Response to poetry

Hit the Switch- Conor Oberst

I'm staring out into that vacuum again
From the back porch of my mind
The only thing that's alive, I'm all there is
And I start attacking my vodka
Stab the ice with my straw
My eyes have turned red as stoplights
You seem ready to walk
You know I'll call you eventually
When I wanna talk, 'til then you're invisible

Cause there's this switch that gets hit
And it all stops making sense
And in the middle of drinks
Maybe the fifth or the sixth
I'm completely alone at a table of friends
I feel nothing for them
I feel nothing, nothing.

Well I need a break from the city again
I think I'll ship myself back west
I've got a friend there she says,
"Hey anytime"
Unless that offers expired
I have been less than frequent
She's under no obligation
To indulge every whim
And I'm so ungrateful, I take
She gives and forgives and I keep forgetting it

And each morning she wakes
With a dream to describe
Something lovely that bloomed
In her beautiful mind
I say, "I'll trade you one
For two nightmares of mine,
I have somewhere I die,
I have somewhere we all die"

I'm thinking of quitting drinking again
I know I've said that a couple of times
And I'm always changing my mind
Well I guess I am
But there's this burn in my stomach
And there's this pain in my side
And when I kneel at the toilet
And the morning's clean light
Pours in through the window
Sometimes I pray I don't die
I'm a goddamn hypocrite

But then night rolls around and it all starts making sense
There is no right way or wrong way, you just have to live
And so I do what I do, and at least I exist
What could mean more than this?
What would mean more, mean more?

-copyright Bedrooms, Bedrooms and spiders/Sony/ATV Songs LLC (BMI), 2005
found on the album; Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, released by Saddle-Creek records

After first reading this poem, my first response was “marvelous, these words are beautiful,” the words stuck with me and meant something, made me think; and I thought wonderful. Nothing really displeased me except for the fact that the narrator seemed like an alcoholic. Sometimes the drinking is the weak people that want to drown their sorrows away. But this particular narrator had a lot of sorrow to drown, the narrator isn’t comfortable around his friends, he feels alone, feels like he doesn’t belong. After some study I realized that this was all part of the speaker’s character, this is what gave the words their meaning, their theme. This problem demonstrated what the speaker feels; alone and helpless.

The speaker is most likely a young male not much older than twenty-one. This is because the narrator drinks and has not yet found his place in the world (until the end of the poem). Until the end the speaker’s frame of mind is confused, he reflects on past incidents curious to if it would be acceptable to do the old routines again, to pretend they never stopped, he’s lonely but not alone, he’s drunk. The speaker’s tone is a little dark, it sucks the reader in with the first line, shows that the speaker is thinking and seems to be aware of his words. Even the tone is a little confusing, to emphasize the narrator’s confusion even more. Metaphors are thrown in to imply that possibly the speaker is an intellect (he may just think he is), the reader has to think just as the speaker is. Not every line rhymes with another; not even a slant rhyme although there is an occasional slant rhyme, this is to further prove his bewilderment with life. As stated before, at the end of the poem the narrator discovers what he has been leading to and becomes less confused, because the hangover has passed and another night takes it’s turn. He realizes it’s just life; there is no right way or wrong way to live.

The speaker is speaking to himself, it appears that he isn’t even speaking, but thinking, going over things in his head not wanting anyone else to listen because he hadn’t ever before. He seems to be thinking anywhere, anywhere but the west; you can’t ship yourself back west if you’re already there. It’s being thought of when the narrator is in his mind, not caring about anyone or anything, it’s a time to think. This could be anytime, but looks as if it is during a social gathering among friends, or even alone at home, and every occasion described could be a recollection.

This poem is organized into sections; into informal, free verse stanzas, all with various lengths. Not all of the stanzas relate to the precedent one or the one following. For example the fourth stanza is almost irrelevant to the third. Same with the sixth stanza from the fifth. But then the seventh (and last) stanza rolls around and it all starts making sense.

The poem is a reflection. It’s a reflection of ones way of life, the rethinking of ones lifestyle. A poem about finding ones self and realizing they’ve been it all along. The theme is stated quite explicitly, announced right within the last stanza; “there is no right way or wrong way, you just have to live”. It states to do what you do and at least you exist.

Many words have rich, relevant associations that relate to other words, usually sharing a line. For example “and I start attacking my vodka, stab the ice with my straw,” and “my eyes have turned red as stoplights, you seem ready to walk”. All of these word connections help define the speaker’s state of mind, especially “Well I need a break from the city again; I think I’ll ship myself back west.” The two words city and ship don’t exactly associate with each other, but dissociate. In the city the narrator is surrounded by civilization, by city-life. When one hears ship one usually associates the word to sea, and when one is out at sea one is alone, helpless, and surrounded by water, no civilization but ones self. This poem isn’t to be taken either literally, figuratively, or symbolically, but all three.

Occasionally during a stanza a word will be repeated. When a word is repeated it leaves a haunted effect on the reader. “I’m completely alone at a table of friends; I feel nothing for them. I feel nothing, nothing” and “And each morning she wakes with a dream to describe; Something lovely that bloomed from her beautiful mind; I said ‘I’ll trade you one for two nightmares of mine; I have some where I die, I have some where we all die”. The speaker even goes back to death during the next stanza; “…; And when I kneel at the toilet; And the morning’s clean light pours in through the window; sometimes I pray I don’t die; I’m a goddamn hypocrite.” This could possibly express the narrator’s difficulty distinguishing reality from fiction such as dreams, or it expresses that the speaker is not fond of his lifestyle and feels dead, he is dead inside. In the last stanza when words are repeated it is kind of uplifting, “and so I do as I do and at least I exist; what could mean more that this?; what could mean more?; mean more?” Alliteration also occasionally occurs, “and I’m so ungrateful, I take, she gives and forgives; and I keep forgetting it” and “…bloomed from her beautiful mind”. These alliterations give a sense of sameness. This may be why the speaker feels so alone, everyone around him is the same, maybe he doesn’t want to become one of them, wants to feel a connection without being exactly the same.

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