How would you interpret the following poem?I’ve justnever knownwhatto callthat country.If I sayEnglandI don’t thinkI sound sosmart. I keeptripping upon their language which is Englishso...

How would you interpret the following poem?

I’ve just
never known
to call
that country.
If I say
I don’t think

I sound so
smart. I keep
tripping up
on their language which is English
so shouldn’t their
country be the
same. Britain seems wrong,
does anyone
go to Britain?
People go to London
that’s where they go.
There’s really no country at all
just a city
huge, old
haven’t been there for a while.
& UK is just a concept
a fashion statement
an economy
it seems you could have
a relationship
with that
but you wouldn’t go there
you would allude.
Though, it includes everything,
doesn’t it: the UK.
Ireland, Scotland,
England, all of it.
England is right

in there, but no place
else, which is why
I never say it.
But what about the
language they speak.
English. My penmanship
sharpens up. I go to
Slowly the words appear
on a line. Could I
write in that language
Think in it
Do I
am I missing something.
I really think a lot:
The second l in really
staggered into a y
the letters got
drunk. I wanted
to fuck up this
language & blame
its nameless
the victors got drunk
they came & came
the words were never
the same again
in the last century
it came to us
to speak American
which means
to speak
where you land
which means
nothing now.
Not proud
but invasive.
Not the language
not the place
not them
not us
neither an island
nor a continent
nor a world
a spin without
a home.

An edgy
feeling. A coin
on its
speaking up

Expert Answers
ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, as I am sure you are already aware, this is a poem by a University of California professor named Eileen Myles called "That Country." I am not saying that everything poets in respectable positions produce is good, but I do think that she deserves the benefit of the doubt and the consideration that there may be more going on here than meets the eye.

This is definitely not a classically constructed poem (or even one that easily fits the mainstream definition of poetry) but that is part of its charm (or it's horribleness, depending on your point of view.)  While I don't agree with johnmiltonwesle in his assertion about not calling it a poem, I would agree that it has the definite "steam of consciousness" feel to it.  Maybe that's all there is to it (I for one would feel cheated, but I am not a connoisseur of poetry) and maybe it is more "constructed" than it feels.  Again, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she is not just jerking my chain with self-glorified "everything I write is great" BS.

So what is it about?  Hell if I know, but I can sus out a few things here and there.  It would be interesting to email her and see her take on it...

From what I can gather, the poem is more about language than about places.  From my perspective, the poet seems to be commenting on sort of a "post modern" idea about the function and usefulness of language.  She seems to have three strands going:

  1. Language is imprecise:  She talks about England, Britain, and the UK and how none of them means what she thinks of when considering the place, which focuses on London.  In fact, saying "England" is so imprecise that she is embarrassed because it is so close to "English."  It goes along with the idea that something may have a name, but that name is not that something.
  2. How language changes, adding to its imprecision: She seems to be saying that the American bastardization of "English English" is both a horrible and beautiful thing.  She takes some joy, it would seem, in mauling the "proper" English spoke by natives of England.  The language, it seems to her, is in flux and carries with it a social connotation (if I am making any sense.)
  3. There seems to be a little jibe in there at how words are constructed, such as "really."  Why are 2 "l's" needed in the word when just one would do?  This is another example of form versus function, sort of like "proper" English versus "conventional" English.

That last bit about the coin...well, that's anyone's guess.  Is she saying that conversational (American?) English has an "edginess" to it that proper English does not?  I can't help but see the image...a quarter.  That is an "edgy" coin because of all the ridges.  Speaking up?  This usually means to talk out against something you feel is unfair.  Is that the point of the poem?  Perhaps.

So, as you can see, this is a tough one.  Good luck!

johnmiltonwesley | Student

I do not consider the above words as strung together a "poem." I consider it an "utterance," maybe even a "stream of consciousness." It reminds me of the writing of someone who would love to wear the title of "poet" but does not believe it is necessary to study the craft of poetry to write poetry. Becoming a "poet" is not an event it is a process. While poetry should not be subjected to traditional logical process, it inherently embodies a beginning, middle, and an end, sometimes obvious, sometimes implied, always memorable. I was taught by one of my early mentors Poet Paul Blackburn " "you get one line, you have to determine whether it belongs at the beginning, middle, or the end of the poem, however where ever it ends up, it emerges as your signature and is recognizable, timeless, and universal in nature."  I did not read such a line in the posted poem.