John Brehm's "Of Love and Life Insurance: An Argument"

Updated on May 3, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

John Brehm

Source

Introduction and Text of "Of Love and Life Insurance: An Argument"

John Brehm's "Of Love and Life Insurance: An Argument" consists of a single free verse paragraph (versagraph), which content-wise sections itself into six movements. The verse offers a fascinating look at the differences between the pragmatic, real world desires of one individual, and that of a head-in-the-clouds poet. The verse loses its balance when the speaker rambles off into his romanic view of poetry, leaving readers to wonder what happened to that relationship. Or even what the girlfriend's response was to his musings on poetry.

Even though it is likely the two split soon after that conversation, the verse could benefit by making that possibility clearer. This loss of balance also results in the verse failing to live up to its title: there is no true argument. There are only two different statements about the nature and practicality of a poet's life.

Of Love and Life Insurance: An Argument

“I need to accept you as you are,” she said,
“so you need to become the kind
of person I can accept.” I was
becoming bewildered, but I don’t
think that’s what she meant.
“Life insurance,” she said. “You
don’t have any life insurance.”
“But we’ve only known each other
three months. Aren’t we jumping ahead?”
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want
to have to take my child and move
back to Chicago and live with my mother.
I don’t want to have to take my child
to a public clinic. And I don’t want to
have to ride you and nag you and ask you
a hundred times about all this stuff.”
And then my heart fell from the sky
like a shot bird. “Is that how you
imagine a life with me?”
I guess being an unsuccessful poet
isn’t as attractive as it used to be.
But where’s the risky spirit,
the headlong leap into the vast
unknown of love, where anything
and everything might happen? Where’s
the wish to be surrounded by poems,
the great sustaining luxuries and dangers
of poems, or to make one’s life itself
a poem, unpredictable, meaning
many things, a door into the other world
through which even a child might walk?
Words have such power, I wanted to tell her.
You never know what may come of them.
Or who will be the beneficiary.

Commentary

The speaker in this piece is dramatizing a conversation with his girlfriend of only three months.

First Movement: He Must Change, So She Doesn't Have to Change Him

“I need to accept you as you are,” she said,
“so you need to become the kind
of person I can accept.” I was
becoming bewildered, but I don’t
think that’s what she meant.
“Life insurance,” she said. “You
don’t have any life insurance.”

The girlfriend says she needs to accept the speaker as he is, which indicates that she does not want to change him, but then she adds that he needs to "become" the type of individual she can accept. In other words, she does not want to change him, but she wants him to change.

The speaker comments cleverly on the idea of "becoming": "I was / becoming bewildered, but I don't / think that's what she meant." While the girlfriend needs to accept him as he is, she finds she cannot do so, because of he has no life insurance policy.

Second Movement: Imaging Marriage

“But we’ve only known each other
three months. Aren’t we jumping ahead?”
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want
to have to take my child and move
back to Chicago and live with my mother.
I don’t want to have to take my child
to a public clinic. And I don’t want to
have to ride you and nag you and ask you
a hundred times about all this stuff.”

The poet/speaker then replies that they have known each other for only three months and poses the question, "Aren't we jumping ahead?" Then the girlfriend gets specific: she imagines them married with a child, and she is so dissatisfied with the marriage that she has to leave him, move back to her hometown with their child and live with her mother.

Furthermore, she does not want to have take her child to a public clinic, nor does she want to keep nagging him about all these practical aspects of life. The girlfriend is simply looking out for herself, telling him what she does not want for herself and her child. She is being very pragmatic—perhaps premature—but practical.

Third Movement: Blasted Like a Shot Bird

And then my heart fell from the sky
like a shot bird. “Is that how you
imagine a life with me?”

The poet/speaker then reports that his feelings were blasted like a bird that had been shot. The romance has been obliterated by the woman's practicality. The speaker is wounded and asks her if that is now she imagines their life together. The speaker is shocked that this woman with whom he has had a three-month relationship would project such a bitter future for herself if they married.

Fourth Movement: End of Conversation

I guess being an unsuccessful poet
isn’t as attractive as it used to be.

At this point, the conversation has ended; only the poet/speaker is musing. He postulates: "I guess being an unsuccessful poet / isn't as attractive as it used to be." Again, the speaker's retort is somewhat humorous. While the romantic notion of the starving artist is always afloat, and some women and men will always be attracted to that romantic fantasy, other more practical individuals will not be so easily swayed.

Fifth Movement: Romantic Fantasies

But where’s the risky spirit,
the headlong leap into the vast
unknown of love, where anything
and everything might happen? Where’s
the wish to be surrounded by poems,
the great sustaining luxuries and dangers
of poems, or to make one’s life itself
a poem, unpredictable, meaning
many things, a door into the other world
through which even a child might walk?

The speaker continues to engage his own romantic fantasies about the nature of the starving poet and his world of poetry. This poet/speaker believes the beginning of a romance requires the partners to accept risk as they jump into the "vast / unknown of love." Because in that vastness "anything / and everything" is likely to happen. The speaker wonders where those romantic views have gone. The speaker wonders what happened to the notion that poems are "sustaining luxuries and dangers." The speaker wonders what happened to the wish to make one's life a poem.

Unlike the girlfriend, this speaker is so in love with poetry that he believes that it

possesses the power to open doors into worlds unimagined and "through which even a child might walk."

Sixth Movement: The Power of Word, the Mystery of the Unknown

Words have such power, I wanted to tell her.
You never know what may come of them.
Or who will be the beneficiary.

The speaker wants to tell his girlfriend how important poetry is, how important the mystery of the unknown is to him, with the possibility that someone will benefit from poetry's words. The speaker concludes with the term "beneficiary" to resonate with the earlier life insurance request. However, it is likely that the girlfriend would not be so inclined toward that great unknown, she would still want him to show her the money.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 9 months ago from U.S.A.

      Brehm is a contemporary poet. His work is somewhat shallow, as are so many moderns. I would not recommend delving deeply into his scribblings.

      I commented on this piece primarily to demonstrate the common weaknesses in contemporary poetry: it is often inconsistent, lacking balance and depth. The surface that the contemporary mods skim is often devoid of beauty, truth, or interest in light and love. But still some entertainment might be had from giving it a perusal.

      Thanks for your interest, Louise. Always like hearing your response to my offerings.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 9 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I shall have to look for John Brehm, I've never head of him before now.

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