Posted by: John Looker | 5 August, 2012

SUBMARINER

SUBMARINER

 

Life inside a tube:
the narrow passageway
from hatch to hatch; the dubious
air; the constant light;
men asleep by day
with mates packed tight
around the table to eat;
a metal world where sight
stops at a glowing screen
just two feet
away; each day a scene
of constant watching, listening,
careful not to be seen
or heard themselves, alert
to others watching, listening;
the Commander obeying curt
orders he knows will change,
on guard for tensions to avert
within the boat; and now
today: a depth gauge
in the fore end mal-
functioning, a tired crew,
and a convoluted row
with Base he knows they’ll win;
they always do.

 

© John Stevens 2012

This is the second poem in a series “States of Mind” – the first was called ‘Dancer’. Yet to come are “Hardhats”, “Ambassador”, “Caretaker” and others. The general idea is to explore states of mind that we can all encounter through work.

An earlier group of poems looking at life through work was rather different –  and has the title Spinning the World. If you are interested you can find the other poems through the list of categories in the right hand pane.

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Responses

  1. John,
    Just to say that I really like this, especially the ‘always’ motif which does seem to get hold of the reality of life in the armed forces. Well done.

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    • Thanks John. Knowing the depth and breadth of your reading in poetry, that means a lot to me.

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  2. Great John! I really like the
    rhyming scheme.
    I had the opportunity to check out
    the inside of a sub once. It takes a
    special something to serve on one
    of those things!

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    • Thank you Fred. I’m glad you noticed the rhyming scheme which I’m using to unify the poems in this group.

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  3. enjoyed this glimpse into something I wouldn’t normally have considered,… that “dubious air” I think really set the tone for me with this one… well done

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  4. Hi John—
    The appeal of the submarine to the imagination is an interesting one. You capture a great deal of it here:
    the narrow, closed-in world, ‘from hatch to hatch’, the stealth, the silence, men packed tight, the closed in pressure cooker of emotions. When I was a kid, there were a lot of submarine movies being made, ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’ and ‘Up Periscope’ come to mind—and I guess you’d have to include ’20,000 Leagues under the Sea’, though it was the product of a different era and a different imagination—and ‘Das Boot’, though it was made much later. Nothing better than the cry of ‘dive, dive, dive’ as the enemy closes in, nothing better than the strained silence as they wait for the depth charges to explode, the sweating faces, the tension inside that valiant pressure cooker. ‘Submariner’ places us in this world quite well (which I suspect was your intention) though the drama and suspense of the movie is not quite there; it has a quotidian feel about it, summed up by that nicely placed ‘always’ at the end . I notice that this series has changed its ‘theme’ from ‘looking at work’ to ‘states of mind’, which, following ‘Dancer’ seems a good choice. A nice, subtle poem about submarines and our imagination. That missing drama has been turned into a metaphor of our everyday lives: ‘Each day a scene of constant watching.’
    In keeping with my new policy of constructive criticism—as I see it we are exploring poetry together, not producing masterpiece after masterpiece—let me say that the other thing I associate with submarines is the nuclear energy/ atomic bomb aspect. The submarine has become the ultimate weapon in mass destruction. Contrasting that with the day to day aspect of the submarine would be something worth doing. That’s a state of mind with bells on.
    ‘Life inside a tube’ by the way is a wonderful opening line. It both summarizes the poem and leads you into it.

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    • We are of the same mind there, Jim; critical comments are important feedback, aren’t they? You are right, of course, to remind me that there is a nuclear warhead aspect to much submarine duty and my little poem here does not attempt to explore that.
      You were spot on to say that there is a quotidian feel to the lines. That was what I was aiming for really: the sense that the pressures they are working under are continuous and relentless and require a toughness of character.

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  5. John, at school the head of our Culinary Arts Department, who has become a well known if not famous chef in the world of college cooking schools, was a submariner until he gave up his military career and put on a chef’s hat. He is a tall man and very boisterous and an altogether character character. I try to put him in the environment described so effectively in this poem, and I wonder how he managed to survive so successfully in an environment like this for so many years.
    the Commander obeying curt
    orders he knows will change,
    on guard for tensions to avert
    within the boat…
    I can imagine Bob Witte causing lots of tension within a small space. I glory in him, but I can’t imagine his commander would.
    What I get out of this in the end is the sense of controlled frustration that afflict all of us when our spaces are not large. Space comes in a lot of different aspects. Personal space, geographic space, tight quarters as in a submarine, outer space, and so on, but the tight quarters whether it is psychological or physical seems to me particularly explosive. In today’s submarines you can disappear for weeks and even months at a time, but the society in the sub goes on and on no matter how difficult the problems that inevitably crop up:
    a depth gauge
    in the fore end mal-
    functioning, a tired crew,
    and a convoluted row
    with Base he knows they’ll win…
    Bob Witte may have fit into a submarine environment because he is a tough man, demanding and effective in his ability to turn out students who sometimes win national championships. But someone of his largeness of spirit and boisterousness in the environment you describe? It boggles the mind.
    The rhymes and rhythms in this also work, building a subtle undercurrent the way the sound of a submarine does when it is silently patrolling underwater. It is there, but not obvious until you are aware of it.
    This is growing into quite a work, John.

    Like

    • I liked hearing about the submariner you know, Thomas – thanks for that, and many thanks also for your remarks on how the poem reads to you – particularly that “sense of controlled frustration” that you mention. And I’m glad you feel that the rhyme and rhythm work.

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  6. Hi John
    This reads claustrofobia all over … I also watched Das Boot and 20.000 … under the sea. I don’t think living in a submarine, or in a mine, is healthy.

    Your poem took me down to those still waters where many men died. Their sleep as you describe, seems like a sign of their future…
    Well done!

    Like

  7. Love the pacing. The art of free verse is to release the energy of each word, and this works well here. I’ve read it several times and the tunes keep refreshening themselves with each reading. One odd thing keeps happening: because of the propulsive rhythm, I keep misreading “gauge” for “charge.” One of the first books I agented was a never-to-be very long and overwritten novel about a German WWII sub: perhaps my traumatic misreading comes from all the time I spent on it! I always reread that bit and continue to the end with relief! That’s one of the undramatic points of the poem: no drama, just time-bending isolation and the sense of being surrounded by the enemy. Good work, John!

    Like

    • I can see why it is easy to misread depth gauge as depth charge: it comes directly from our memories of all those WWII films; that’s a problem I hadn’t anticipated.
      Thanks so much for your careful reading once again, Tom.

      Like


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