On “A Lonely Beer”

As part of my effort to write more about what I read–and what I read in blogs, since I want my blogs to be read, in turn–I turn to the work of Frank Solanki, which I began following early in my time writing in this webspace. He writes poetry, with which I sympathize, given what I do in my other online endeavors, and it seems to me that attending to that poetry might be a good thing to do for more than one reason. Among my reasons is, as noted, that I’d like my own blogging read and commented upon, so I ought to read and comment upon the works of others. Another is that, as someone largely outside academe at this point despite some pretensions to retaining intellectual rigor, I ought at least to try to remain in practice with those skills I have trained through years of study–one of which is picking apart poetry. So I turn to Frank Solanki’s 14 February 2018 “A Lonely Beer” to see what I can still do.

The poem consists of twenty-eight lines of generally irregular meter–most read as trimeter, although a few dimeter lines are evident, and there seems to be no particularly preferred foot for the most part. There is no formal division into stanzas, although the prevailing abcb rhyme scheme does group the lines into seven quatrains that largely align to what could be read handily as sentence breaks. The first three such quatrains form something of a rhythmic unit, as each ends on a line of a stressed syllable followed by two iambs. The last three similarly unify, each ending on a line of iambic trimeter; the central fourth quatrain follows neither pattern, its distinct rhythm helping to figure it as the pivot its position suggests.

Semantically, the fourth quatrain bears out the pivot its position and rhythmic distinction suggest. While the other six quatrains can be read as introspective and reflective, the fourth is a decidedly direct address to the reader, offering a command to “Quit reading further” as it opens before laying out the conditions for that command. It also explicitly identifies the poem as being a response to the holiday of its publication; the quatrain’s final line bespeaks “not having a valentine,” appropriate to the 14 February publication.

That the poem thus marks itself off as a Valentine’s lament, and that it occupies twenty-eight lines, initially seems to invite consideration of the poem as a calendrical piece. That seeming quickly falters, however; a more fully calendrical version might align itself by sevens, following weeks, and it would position the Valentine’s reference in the fourteenth line rather than the current sixteenth. So one easy interpretation–one that would make the poem clever although not necessarily inspiring–does not hold up under more than a cursory glance.

Similarly, the easy interpretation of the poem as the lament of a sympathetic narrator who is alone on a holiday dedicated to romance falters quickly. The aforementioned direct address to the reader breaks a narrative flow that could otherwise ease reception by readers of the narrator as one with whom to empathize, and not only for its bluntness; it reads as somehow snotty and mean. And the narrator’s solitude seems justified by the sixth quatrain, in which the poem reveals the narrator had two lovers (with names evoking the perceivedly Puritanical, straight-laced 1950s of the United States) at once–clearly illicitly, since “They found out about each other / Now [the narrator is] alone and blue” (ll, 23-24). Had the narrator been in an avowedly open or polyamorous relationship, such would not be the case, but since the revelation of other lovers has resulted in the loss of both, the reader is left to conclude that the narrator deserves to be without romance amid others enjoying it.

What happens, then, is that the poem becomes the whining of the justly afflicted. The narrator has clearly not learned the lesson to be taken from the events discussed–namely, not to be duplicitous in romantic relationships–focusing rather on the isolation occasioned by bad actions than on how to avoid bad actions and improve the self such that either others would find the narrator fit company or the narrator would move past the need to be accompanied. (How much an improvement the latter would be is, of course, easily contestable.) The narrator drinking a beer alone becomes not a figure of sympathy or an image of contentment–and the figure of a lone person drinking in a bar can be and has been taken as both–but one of scorn, and in that becoming might serve as a warning to those who might otherwise approach such a person.

There may well be a reason that person is alone in the bar on a holiday.

Stand me a drink?


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