Pushcart XLI: Melissa Broder, “Forgotten Sound” (poem) from Last Sext (Tin House 2016)

Photo by Martin Stranka: “Rejected”

Photo by Martin Stranka: “Rejected”

I pretended the lust was voices
And I wrote down the voices
And sometimes the voices spoke as I had written them
To confirm what I already knew
Which is that I am a child and ready for petting

Complete poem available online at The Rumpus

I confess that I’ve been a bit puzzled, maybe even slightly put off, by the Broder phenomenon. She earned her MFA, has published several poetry collections since 2010 (including the one featuring this poem), and her bio at Poetry Foundation lists leadership work with literary magazines and organizations. Yet she became a sensation because of her melancholic tweets (@sosadtoday) and her same-titled book of essays about vulnerability and insecurity and, well, being sad – a book she herself felt might make others take her less seriously as a poet, a book that ended up enshrined in everything from Rolling Stone to Elle to The New Yorker. In the film Broadcast News, dysphoric reporter Allen Brooks whines, “Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If “needy” were a turn-on?” Turns out, in the right hands, it can be.

I can’t dismiss this poem, and not only because Broder was a prolific and respected poet before her Twitter fame. There’s a powerful haunting quality to it that touches me: the build to the last line, the echo after the words go silent like the click of a closing door, a hollow openness reminiscent of the quality Sinéad O’Connor brought to “Sacrifice”. My admiration for Elton John knows no bounds, but it took O’Connor to expose the emotion, as Broder does with Brooks’ well-defended comedic lament.

Maybe it’s a new confessionalism. Maybe it’s just relief that someone else gets it. I’ve said often I don’t pretend to know what’s “good” and what isn’t; sometimes I don’t even know exactly what it is I feel when I read something; but I still know when I feel something intense, something important, and I did. Isn’t that what a successful poem does?


2 responses to “Pushcart XLI: Melissa Broder, “Forgotten Sound” (poem) from Last Sext (Tin House 2016)

  1. I knew none of that about Melissa Broder. I had never heard of her before this poem. I guess that’s why I read Pushcart…and your blog.

    I saw this as a poem “about” sexual abuse, or at least unwanted sexual attention from men at a really young age. (“About” in quotes, because I realize poets will tell you their poems aren’t “about” anything–they “are” the things.) The narrator’s younger self, faced with lust, imagined the lust was voices, and got three different results: the voices said what she expected, they said nothing, or they said something beyond her ability to comprehend. The first two results make the poet resort to surprisingly crass plays on words: they she was ready for “petting” and “filled with holes.” The last one seems to be the moment when the men have moved on and their lust no longer reaches her, because they’ve objectified her body until it’s, ironically, no longer even corporeal.

    What I mostly get out of this poem is that now that you’re done with it, we’re free to have our “After Reading Peter Bichsel” blog-on-blog ultimate smackdown you promised me.

    • Don’t get your hopes up around the smack-down… I’m a terrible arguer. My style tends towards “No, I think… Oh, wait, maybe you’re right…”

      But I do have some responses to your blog comments. All I need now is time and a clear head to write it up (the latter being far more difficult to find than the former).

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