Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poetry Friday- Margaret Atwood: You Fit Into Me

Are you familiar with Margaret Atwood's poem "You Fit Into Me"?

You Fit Into Me

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

This is one of my least favourite poems (or at the very least, of those that don't say Hallmark on the reverse). Allegedly, it is an epigram; a short poem with a clever twist at the end or a concise and witty statement. I've never found it witty, nor have I found the twist all that clever.

It should be said that I like a lot of Atwood's work, including some of her poems. In fact, her "The Bus to Alliston, Ontario" is one of my favourites. "You Fit Into Me" is not. It is perhaps important to also note that I didn't get it at first. Apparently (as some of you already know), certain clasps on clothing, women's clothing in particular, are known as hooks and eyes. Without knowing that meaning, I was left to my own image of... well, a fish hook piercing an eyeball. So the final two lines weren't witty to me at all. In fact, it seemed redundant. So who's to blame here; me or Margaret?

Sometimes I criticize poets for having obscure references that I don't get. Secretly I chastise myself for being a lazy reader, knowing full well that I should take the time to just look them up. I don't feel that's the case this time around. In essence, this is not an epigram, it's a joke. And would it be funny if I had to google "hook and eye" and read about clothing fasteners first? No. In this case, knowing the reference after the fact does not help further readings. Instead it remains there on the page in a humourless heap. She tried to leave the impression that the two of them got along wonderfully, but then it turns out no. This is not so awe-inspiring, is it?

I've read one fan (of the many) say that the difference comes down to men and women readers. She at least acknowledges that without the clasp definition the poem wouldn't really work. But then she goes on to play the gender card: most women like the poem, men do not. If that is true, I still don't agree that they should. While my wife might have some articles that have hooks and eyes (I've probably fumbled with many of them), the majority of her garments do not. Mostly they have buttons or zippers. I still think that most women readers, if they're really being honest, still picture a fish hook and an eyeball before making it to the last two lines. Even if a few people insist that a clasp was indeed the first thing that came to mind, I still have a hard time believing that the other meaning didn't flash in there somewhere. It's a poem for crying out loud- you have to know that alternate meanings are a possibility! It's like those jokes that people tell with ridiculous scenarios that just work around to a punchline you saw coming from a mile away:

A piece of string walks into a bar.
The bartender says, "Hey you, get out of here!
Can't you read the sign?"
Sure enough, above the bar
a sign reads, "We don't serve strings here."
The piece of string
(not to be discouraged)
goes out into the parking lot,
ties himself into a knot,
frays himself out at the end,
walks back inside,
and takes a seat at the bar.
The bartender eyes him suspiciously,
"Hey, wait a second.
Aren't you that same piece of string
that was just here a moment ago?"
Quickly, the string remarks,
"No, I'm a frayed knot."

The problem is I enjoy that joke more than Atwood's poem. Had she written it, it would have been ingenious. As it stands, it simply gets a groan.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I actually pictured the clothing fastner as I read the first lines. I can't say I found the poem funny either; I thought it was rather angry and spoke of exasperation with someone. I found it effective in a way.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is an age thing more than a gender thing? The fastner was certainly the first thing that occurred to me.

By the way, women's bras have hook and eye closures, so I would imagine there are a few more of them in your wife's closet than you estimated.

Nancy said...

The fish hook and eyeball was the first thing that I thought of as well. I'm female and 38.

I didn't like this either.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy Atwood's poetry and I am familiar with this one. I pictured the clothing fastener first maybe because not only do I have hooks and eyes on a number of articles of clothing, I also sew and have used them in a number or garments.

I actually find the poem to be very funny. The surprise of the final image gets me every time. It's wicked and mean, and I think, quite clever.

Mary Lee said...

I just went fly fishing yesterday, so the image I got with the first stanza was what Atwood elaborates on in the second! I actually had to go back and rework the first stanza so that I got the contrast and the joke...grim, though it is!

John Mutford said...

Okay, so maybe I'm outnumbered.

Anonymous, I tried to hint about the bras but maybe it was too subtle.

Stefanie, I hate to be nit-picky but how can the surprise "get you every time"? I'd think after the initial reading it wouldn't be a surprise any more.

Anonymous said...

I guess I have memory problems :)

John Mutford said...

I'm going to soften my stance on this one. Clearly, many people out there (my wife Debbie included) genuinely do think of the fastener first. And as Debbie points out, because of the shortness of the poem there isn't time to think of the alternate possibilty. So I guess for you folks fortunate enough to think of the clasp first, you are treated to a true surprise (the first time around anyway). I still say that too much hangs on the chance that the reader's mind goes first to the clasp, not the fish hook. The two possible interpretations of this phrase are equal at best, but in order for the poem to work for readers such as myself, the clasp interpretation needs to be the stronger, more universal than the other.

Stefanie, Maybe it's not surprise that gets you everytime as much as the contrast. Perhaps you don't give up the fastener image for the first two lines, and so the pleasant image immediately juxtaposed with the violent image continues to affect you with multiple readings. Hate to put words in your mouth, but do you think this might be the case?

Gentle Reader said...

I always found this one witty but disturbing. A hook and eye fastener is what I immediately think of, a mundane and very common, homey and domestic thing. Then comes the twist, making this innocuous thing into something dangerous and horrifying. Like a relationship gone bad; hence the title, You Fit Into Me.

John Mutford said...

Gentle Reader,
Clearly this poem has its share of supporters. I can see how it can be percieved as darkly humorous, maybe even disturbing. However, I still find it a too obvious to be considered witty.

Gentle Reader said...

Gotcha. For darkly comic poetry, my favorite is still Dorothy Parker. I like Resume, for example...

Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live.

2qurios said...

I thought of the fish hook and eyeball initially and still do. Maybe it's an occupational hazard of growing up on the east coast. I also can blame my perception on my poor casting technique of which I am constantly fearful of hooking someones eye. I have manage to hook a hat and a shirt collar, but that's another story.


John Mutford said...

Gentle Reader, I love it! I've got to explore her work further.

2Qurios, Hey right, I never thought about that. Maybe my Newfoundland roots give me a different perspective on this poem. They do on just about everything else.

Dewey said...

I've seen that poem a few times before but never really had a reaction to it one way or another. But now that I pause to think about it, I think that what makes it appealing is that most of us have had relationships that started out seeming so wonderful and perfect (like the clothing hook and eye, made for each other) and then turned into more of a fish hook and eyeball thing. So maybe the humor is not in the pun so much as in the transition that many people can identify with.

John Mutford said...

Dewey, I like that interpretation: not that the reader initially misunderstood the meaning, but that the meaning changed. It does make me appreciate the poem a little more; it seems to reduce the joke quality. But again, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, I still think it relies too heavily on the reader picturing the clasp at the beginning. I pictured the fish hook from the start, therefore there wasn't any transition.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought that this poem was not intended to have such a negative connotation? Is her reference to this relationship a bad one? Honestly, even though I'm a woman, I did think of a fishing hook first, but like said before, I was raised on the coast. However, I find this almost romantic. The hook cannot be removed from the eye and they are completely inseparable. I don't think about the pain, I think about the closeness. It makes me ponder of relationships I've had where I never wanted to part with, and I knew that if I did, it would be extremely painful.

Maybe I am just strange, but I think it is endearing.

John Mutford said...

Scarlet: I doubt a fish would find it endearing.