Another kind of poem

In this dinosaur comic, T-Rex says: “Maybe if you’re writing poetry, you could write a poem with only female nouns and then one with only male nouns, and that could be something, right?

In response to that, I wrote a “German Gender Poem”. Lucky me if you don’t understand it, because it really is not that outstanding (in terms of meaning… I suppose…). According to T-Rex though, alone the fact that it only uses (in this case) masculine nouns should make it kind of brilliant!

Der dahinrottende Mann
Der Hut saß schief auf seinem Kopf,
denn sein Rücken war nicht grad’.
Mit den Zähnen biss er auf ’nen Knopf,
denn er wusst’, bald würd’ er liegen in einem Sarg.
Der Kummer schlug in Schauern zu,
denn sein Abschied nahte rasch.
Sterben würd’ er gar im Nu,
und aus seinem Körper würd’ werden Asch.

Not a massive amount of nouns, but anyway, I tried to use at least one per line.

der Hut, der Kopf, der Rücken, der Zahn, der Knopf, der Saag, der Kummer, der Schauer, der Abschied, der Nu, der Körper, Asche.

Conclusion: Sure, it is possible to write a poem devoted to some ‘gender’. However, I do not believe that even the best poet in the world could write an exceptional poem with only using nouns of one particular gender group…

And for those of you who speak (some) German and are now utterly confused, I should probably admit that I did cheat with that very last word. Die Asche, feminine noun. Eek.

6 comments on “Another kind of poem

  1. Check out Monique Wittig’s amazing novel “Les guérillères”, if you’re not already familiar with it – it plays with noun gender to make feminist points about language. (It also works better in the original French than in English translation, for obvious reasons.)

  2. Christopher on said:

    How do you actually know that Nu is masculine? Since it (apparently, correct me if I’m wrong) only occurs in the phrase ‘im Nu’, how can you tell if it is masculine or neuter? If you have only ever heard it in that phrase, you have nothing in your memory to tell you that it is masculine rather that neuter. True, the dictionary says it is masculine, but how did the dictionary-maker know that? I suppose you will say it just ‘feels’ masculine to a native-speaker, but these feelings are not supernatural and must be based on something.

  3. Well yeah, “Nu” sounded masculine to my ears but I looked it up just to make sure. It’s obviously not feminine because it usually comes with “im”, short for “in dem”, and “dem” is the masculine or neuter article for nouns in the Dative case. A synonym of “Nu” is “Augenblick” (moment), which is masculine, so maybe this semantic relationship makes those kind of words masculine… See http://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Nu

  4. This is a really interesting article in terms of how grammatical gender might shape feelings and associations of speakers toward objects (e.g. bridge is a feminine noun in German, so a German might think of an elegant bridge with flowers whereas a Spanish person might think of something more robust and manly since the word is masculine in Spanish) – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&ref=magazine

  5. I question your expectation that even a really good poet couldn’t write an exceptional poem with only nouns of only one gender! People have written very good things with all sorts of crazy restrictions… are you familiar with Georges Perec? I gather ‘La disparition’ (or ‘A Void’) is actually pretty good…

  6. Hm, I suppose you’re right. People are able to accomplish lots and unimaginable things, so why not an exceptional gender poem. But then again, evaluating a poem or whatever is rather subjective…

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