.  One reason why I have loved reading along with Dave Bonta, who is actually following a more ambitious path of reading and blogging about one volume a day, is that I have to understand the text as a whole--more thoughts on this in a later blog post.

Easter Sunday was a morning spent at church--lots of downtime, as I waited for the next thing to happen.  I sat waiting and reading.  I wasn't surprised that I found the Christ-like connections in Trowbridge's main character of the Fool--I have a degree in English, so I can find Christ figures in any literary landscape.  Dave Bonta wrote a great blog post about the Fool as Christ character; the only thing I would add is that I love the idea of sacrament in the third-to-last poem, "Roll Out the Fool": 

Forest gatherings
lacked the proper tan
without a Flaming Fool,

Exploding Fool,
or--big mistake--
a Fool Frappe, which,
one snowy night,
everybody ate

like it was brain
food or something,
so now we've got
Fool in our marrow,
which explains

history, for one thing.

This collection of poetry shows us all the forces that conspire to make fools of us, but it circles around again and again to the ways that popular culture betrays us.  The middle section, which features not the character of the Fool, but a variety of human fools, shows a car-enchanted culture, full of pretty girls, cigarettes, and a strict social order. 

The last poem of this middle section shows a redemption of sorts, as all the high school kids from all the social spheres show up for a high school reunion: 

We muster smiles as we try
to read between the lines
and wattles.  This must
be you.  This must be me, we muse,
surprised we're not unhappy,
showing our age,
showing our class,
lifting our plastic cups.

What I've written thus far probably makes this volume sound like a grim affair.  But one of the delights of this book is the humor, the parts that made me laugh out loud.  In "Basic Fool," the Fool joins the military and finds himself thinking ". . . he should have tried / something easier, like / fire-eating or celibacy."  In "Fool Expelled from Eden," we see the Fool investing in a "discount Ark franchise."  Almost every poem made me smile.

One of the dangers of this humor, I suspect, is that people might not take the poems seriously, that they might skate along the surface, smiling and laughing, not realizing that Trowbridge is making larger, more serious points about us as individuals, us as a society, about our history and our future.  But he also makes clear that our foolish traits may be what saves us in the end.


Kathleen said...

Thanks so much for doing this reading project. Glad to know of the humor aspect in Ship of Fool! And I love your ending, which I also find comforting--"our foolish traits may be what save us in the end"!!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

It's a great volume--be sure to be on the lookout for the podcast of our interview with the author next week!