April 21, 2005

Poem for suburbia

Dr. H asked for a suburban poem for

So in class yesterday, I put my students in groups and asked each group to choose a poem in our anthology that they thought made some kind of comment about suburban life. (At this point in the semester, my class is all about meeting my blogging needs.) The following poem has always seemed like a city poem to me, but my students argued that the emphasis on cars and roads illustrates the poor design of suburbia: communities are designed for automobiles instead of humans, discouraging community and encouraging our reliance on fossil fuels. In other poems they talked about the prevailing values of suburbia, which include this need to tame and prune anything wild, keeping everything under control, leading to such monocultures as the American lawn, sprayed with toxins. They talked about the media's role in perpetuating an American dream that has nothing to do with sustainable living, and the role of consumerism in creating a need for large, detached single-family dwellings. When it comes right down to it, architect and science students have nothing good to say about suburban life.


The streets we live by fall away.
Even the asphalt is tired
of this going and coming to work,
the chatter in cars,
and passengers crying on bad days.

Trucks with frail drivers
carry dangerous loads. Have care,
these holes are not just holes
but a million years of history
opening up, all our beautiful failures
and gains. The earth is breathing
through the streets.

Rain falls.
The lamps of earth switch on.
The potholes are full
of light and stars, the moon's many faces.

Mice drink there in the streets.
The skunks of night drift by.
They swallow the moon.
When morning comes,
workers pass this way again,
cars with lovely merchandise. Drivers,
take care, a hundred suns look out of earth
beneath circling tires.

Linda Hogan


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful poem, to make potholes seem special and magic! I'll have to remember it as I'm driving around; our potholes in the wake of the winter rains are large and many.


Dr. H said...

hey, jo(e)!

fascinating that this was the poem your students chose to reflect suburbia... I think if I wrote a poem to reflect my experiences growing up in suburbia it would probably be about the weirdness of living so close to one another (tiny backyards and sideyards), yet not knowing each other at all (except when you need to retrieve a ball from over the fence or borrow sugar).

I'm quite flattered that anything I say / write would be thought about again in a professional context, let alone infiltrate your classroom!

What's even more interesting to me is that this is the view of suburban life from those who have not lived in it.

Thanks for posting this.

jo(e) said...

Dr. H: Yes, few of my students have ever lived in suburbia. And my Long Island student kept saying that Long Island is a different type of suburbia ....

We talked about how our ideas about suburbia have been shaped by movies such as American Beauty or Edward Scissorhands or ET. Suburbia in movies often symbolizes an emotional or spiritual wasteland, or rigid codes of conformity.

Dr. H said...

I wonder what has shaped my ideas of urban and rural life. Hmm... New York City is like a myth to me -- my ideas are definitely shaped by movies and news. I have VISITED other east coast cities... west coast cities are quite different. I mean, my main idea of urban is Phoenix, but that's totally different than east coast urban... hmmm... anyhow...

Moreena said...

This poem definitely seems more city to me. I grew up in a city, and I surely remember what a mess our streets were. It always seemed like there was just so much going on, so much to be taken care of, that the streets were left as long as possible.

Technically, we don't live in a suburb right now, nor do we live in an urban area, and it's surely not rural anymore, although we do still have a Farm and Fleet down the street. It does seem, though, that the place has modelled itself on the suburban ideal as it expanded, although we don't really have a neighboring urban environment to commute to. Like most suburbs, our streets are kept as smooth as our lawns are dandelion-free (well, except ours, and all the neighborhood kids come to our yard for their weedy fun).