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Roo Borson's "Talk"

Poetasters, dirty politicians, and other liars soil the cosmos. Exposing them remains in my toolkit. I read charlatans so you don't have to!

Roo Borson

Roo Borson

Introduction and Text of "Talk"

Revealing disdain for her fellow human beings, the speaker in Borson's piece, "Talk," invents four classifications, portrayed in four versagraphs, that defy reality as they unfairly stereotype and target the groups she is trying to describe.

This piece fixates primarily on portraying some groups as the oppressors and others as the oppressed; this postmodern genre has proliferated, producing an class of disaffected rhetoric exemplified by the ilk of Adrienne Rich, Carolyn Forché, Margaret Atwood, Eavan Boland, R. S. Gwynn, and many others.

While Borson remains one of the lesser known disgruntled poets, her poem, "Talk," suggests a mind-set that has prompted her to contrive unrealistic groups of talkers; thus, her piece remains unconvincing, and its flaws betray it as a failed poem.

Talk

The shops, the streets are full of old men
who can't think of a thing to say anymore.
Sometimes, looking at a girl, it
almost occurs to them, but they can't make it out,
they go pawing toward it through the fog.

The young men are still jostling shoulders
as they walk along, tussling at one another with words.
They're excited by talk, they can still see the danger.

The old women, thrifty with words,
haggling for oranges, their mouths
take bites out of the air. They know the value of oranges.
They had to learn everything
on their own.

The young women are the worst off, no one has bothered
to show them things.
You can see their minds on their faces,
they are like little lakes before a storm.
They don't know it's a confusion that makes them sad.
It's lucky in a way though, because the young men take
a look of confusion for inscrutability, and this
excites them and makes them want to own
this face they don't understand,
something to be tinkered with at their leisure.

Commentary

The speaker of this piece contrives four groups of people and then denigrates each group based on the act of talking.

First Versagraph: Losing the Power of Speech

The shops, the streets are full of old men
who can't think of a thing to say anymore.
Sometimes, looking at a girl, it
almost occurs to them, but they can't make it out,
they go pawing toward it through the fog.

The speaker is a superficial observer of social mores, reporting her conclusions using four groups of people and each group’s unique way of engaging in the act of conversation. She begins with the group called "old men"; she reports that these old men who fill the streets are simply incapable of thinking of anything to say anymore.

Perhaps because of dementia or simple exhaustion, these old fellows seem to have lost the power of speech as well as the power to think of something about which they could converse. However, when they see a girl, they are almost motivated to say something, but alas, the words never come to mind as they go "pawing" through the brain fog of their diminished mind.

Second Versagraph: Razzing Replaces Words

The young men are still jostling shoulders
as they walk along, tussling at one another with words.
They're excited by talk, they can still see the danger.

The speaker then tackles her second group of "young men"; she professes as little respect for this group as she does her first group of old men. According to her, these young men "walk along" haughty and boisterous as they go "tussling at one another with words." They are not actually communicating; they are merely razzing each other, probably engaging in a mental one-upmanship.

The speaker claims that this group is excited by talk. Unlike the old men who cannot even think of anything to say anymore, these young men "can still see the danger" in their conversing, and it rouses them. The speaker allows the reader to fill in the exact nature of the "danger" they perceive.

Third Versagraph: Self-Taught

The old women, thrifty with words,
haggling for oranges, their mouths
take bites out of the air. They know the value of oranges.
They had to learn everything
on their own.

The speaker moves on to her third group, "old women." She exhibits her disdain for these old women by painting them as "haggl[ers] for oranges." She attempts a clever turn by claiming, "their mouths / take bites out of the air." This ugly image yields to the assertion that the old women, at least, know the value of oranges.

The speaker then clips logic by asserting that these old women have all remained self-taught, learning "everything / on their own." This claim sets the women apart from their social milieu: surely some of these women have learned something from their parents—especially from their mothers.

Fourth Versagraph: Pathetic Fallacy Fail

The young women are the worst off, no one has bothered
to show them things.
You can see their minds on their faces,
they are like little lakes before a storm.
They don't know it's a confusion that makes them sad.
It's lucky in a way though, because the young men take
a look of confusion for inscrutability, and this
excites them and makes them want to own
this face they don't understand,
something to be tinkered with at their leisure.

Then finally, the speaker laments that of the four groups the "young women" have it the worst of all, because they—like the old women—have been taught nothing by their elders, that is, the young women have become victims because nobody has "bothered / to show them things."

It remains unclear how the young women actually differ from the older women in education because according to the speaker they have both suffered the same malady—not being educated by their elders. And she elides being shown things with having to learn everything on their own, as though merely being shown stuff equates to acquiring knowledge and understanding.

Thus, these confused, undirected young women now put forth faces that resemble "little lakes before a storm." But such a lake would be calm, and a lake does not have the human ability to demonstrate confusion or contemplate sadness. The vacuousness of these lines renders them meaningless. The pathetic fallacy in the hands of a master can work on certain levels of understanding, but this attempt falls flat.

Those young women are so stupid that they do not understand why they are sad, but the speaker knows they are sad because of confusion. The speaker, however, does not reveal what is causing that confusion; the reader is perhaps expected to equate the confusion with their never having been shown things.

The speaker then returns to the second group of young men, remarking that the confused sadness on the faces of the young women is good luck for the young men, who will be able to take advantage of these young ignorant females.

The men will never understand the women, but they will be excited by the women's stupidity and have endless fun tinkering with them, until these young toughs become like the first group of old men, who cannot think of anything to say, but vaguely remember through the fog in their brains that used to go about buggering young girls.

Sources

  • Roo Borson, "Talk," in The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Third Edition, J. Paul Hunter, ed., New York, 1986, print. Online "Talk."
  • Editors. "Pathetic Fallacy." Literary Devices: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms. Accessed August 18, 2021.

Pathetic Fallacy

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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