The sincerity—or the sincere attempt—of Brock-Broido’s poem is compromised by its retreat to wryness, bad metaphor, and overstatement. It attempts to be a study of loosed avoidance via movements that avoid; a reader simply cannot believe the speaker has ‘come to terms’ with Self.
The opening paradox—the I’s insinuation that she demanded veracity from a self that ‘couldn’t speak’—forgoes any creative work; whatever the speaker’s reason is to lament muteness despite the self’s opposing imperative, she can produce nothing more than clichéd, self-reflexive stymying as evidence; and the result is sadly precious. The deeply felt has failed to become the thoughtfully expressed.
The next few lines are equally troubling. On the one hand, the speaker attempts to implement a metaphor (‘Sorrow’s a barbaric art’) that is both unoriginal (the reference to “Lady Lazarus” is obvious, and as grasping as the Plath) and necessarily hyperbolic (sorrow is not an art, though art or artist may be sorrowful; and conveying sorrow as ‘savagely cruel’ smacks of the worst kind of poetic license); next, she attempts to extend this metaphor to a ‘Viking ship’ (whose clinker design assured a symmetry and seaworthiness that was assuredly not ‘makeshift or rudimentary’) and the exceedingly indulgent image of a child, a spotted pony, a lake, an exit, and the ‘iron lung of polio.’ What is lately ‘crude’ and downright offensive about this matter is its dependence on cache sentimentalia. The fact that a ‘Self’ stripped of illusion would employ such poetaster tactics is unaccountable.
Yet the poem’s turn has purchase. Its desire to reckon with ‘a woman in the field dressed only in the sun’ as more than sum of authoritarian dicta makes one wonder, for a moment, if the patent badness that came before was for effect (as perhaps the title suggests).
But the speaker’s following moments retire, once again, to the cartoonish (‘big beautiful/Blubbery white bears each clinging to his one last hunk of ice’) when she should be earnest, and to self-pity (‘For whom left am I first?’) when she ought to be ruminative. Let me be clear: I make these specific admonishments not to suggest that there is a formula for ‘properly’ addressing matters of import in poetry, but to suggest that Brock-Broido’s moves in “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to This World” are not challenging or high enough. If, for example, the speaker is indeed ‘too far gone’ (itself a cliché) to do anything about glacial melt, is comedic, off-scale, wry imagery the best recourse? Can this speaker do no better than to imagine self-understanding as summation of another’s primary gaze?
The simile of the ‘marmoset getting out of her Great Ape suit’ is the apex, unfortunately, of this speaker’s insensibility, and does little but solidify a reader’s embarrassment at being party to navel gazing. What sort of rank anthropomorphism imagines a marmoset’s sense of ‘Self’ heightened or lessened by putting on airs of ‘Great Ape’ largeness?
Like farce and bad taste, such ‘airs’ are rational human business, no doubt; and a poet must do better than reflect these.