Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Trying to write a poem

[MASSIVE SPOILERS] - Like you care...

I've been meaning to post a poem I've been working on. I haven't, obviously. Why? Because the words can't live up to the inspiration for the piece. I really want to capture that grin that smiles so hard it cries- I want to express the melancholia of the coloured balloon, the darkness of true friendship and the terror of believing in yourself.

I want to pay homage to what is a satisfying children's novel, an allegory for personal growth, and a parody of what we expect from life. Penned by a philosopher; it's an essay about nature, humanity, capitalism and family.

And it's a video game.

Surprised? Probably not. Most of you are familiar with my unwavering interest in the works of Itoi Shigesato, and Nintendo: The Mother series.

I want to tell the story of Mother 3, in all of its heartbreaking, clownish, inspiring splendour. I want to bring you on that journey. But I can't. I'm not Shigesato Itoi. And most of you won't bother to play his magnum opus.

Not wanting to merely transpose its content into film, or printed medium, I resolved to show how the work could withstand the solemnity of reflective prose-poetry. I didn't feel my skills were anywhere close to the necessary standard to pay adequate tribute to Mother 3, so I figured I'd start small. I figured I start with a gimmick.

I'd tell the story in reverse, as a means of conveying the potency of the punch line- I would begin and end with the darkness and confusion. Where the game starts in the idyllic village of Tazmily, sees corruption take hold then would have Earth cleansed, I wanted to paint an image of the darkness receding. I started at the end- or a little before it:

In the mines a boy cries- mother gone, brother in arms
We find child suicide at the end of the arc 
The Blue Marble- the stage opens with potential
Before darkness covers our friends stumbling in dark

In which act did we arrive? The tragic end.

The wording was too strong- I realised the audience hasn't had time to watch events build, and it's jarring to be left with words detailing a very specific despair, belonging to characters as yet unknown. We see a horrific scene, but we can't feel what we're meant to feel. It's just a scene so horrible, it lacks any reality to relate to the reader.

And "potential" runs off the tongue like dry Weet-Bix. It is a mess.

So I tried to capture a different time, just a little earlier in the story, as our heroes are hunting down the opiate that's keeping their fellow man captive:

Next our actors descend on the city of dreams
A farce carved of anachronistic legacy
Culminating in such a perverse wonderland
Its porcine king teaches a love of heresy

Again our film rewinds.

At this point, it became very clear that rhyming might not be such a good idea, especially if I'm going to use words like "legacy" and "heresy". I was too far into the poem and I still hadn't given a glimpse of the cartoonish whimsy present in the source material. Much of Mother 3's power is in its ability to make the player feel uncomfortable at the acts of terror carried out on the literary equivalents of gummi bears - all sugar and smiles. It feels wrong to see these characters, like gummi bears, getting their heads bitten off.

I tried rewriting parts of it, toying with the idea of losing the rhyme, or the meter, or both:

Next our actors descend on the city of dreams, [alight with neon heralds, deception, a lustful projection (projection of what?)- guiding the moths to give up their life]
A farce [One big, new toy] carved of anachronistic legacy, Culminating in such a perverse wonderland
[And at its helm, the] porcine king.

Again our film rewinds (make clear later on?).

With a little tweaking I was happier with the expression of what King P.'s Utopia represented. Mother 3 is at its best when it's telling a fable with the simplicity of Aesop, and the wonderfully vulgar "New Pork City" shows us what happens when the selfish boy next door gets everything he ever wanted.

I poured out and pawed over the verse again, to see what should come before, and where I should go next:

Our actors descend on the city of dreams, 
Alight with neon heralds, deception, a lustful projection- 
Guiding the moths to give up their lives
A monstrous child's toy carved of anachronistic legacy, 
Culminating in such a perverse wonderland- And at its helm, 
The porcine king.

At this point I wasn't sure where I was going with any of it. Should I return to a simple retelling, or could I start with confusion, then win the reader over as I filled in the gaps? Even the phrase "anachronistic legacy" was almost too much- it was mostly word play intended for those in the know- I didn't see myself having time to clarify its literal meaning later in the piece.*

I decided to have a crack at some cold, hard facts. How was I going to introduce the Magypsies? The Mr. Saturns? Rope snake?- all the colourful side characters that make Itoi's world so vibrant and twisted. And I needed to mention love. Love, as in adoration and service and camaraderie and self-sacrifice and loyalty - it needed to be referenced. Mother 3 is about love.

So that's how I started the next verse:

But we see love coagulates at the edges
Trans-gender, no gender, all gender- Magypsies!
Join a pink, mononymous, polysemous race
T'ward a battle of mind and colour and whimsy

It never feels good to start a line with "but". In school they drilled "however" into our heads as the correct and appropriate opening to a statement that runs contrary to the one proceeding it. But "but" fits. And what do you know- I'd returned to both rhyme AND meter.

But how was I to appropriately dissect this verse to explain clearly that I was talking about trans-gender immortals and naive, armless inventors that all carried the same name?

After this point, my lines descended into one-off plot points or turns of phrase that I felt might demonstrate my intentions:

Spines in the ground restore to life- and anaesthetic


The dragon sleeps through the unnatural warfare
I was tired of trying- and I was ashamed that I was tired of trying. 

But it doesn't have an entirely sad ending. I had a different idea- one that was much less painful, but still showed my own desire to deliver a message. It would allow me to explain a little of why Mother 3 stays at the forefront of my topics of discussion.

My decision? To write about my inability to write about Mother 3.

Thanks for reading.


*The "Pig King" built his army with set pieces stolen from different time periods in Earth's "history". The city literally doesn't belong to the time it exists in.


  1. Somehow this is reminding me too much of Year 12 Engrish when we had to dissect and break things up and study them in detail! But Yayy for narrative poems :)

    1. Urgh... I always do that horrible thing where I write something, then read it as I think it's written. Invariably, I return to whatever I've written and it's icky. Without fail.


      Back to lesson planning... :)