Poetry: Pun and Picture Poem
In Medias Res in Latin means “in the middle of things. ” This poem was published in 1985 by poet, critic, and editor, Michael McFee. Michael McFee was born in Asheville, North Carolina and earned both his BA and MA at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He has also been poet in residence at Cornell and at Lawrence University. He lives in Durham. This is a picture poem which means that the poet arranged the lines into shapes which can embody the meaning of the poem.
This is a great poem, by Michael McFee on 263. In the abstract, it’s about a man who has developed a gut and the poem addresses his feelings toward his new-found paunch. The poem starts off with puns — pants that take your breath away, belt no longer the “cinch”, etc. Then it just collapses into awful images of futility, over and over again. It goes from dry wit to lack of any humor at all. I feel like this is how the object of the poem might respond to his weight problem. On the surface, he’ll joke around about it with everyone else.
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But it’s actually eating at him (no pun intended). The poem’s structure – it looks like a belly. While primarily about some guy’s stomach chub, the poem also comments on the inevitability of decay for a lot of things. Years, McFee argues, eventually destroy lots of things: houses, sidewalks, and graves, but also families and stars. Depending on how far you want to take this, the poem can be really depressing. No amount of preservation can plug the waters of disorder. All things break down sooner or later. The most prominent type of figurative language used in this poem is a pun.
The puns are in the first half of the poem, when the tone is not as serious. The puns – lines 4 and 5 – contribute to the matter of fact tone used throughout the poem. They are not used in a humorous manner. The puns seem to mock the fat person and contribute to the speaker’s criticizing manner. There are many tones in “In Medias Res. ” At first the poem appears to be comedic, just by the shape of the poem in reference to its topic, and by the first couple of lines. The first lines begin with the phrase, “His waist / like the plot / thickens…
” The first simile mentioned is that of a comedic overtone, and in observation of this and the shape of the poem, we can assume that the poem is meant to have a comedic effect. The next bit, “… wedding / pants now breathtaking,” has a double meaning – one, he could have very impressive pants to the eye; or two, his pant line may actually be robbing him of relaxed, comfortable breaths at the expense of being tightly buttoned up correctly. Then, soon enough towards the end of the poem, the tone becomes a bit less comedic and a bit more dark.
“No preservation society capable / of plugging entropy’s dike” means that there is nothing that can really fix such a problem as this person’s because it has become so out of control. The phrase “of plugging entropy’s dike” means “of stopping a failing barrier. ” A certain amount of fat can be good, but too much, like the amount on the subject, can cause many problems for him instead of being a benefit. The last lines “Under his zipper’s sneer / a belly hibernation- / soft, ready for / the kill. ” Becomes seriously dark and almost eerie because of the last line.
Basically the speaker is trying to convey that this person has entered far past the realms of obesity, and has become so unhealthy, the cause of his death will eventually turn to be his excessively-large body. The author wants to leave us with the knowledge that obesity is a serious problem, especially today in the current state our country is in. People really need to start watching themselves because if not, letting themselves go can get the better of them. Cambium is a word that is used in Michael McFee’s poem “In Medias Res”.
It is defined as a one-cell tissue layer that is found in most plants… and is also responsible for secondary growth. It divides and produces more cells, much like the speaker’s description of the man’s waist line. The speaker compares the man’s waistline to a plot- because both thicken. Another humorous element of the poem is its shape, which is that of a large gut. The poem also mentioned stars collapsing, which occurs at the end of their lifetime. When all other possible energy sources for the star have been exhausted, a collapse will ensue.
Dwarf stars and black holes can result from a collapse. This implies that the speaker believes the man’s endless spiral of weight gain is much like a black hole. A black hole is a region of space that nothing can escape, much like the subject’s jowls. When I originally read this poem, I misread the intention of “In Medias Res,” I though “in the middle of things” along with the shape of the poem, was all a way to accent the line “that separates a house from its foundation,” which is in fact, in the middle of things- as well as it is the longest line in the poem.
The title was actually a reference to the man’s murderous stomach, and the shape was an emphasis of the first and last lines, not the middle. “His waist…. the kill. ” I think that the shape might be growing with the man’s concern for his weight- his concern grows as he does, until the middle. At that point I feel that this man has given up, and feels that there is no hope for him. By the end, by the line “the kill” the fat man is in ignorance or denial, and that is the reason his zipper sneers, the reason his belly is ready to kill.
The author wants to leave us with the experience of growing old and fat. The title “In Medias Res” means that the reader joins this story in the middle, implying the subject’s middle age. The shape of the poem and the gradual progression from gentle mockery to the fatalistic claim that the belly is “ready for/ the kill” shows that the subject’s life is in decline. Things will not get better for the subject. He will only grow fatter and closer to death.
Michael McFee In Medias Res His waist, like the plot, thickens, wedding pants now breathtaking, belt no longer the cinch it once was, belly’s cambium expanding to match each birthday, his body a wad of anonymous tissue swung in the same centrifuge of years that separates a house from its foundation, undermining sidewalks grim with joggers and loose-filled graves and families and stars collapsing on themselves, no preservation society capable of plugging entropy’s dike, under the zipper’s sneer a belly hibernation- soft, ready for the kill.