What did I do?
Discussed Flames and Dangling Wire by Robert Gray
Gray’s poem Flames and Dangling Wire is a call for responsibility. Beginning with a trip to the tip, the poem expands into Gray’s imagination, a vision of what he perceives will be the future if society continues to expand commercialism and therefore produce and leave more waste.
The free verse poem is written in present tense, enabling the reader to participate in the experience of discovery. Phrases such as “And standing where I see… I realise that I am in the future.” offer little ability for interpretation as the reader is wholly reliant on the information which is given; Gray’s own perception is irrefutable because his own imagination is all that is revealed. Imagery of “a landscape of tin cans”, “cars like skulls” and the personified “sour smoke” convey his perception of the tip. This then develops into his vision of “the future”; “how it will be when men have gone.” It is in such a time that he acknowledges the importance of the individual’s voice and opinion as, true to the title, a radio which “spills its dangling wire” still carries the “voices … that are still travelling” in a world where people have gone.
Throughout the poem, Gray uses several allusions to aid in his imagery. “as a turtle moves on Galapagos shore.” is an allusion to the Spanish volcanic islands on the Pacific Ocean and creates a contrast of beauty and peace in comparison the pejorative: “swamp”. When the “labourer” throws mulch into “the flame” in the 11th stanza, a flapping “something” is described to be “like the flag held up in ‘The Raft of the Medusa’.” This reference to the Romantic painting by Theodore Gericault in 1819 likens the gruesome, despairing event – which the painting depicts – to the image of wretched future. Lastly, the reference to the Greek Mythological Charon – who ferried the dead across rivers – “that demon with the long barge pole” is befitting, as Gray previously described the place “as in hell”.
Finally, the poem ends of a note of hope as, in the contrast to the dark imagery, “the sound of curtains lifting … to a coast of light.” This is reminiscent of his poem Journey the North Coast‘s “a calico beach unfurled, strewn with flakes of light” as both descriptions are heavy with imagery of light and are symbolic of a fresh beginning, or a new start. Despite the damning voice and the ominous, scoffing tone, Gray turns the poem around and gives the viewer the opportunity to see another option for humanity’s future; to see the ever-present ability of change.
Image: Smashed Broken Mix Tape. https://heavymetalmixtape.wordpress.com/tag/mix/