Behind the Titles: A Closer Look
at Splattervision by Peter Florek
Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Lisa Marie Cole
I heard an astounding statistic the other day about how much T.V. the average American watches, which was somewhere in the ball park of 35 hours per week not including other screen time, so the fact that this collection opened with two poems about T.V. seemed to me equal parts awesome and American.
What are your thoughts on “The Day We Caught a Bird?” This is a poem about children who catch a bird and decide to keep it as a pet. The line, “The truth is, it’s hard to save anything/ so slight without destroying it” was one that was simply so beautiful I wish I’d written it first. In fact, it was this line that made the poem a favorite for me. Did you sense the amount of loss in the narrator’s voice? Isn’t there something sad about growing up and realizing that some of your greatest childhood memories, such as catching a bird at the beach, teach you lessons about the ugly truths of adulthood. That taking away freedom isn’t a way to save something, but rather take away its wonder.
“The Day We Caught a Bird” is also one of my favorite poems of this collection. I also enjoyed the lines you highlighted, but the remainder of the poem struck me as well. The idea of teaching the bird to show gratitude for feeling caught was an interesting concept. Can we sometimes feel gratitude for feeling caught? Does being caught sometimes provide a sense of safety? This seems like almost a Buddhist idea: to honor every feeling we have. I feel like one of the strengths of this book is just that: the honoring and cherishing of life.
What do you think about this poem in contrast to “Inside the Room?” A poem about a child’s first birthday in which the narrator contrasts a dying grandfather with the baby celebrating its first year of life. In this poem the grandfather is given a windowless room and a piece of birthday cake much like the bird in the previous poem is put in a cage and taught, “all the words for gratitude.” Did you think of the bird when you read about the grandfather? I couldn’t help but put the two together. In my mind I could see them living out their caged days together waiting for death, the ultimate freedom. Did you read this poem differently? For you, was it more of a live in contrast to death poem rather than a freedom vs. imprisonment poem?
As you already pointed out, there was such a sense of yearning and emotion in this book. Like in the title poem, “Splattervision” the opening lines are: “Years ago,/I was a teenager but still longed/for my father’s arms.” That line really struck me. I wonder if this is the grandfather we see later in the poem “Inside the Room” that you mentioned. You’re right about the parallels between the bird in “The Day We Caught a Bird” and the grandfather, but mostly, when I read “Inside the Room,” I thought about mortality and the human condition, which this book definitely discusses.
The sense of being trapped is a theme throughout these poems, even the T.V. ones. What did you think of this? Was there a poem that seemed to emphasize this theme for you more than the ones that I mentioned? Did you pick up on any other themes in this collection?
This book had undertones of melancholy and the fleeting nature of life. I too found it interesting that the book opened with the television and its many scenes. Was this book its own television show for us, the viewers of such engaging passages, directed by a skillful poet?
As for the themes in the book, I noticed that many of the poems features animals, not just the poem we already talked about “The Day We Caught a Bird.” Other creatures besides humans, and the vastness of the universe, the smallness of life was also referred to throughout the book. Splattervision seems to ask us what animals have to teach us. We are reminded that we as humans, are animals as well, all of us “splattered” across the universe to interpret what we see and envision through human eyes.
For me, one of the many strong points of Splattervision lies in the poet’s ability to establish a strong central character, the “I” that is present throughout the text. This character is an ever-present force, guiding us throughout the book, and its many beautiful metaphors, similes, turns of phrase, and stories. I knew I was hooked with the opening lines; the personification of the rain as a stray cat hanging around the porch, and the cleverness of the idea that we can feed attention to the rain, (or anything, for that matter. I enjoyed how the narrator interpreted his world.
This was definitely one of my favorite collections so far. I highly recommend it.
Splattervision is also one of my favorite collections from ELJ Publications. Kudos to Peter Florek for writing such a beautiful book.