Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Paul Zimmer’s early and midlife poems are often comical narratives recounting the mundane escapades of someone, as the poet explains in “Zimmer the Drugstore Cowboy” (1983), who was “stunned by a concrete tit at birth,/ Dull as a penny bouncing off a cinder block.” He is, in “The Sweet Night Bleeds for Zimmer” (1983), a “sorry man/ Remembering each cruelty under the stars;/ Someone wagging submission forever.” In this light, Zimmer is in the long tradition of the comic and foolish Everyman, an individual who represents the frail, even buffoonish, nature and aspirations of all humankind. The poet’s apparently severe judgments upon him must thus be leavened with a universal compassion.

The Zimmer of “The Eisenhower Years,” though the life he leads is purposeless, is a kind young man. While the old women of the poem live in a United States in which their only “agony” may reside in feet “twitching and shuffling in pain” for new shoes, still the speaker “talks to the feet” and “reassures” them. If he drinks cheap wine and too much beer, he also listens to good and sophisticated music, music that has its roots in a culture and world other than his own very limited one. The novel he reads, by choice, is serious fiction, literature that exposes him to deeper issues in life, however immune to that exposure he may be at the time. Even the strikingly askew pose he assumes in the end suggests his emotional and spiritual...

(The entire section is 450 words.)