By Heather Lang
Who is Steven Seagal?
A few years back, I was visiting Las Vegas with a friend. While waiting in the ticket line for the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, my friend nudged me and whispered, “Look! Heather, it’s Steven Seagal.” Having no idea who that was, I replied, not loudly but not whispering either, “Who is Steven Seagal?” Because the actor happened to be the large man standing only maybe five feet away, he most certainly heard me. A strange sort of awkwardness ensued, a social inelegance that occurs from time to time because, by choice or by happenstance, I lack a certain popular culture awareness.
As an adult, I’ve never owned a television, and, therefore, neither a VCR nor a DVD player. I’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies, The Notebook, Blade Runner, The Blues Brothers… my friends could go on and on.
Can we access pop culture through poetry?
Recently I’ve been reading and writing quite a bit about the notion of reclaiming poetry for the non-poet. So, it’s been on my mind that perhaps I could make some connection with popular culture via poetry; perhaps I could work backwards.
Last week I read a poem that reminded me of the movie Groundhog Day. I had never seen the film, but everyone knows the premise: a man finds himself living the same day over and over again. The prose poem, The One and Only Day by Tom Hennen from his collection Darkness Sticks to Everything (Copper Canyon Press), opens: “There has only ever been one day and it happened over and over.” While I gathered that Bill Murray’s character lives decades’ worth of days before that one infamous repeated day, the connection was immediate.
Looking for guidance in connecting with the film, I asked some trusted friends, “Why do you like Groundhog Day?” One wrote that he fancies Andie MacDowell. Another friend responded, “I’m able to relate to the characters.” While I found this answer a bit more informative than the first friend’s comment about the female lead, there are no characters in Hennen’s poem. In fact, there are no proper nouns or pronouns in “The One and Only Day.”
Finally, a colleague directed me to Roger Ebert’s four-star review of Groundhog Day. The Critic writes:
There is a moment when Phil tells Rita, “When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.” The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.
Hennen writes in “The One and Only Day” that the day:
slides through time, the prow of a ship through sleeping water. It bumps against the shore of daylight each morning and sets sail alone in the dark at night.
These images are metaphorical, but the message is direct: time is a constant, and each day can be seen as virtually the same, yet they are not. Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day is faced with, quite literally, a repeating identical day, and yet he manages to find something new, something beautiful when he eventually opens himself to discovery.
Next, Hennen writes that the day moves through time:
Sometimes under the awful glitter of stars. Sometimes into a thickly falling rain that sends the animals back to their dens and causes the woods to drip and become the color of owls.
While the metaphor of the day being a ship that moves steadily through time is somewhat unsurprising, it eases us into the more complex metaphors that our brains might less easily recognize, starting with the unexpected description of the stars, their “awful glitter,” and shifting into the surreal, the unraveling into the complex notion that the day could move into a day that “causes the woods to drip and become the color of owls.”
So, while Bill Murray and screenplay writers Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis demonstrate the ways in which we might better view our world, perhaps Hennen, too, teaches us a similar lesson. We learn new and meaningful ways of seeing the world around us; the days may even be woods that “drip and become the color of owls.”
“Oh, I don’t like poetry.”
Oftentimes, for the sake of efficiency, and sometimes for the sake of sanity, we need to focus our daily lives in order to satisfy routine obligations. Bills must be paid, the kids need to get picked up, laundry has to be done, and so we often shut down the parts of our brains that allow us to think about things differently. We are merely surviving. To step away and to take a different perspective can be difficult when under siege by a demanding day, especially one that seems like yesterday. I myself have tended to dismiss, or at least to deprioritize, pop culture and popular movies. After pondering the poem, however, I knew that I needed to watch Groundhog Day.
So, I filled my favorite reading mug with jasmine green tea and settled in to watch the film, and I enjoyed it. I observed Phil shift from alienated to reconnecting, which turns out to be the cure for his depression. This begs the question, how does he make this transition? It seems that Phil is turned off by everyone until he meets Rita and knows what he wants (to be with her). One might say that this rekindles his interest in the human race. After a period of intense frustration, this leading man learns to reconnect with people in general, which, eventually, makes Phil more attractive both to himself, in a sense, and also to his inamorata.
To borrow the words of Zeteo Editor William Eaton, “Insight may be reserved for those moments when all the doors are open.” Like most poets and poetry admirers, I’ve heard it before, and I’ll hear it again. Family, friends, potential mates, that guy who sits next to you on the plane. They’ve all said it: “Oh. I don’t like poetry.” Perhaps they just haven’t read the right poem yet. And, maybe, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, we should consider actively opening ourselves to unearthing something fresh in the all-too-familiar.
Ebert, Roger. “Groundhog Day”. Rogerebert.com. (January 30th, 2005). Accessed via the Web, October 15, 2015.
Pinhole photograph of Las Vegas sign taken by Michael Cassera.
“Quest” illustration by Letisia Cruz (Lesinfin).
About Heather Lang
Heather Lang’s poetry has been published by or is forthcoming in Pleiades, december, Mead, Jelly Bucket, The Normal School online, among other publications. She serves as the Online Managing Editor for The Literary Review, as Co-Editor for Petite Hound Press, and as an adjunct professor. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her chapbook manuscript was named a semifinalist in the 2014 Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook competition, her poetry has been twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes, and she will serve as an AWP16 moderator/panelist.