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John Donne says that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” But in your poem, “Almost an Island,” strangers occupy a landscape of “mixed results,” where subcontinents become recognizable only when covered with ink. It seems like your speaker is suffering from the exact kind of alienation Donne is arguing against. However, there is the speaker’s son, and just by walking in the rain this speaker can turn it to that necessary, sense-making ink. Though this is a poem of questions more than answers, is it moving toward a redemptive vision?

A number of the poems that I have been writing lately, and this is especially true for “Almost an Island,” involve the walks that I take with my son taking him to school every morning. He’s usually pretty excited about the day ahead and I’m mostly half asleep, but that combination produces interesting observations about how budding flowers look like small green eyeballs or a cloud seems to be growing a leg, etc, etc. No matter what he might be worried about (he’s ten) the fact that we can use imagination to transform our routine walk into something new, and occasionally ridiculous, seems and feels reassuring. Imagination becomes our way of questioning and (re)inserting ourselves into the world around us, and the poem definitely plays with that, although the poem isn’t in any way specifically tied to a narrative about my son and me.

I certainly don’t want to pick any fights with John Donne, but, after dropping my son off there is always a feeling, on the solitary walk home, of whether or not I remembered to say everything I was planning to say (to remind him about an activity, or to review a difficult concept, or whatever) and this definitely conjures the sensation of moving through the day on separate islands, my wife on her island of academic and university work, my son on his island of ten year old life, and me on my island of writing, translating, and other work. I guess Donne would hold up that we reconvene after these departures, but, conveniently, “peninsula,” which comes from the Latin for “almost an island,” allows the poem to bend Donne’s metaphor without any fisticuffs breaking out. (At least, that’s what I would sheepishly murmur to an angered John Donne.)

I don’t really know if the poem is “moving towards a redemptive vision,” but I’d like to think that the poem holds imagination up as a way that we can question and experience a variety of emotions (some of them without clear answers). Of course, with writing as with tattoos, ink in a literal (and, in the poem, metaphorical) sense gives us the chance to cast the world as we like it ... lines of ink across landscapes are recognized as borders and create landmasses, after all, but we make all of that up.  It can be scary, I suppose, that the world or that language are more fluid and less fixed than we might like them to be; but that can also be very hopeful.