Analyzing My Poem – “Swimming Pool”

You, or anyone else, I’m sure, has had that difficult moment in their lives when they are asked to analyze a literary piece for a school project – whether that be a novel, short story, essay, or poem – and find themselves in a very suddenly-constructed DIY writer’s block. Who knows WHY the author said what they said? Who knows what themes they were attempting to convey? The author isn’t around (or alive) to explain their writing process to you, and so you are left to your own devices.

It’s much easier for me to analyze my own writing, however. Below is a poem of mine I wrote recently. Go ahead in read it and hopefully the meaning I was trying to portray is hidden in there somewhere. After the poem I’ll breakdown my writing process – why I chose the words I did, random rhyming patterns, and methods of symbolism and metaphor I utilized throughout to convey a central idea or theme. In the end, I hope this breakdown process helps you understand analytical techniques when reading poetry in general. Hopefully it gives you some food for thought on your next poem/story/screenplay as well!

“Swimming Pool” – a poem

A pool, a lake, 
An ocean. Here we be.
A matrix of neon lights,
All around.
Your eyes pleading
From the passenger seat.
“One dip, that’s it,
“That’s all it ever is,
“Ever will be.”
Your eyes, they plead
But foolishly; what are they
Ever, but impetus of
Irrational fancy?
So I do not look,
My eyes trained on the
Rows of flashing lights,
Blinking on and off
With my headlights,
My constant lane of thought,
An aqueduct.
But focus nears irrelevance
When the voice in the
Passenger seat whispers,
An insane fleet of quiet
Words;
“Steer to the side, run
“The little lights over,
“Listen to the sound that they
“Make, bump bumpety bump.
“Don’t you want to try it,
“Just once?”

An ocean.
A matrix of neon lights,
All around: luminous magicians,
Leading the eye, giving directions,
Sleight of hand, misdirection,
Signs. “Go straight for two miles,”
Then woops,
A cliff.
Those types.
A matrix of neon lights. We’re in
This city, like an ocean.
And he just wants to go for a swim.
“Just a dip,” is what he said.

Focus becomes irrelevant,
For this moment. Maybe I just
Want to stop the nagging,
The constant little whisper in my ear
Alright, I’ll manage him,
“Just don’t swim too deep,”
I said.
The blinking rows of lights
Blink slower, as I guide my
Vehicle through the lanes,
And just like a moth
Drawn to a fluorescent orb,
I cannot lose sight of the neon
Banner:
“Swimmers enter here,”
I walk with him to the edge of
The pool, he edges out onto
The diving board, looking all around,
Like a dog in a supermarket,
Looking back at me,
As though from a distance,
And for this moment,
I realize, as I look at him:
He doesn’t even know
How to swim.

“Wait!”
He’s in midair, curled up
In an eager cannonball.
Even if he’d heard,
He couldn’t stop at all.
Even if he’d tried to stop,
He couldn’t.

I rush to the edge,
Pull his thrashing form
From the water.
He emerges, with water
In his lungs.
He tries to stand,
Barely knows how to
Stand, forgets how to walk.
His hands flying about like
Seagulls, circling
In the air,
His feet stumbling
In some foreign dance.
In the car, in the car,
In the car! I say.

We’re on the open road,
I try to focus, yet again,
But he’s moaning, eyes rotating
Like those on a scared horse,
Like a wheel of fortune,
Looking at everything,
But nothing at all.
Singing about somethings
While he drools on his jacket.
Now murmuring something,
“Let me, let me.”
The neon lights become unified
In a golden tail, outside my window.
My speedometer sprouts dove's wings.
As he half says half sings,
Different things, but mainly,
“Let me, let me!”
I don’t know what he means,
Until I do; his hands pushing
Mine off the steering wheel.
The vehicle is suddenly undecided
About its conviction of staying
Inside the lane.

“Let me drive, let me drive,”
He screams, pushing me off
The driver’s seat, taking control,
Grasping the steering wheel
In both hands.
The wheels shudder, shifting
Like a madman’s eyes,
Left, then right. Then left again.
“Let me, LET ME!”
Then I realize, I’m the only
One in the car, which is
Driving straight into a tree.

Let me start off by stating that this poem is about alcoholism – its addictive quality, and ultimately, its life-destroying potential. Now let me dive in to why that is the case about this poem – how I explored this theme repeatedly throughout.

In the very first line we have “a pool, a lake / an ocean. Here we be.” I employ the use of large bodies of water to represent a form of danger – you can drown in water, as we will see much later on into the poem. But especially combined with the fact that this character is in a “matrix of neon lights,” the water is not isolated. It’s in the middle of signs, and posters, and advertisements. Which makes it tempting, and thus all the more dangerous. More specifically, the character is driving in a city at night – a city lit up by neon posters – and, even more specifically, by neon bar signage. (This is about alcoholism, remember?)

With that symbolism in mind (ocean=dangerous temptation, and neon lights=bar posters), what does it mean that the character in the passenger’s seat is begging the driver for “one dip, that’s it”? First of all, this character in the passenger’s seat is a construct of the driver’s mind, (the freudian “id,” representing the base instinct of the human mind), trying to convince the driver (the freudian “super-ego”, the moral conscience) to compromise on his convictions. As I write in the first stanza, regarding this imaginary tempter’s eyes, “what are they / Ever, but impetus of / Irrational fancy?” It is implied that this character is purely a figment of the mind in the last stanza of the poem, “Then I realize, I’m the only / One in the car…” The goal of this purely-psychological passenger, of course, is to fulfill his [the driver’s] craving for satisfaction in intoxication, to give in to his addiction. This attitude of irrational disregard of reason is symbolized further when he says (about the lanes in the road) “steer to the side, run / “The little lights over…” to the driver. The idea being propagated here is that if he can get the driver to compromise on even this little thing, and ignore wise choices, he will create a snowball effect that will lead him down the road of giving in to his every base tendency. (In this scenario, “id” wins).

Further into this poem, the driver decides to give in to the ‘demon on his shoulder,’ this little whisper in his ear: “Alright, I’ll manage him, / ‘Just don’t swim too deep,’ / I said.” Given what the ocean symbolizes, of course, the phrase, “don’t swim too deep,” means basically, “don’t drink too much.” He wants to give in, but is under the false impression that he can control himself once he’s started. Well, let’s see how this progresses:

Now the two characters (or literally one), have entered the bar, and the drinking has begun, initiated by the line “he edges out onto / The diving board,” assuming that, staying true to the metaphorical devices, the bar is the pool, and venturing into the bar to drink is described as ‘edging out onto the diving board.’ Unfortunately, however, once the process has already picked up enough steam to a place where there is no going back, the character realizes in a sudden introspective take, that he won’t be able to stop himself: “I realize, as I look at him: / He doesn’t even know / How to swim.” But it is too late – he does a cannonball into the pool, and when he finally emerges, he’s soaked, and in a mental wreck: “He tries to stand, / Barely knows how to / Stand, forgets how to walk. / His hands flying about like / Seagulls, circling In the air, / His feet stumbling / In some foreign dance.” Sound like familiar behavior? Otherwise, and in other places, perhaps you’ve read the phrase “drunken stupor.” Yes?

He recuperates enough to enter the car, along with his drunken passenger (a symbol for his base instinct, remember). The “speedometer sprouts dove’s wings,” meaning that he’s speeding, and his passenger “half-says half sings,” a series of “let me, let me,” essentially wanting to take full control, to overpower his inhibitions, the rational, moralistic, thinking mind (the driver), with his own intoxicated mind. This is a battle that started in the very beginning of the poem, when it was only a small whisper, urging him to drive over the lit-up lanes in the road just for fun. Now, because of the aforementioned snowball effect, and since the driver has let down his guard throughout, eventually this whisper is threatening to take control of his entire driving ability, his life. Now, “He screams, pushing me off / The driver’s seat, taking control, / Grasping the steering wheel / In both hands.” The driver’s bad decisions are finally catching up to him.

Now, at the end of the poem, the wheels “shudder,” he loses control. Now the reader is let in on a little secret as he realizes “I’m the only / One in the car:” he has been alone this whole time. The passenger was merely a symbol of his own psyche, the war raging on in his mind. Right and wrong, good and evil. Realizing he’s the only one in the car is essential to this character’s growth, as little a development as this may be; this is because he, in recognizing he’s the only one, is also recognizing that all his actions and the consequences that follow are all his fault. It’s a way of implying he’s taken responsibility for his actions. Now, this may do little for the story arch, as the poem abruptly ends with his car “driving straight into a tree.” But at least it happened to begin with, even if it was the last moment in the story.

And there you have it. I hope this brief glimpse into my writing process has been of some interest, if not some help. Keep an eye out for my future post which discusses my thoughts on the more general world of literature analysis.

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One thought on “Analyzing My Poem – “Swimming Pool”

  1. Pingback: A Note on How We Analyze | Michael Metzler Jr.

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