Thursday, March 18, 2010

Introduction to "No, Superman Was Not the Only One"

It’s a sonnet. And there’s a wonderful dissonance between the tradition of the sonnet, the formality of the sonnet, the aura that surrounds the sonnet, and what we keep running into in the text of this poem – Superman, Lois Lane, Clark Kent. There’s a wonderful friction between what we assume a sonnet should be and all of the associations we have with comic books, with superheroes, with those over-familiar tropes: the superpowered man, the damsel forever in distress, the secret identity, the bizarre triangle between the fronted identity, the superhero, and the female. In turning over our expectations of what a sonnet should be about, Machan also turns over our expectations of what Lois Lane was, of what she could have been. See, it turns out, we never truly understood her; our knowledge of her, our understanding of her, is just as limited as the average Metropolis policeman’s knowledge of Clark Kent. Simple Clark Kent. Mild-mannered Clark Kent.

See, Lois Lane, too, was just a front, just another public identity. She, too, had a secret. She, too, could tap into powers that the rest of us might be too timid to do more than dream about. She, too, could seem “almost to fly.” She, too, could become “a bird, a plane, super in midnight sky.”

As could, I think the poem insists, all of us, were we not so intent on keeping those truly powerful parts of ourselves hidden, on keeping those things that we love, that we care about, hidden even from those we share so much of the rest of our lives with.

We all have secret identities. We all keep our selves hidden. We might not hide them in such obvious ways as, say, Superman or Batman, but we hide them nonetheless. We hide them by pretending not to care about the things we love. We hide them by prefacing otherwise passionate claims with clauses like, “Well, I’m not sure, and I probably haven’t thought enough about this, but” and “I don’t know but” and “I know it sounds silly but.” We make reference to “guilty pleasures.” We distance ourselves with irony. We reach tentatively toward caring from a stance of light mockery and sometimes never extend ourselves beyond that.

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