The Poetry of Amber: Between Stop and Go Part 1

I have a confession to make. I have difficulty understanding poetry. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. It’s just that I very often struggle to decipher it. Friends recommend poems. They lend me books. I open them. I read the verses. I recognise some clever metaphors and a beautiful turn of phrase here and there. I contemplate what I just read. I go for a cigarette. I scratch my head. I get distracted by any person, place or object which happens to be in my line of sight. I re-read them and they lose meanings I thought were certainties on first inspection. More of my head will be scratched before finally, in utter frustration, I will pick up the TV remote and get back to watching Britain’s Got Attention Seekers, America’s Next Top Bulimic, The Only Way is Implausible Promiscuity etc. 

So what? Well, the problem is that my father is a poet. He did take the time to procreate, thereby, contributing greatly to my birth. I should also mention the fact that he spent the next 25 years raising me right (a frustrating task given my god given nack of making the wrong choices at the worst of possible times). I feel I owe him at least one attempt at a genuine engagement with poetry. Rather than try to write a poem (I think every deceased poet, from Homer onwards, just collectively rolled in their graves), I will interpret one. And when I say ‘interpret’ one, I really mean cheat. One of the perks of having a poet for an old man is that you already know the context of his poems. Half of them are about me. Often embarrassing episodes of my pursuit of woman, booze and the holy grail of sex during my awkward teenage years. Nice one Dad.

At the age of 22 I passed my first year of college, packed my bags and headed off for sunny San Diego to gain some valuable life and career experience. It’s something of a right of passage for Irish students during the summer months. The plan was to fly into San Francisco, spend the night with some friends and catch the Greyhound in the morning. Plans change. This plan very definitely changed. It exploded. I arrived at the address in Berkeley, the Ivy League campus outside of San Fran, to discover an epic sized fraternity house full of some forty odd boys and girls from Ireland. I went for a few drinks, a few drinks became many and I woke up two days later. I developed a nasty and seriously financially inviable taste for designer drugs. I spent three months drinking with a combined total of one night of sobriety thrown into the mix for good measure. I was arrested, mugged, hospitalised and very possibly molested. I had the time of my life.

I frequented a bar on Telegraph Street. Ah Telegraph… If you haven’t been it hasn’t moved on from the 1960s. You don’t need acid to see strange things there. The people are absolutely, to a man, the biggest collection of space cadets in Chrisendom and beyond (and believe me that includes the students as well). The more I went to said bar, the more I got acquainted with the bar staff. It began with a few cheap drinks here and there. It culminated in a never ending cycle of debauchery that resulted in them naming an evil alcoholic concoction after me. I believe it is still on the menu.

Amber between ‘stop’ and ‘go’

I became particularly close to one of the staff members. Amber was her name. Amber was 6 foot tall. She wore skintight leather trousers and exceedingly revealing upper body garments. She saw no use for modern comforts such as underwear. She sported tattoos the length of both of her arms. Her ethnic mix consisted of a quarter Irish, a quarter Mexican, a bit of native american and a little bit of  everything else you could think of. Her hair was dread-locked and reached to the small of her back. On the other hand, I am 5 ft 10 inches at a stretch, have ginger hair and a complexion that is best defined as pasty. Had I been born 10 inches smaller I could have made an excellent living dancing for american tourists in full leprechaun costume. What a pair we must have made? I remember heads turning in biker bars the length and breath of the Bay Area upon our entrance.

Bankrupt, dangerously malnourished and in need of an extensive detoxification period I took flight, but not before I said goodbye to Amber. Actually that is stretching the truth. I had been evicted from my lodgings and she was kind enough to let me stay over whenever the landlord got wise to the fact that I was still living in the frat house but no longer paying for the privilege. In the Irish way, I said you have to come and visit: similar to the way we say see you later or call you later when we would rather eat poison than have another interaction with that person on the given day.  Amber concurred. That was that. Or so it seemed, as Americans have a habit of taking literally that which is not necessarily meant to be interpreted as literal…

To be continued.

7 Responses to “The Poetry of Amber: Between Stop and Go Part 1”
  1. G says:

    I’ve actually written allegedly quite good poetry and I am also apathetic about a lot of what I read. Don’t feel you have to like it all; it’s not a test. Did you know Ezra Pound was basically a Nazi?

    From Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan:

    She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
    “I thought you’d never say hello” she said
    “You look like the silent type”
    Then she opened up a book of poems
    And handed it to me
    Written by an Italian poet
    From the thirteenth century
    And every one of them words rang true
    And glowed like burning coal
    Pouring off of every page
    Like it was written in my soul from me to you
    Tangled up in blue


    Point is, the dusty old poem suddenly means a lot to him when he is going through related situations and emotions – this is how it tends to be. This is why actors draw on real experiences. When it’s largely abstract to you even when you understand you’ll sort of think ‘so what’ but when you’re in love even Eastenders can make you cry. 😉

    • I often cry when Eastenders comes on the TV. Cheers for the comments. Hopefully I will eventually learn to emotionally engage with poetry on the same level as you 🙂

  2. alltim says:

    I think your issue lies in the way you view the problem. You write: ‘It’s just that I very often struggle to decipher’ poetry, as if there is some particular answer to find. There is no particular answer; there is (usually) the poet’s interpretation. But that’s just one interpretation. There are also all the other interpretations you, and others, may give the poem. What is enjoyable about poetry – and other forms of the arts – is that it is (often) open to so many interpretations. It spurs the mind and offers new ways to consider situations, events, life. Sure, it often does result in the type of head scratching you mention, but that head scratching is to be welcomed!

    I’m not at all attempting to claim that you should read poetry if you don’t like feeling this way; I’m merely saying that, for me, the ‘struggle’ to interpret poets, and the weird and wonderful thoughts this inspires are great. Hmmm, this reminds me of a related political problem.. Like many things in life, some people enjoy reading poetry, other people don’t. I could mount an argument in favour of it being, if not objectively enjoyable, at least objectively good for you, and use this to justify government funding for poets, etc, etc.

    As you’ll infer, this is just the typical debate that always occurs whenever people (i.e. champagne socialists) try to justify Government subsidies for the certain aspects of the ‘arts’ (meaning the opera, orchestra, and other high-minded pursuits) over others (such as erotic dancers, beer towers, or anything termed ‘low-brow, by the same people). Unfortunately, in the absence of empirical evidence showing otherwise, these positions are unsupportable. (The sort of empirical evidence I have in mind is a series of studies, for example, showing that listening to orchesrtral music as compared with Lady Gaga strengthens neurons. This, along with evidence that strengthening neurons was for some reason objectively good for all people, would bolster an argument that orchestral music should be subsidised by the state (for the same reason the State subsidises healthy food in some jurisdictions)).

    Anyhow, I don’t make this claim, but I do make the claim that, for me, I enjoy the weird thoughts that poetry inspires me to think. Good times.

  3. Dear alltim,

    While I agree with your thoughts – I am both shocked and offended at your choice of Lady Gaga as a low brow form of the arts. Although I realise making this statement only strengthens your point on the ambiguity of interpreting what is “art” art, bringing Lady Gaga into this debate was a needless provocation.

    To quote the scribes at TMZ;

    “She’s like the Van Gogh of music. Using her sequin hot pants as her paint brush and a disco ball as her easel, Lady Gaga paints a vivid and unassimilated picture of her artistic talent that lies within.”


    • Alltim
      Cheers for your insight into poetry and you are right. There are a million interpretations to every poem. Mine just happen to hit the mark a little wider than most. When I know the original context it tends to make me like it a lot more.
      Your behavior on Saturday night was out of order. Drinking in the kitchen with your pants down at your age?

      • Firstly, our brief rendezvous was in the lounge. I make no apologies for my conduct in the place where I get my living on.

        Secondly, my pants remained firmly on, especially so when both you and Ger began dancing together while singing along to Chris de Burgh.

        Thirdly, regardless of your recollection of events, your attempt to join my date and I upstairs for an impromptru menage trois at 4.30am puts a strong case against any claims of having been offended.


      • alltim says:

        There is no age at which pantsless drinking is inappropriate, I must advocate.

        Similarly, I’m somewhat disgusted that James appears not to be in favour of a three-way with you at 4.30 am – what better time for a three-way is there?

        Also, yes, I feel horrible indirectly insulting Lady Gaga… I am making amends by listening to her new album daily.

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