NICHOLAS T. SPATAFORA Engages
Last Call at the Tin Palace by Paul Pines
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2009)
At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and An Introductory Essay by Phillip Lopate
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2010)
The Wisdom of Humility
Too many people overvalue
what they are not.
~Malcolm S. Forbes
The frailty of the ego is exposed in the wake of tribulation. One is often rendered humble in the face of adversity. Humility, however, is paradoxically a necessary factor in emotional fortitude and integrity, poetically and profoundly illustrated in the anthologies of Paul Pines’ Last Call at the Tin Palace and Phillip Lopate’s At the End of the Day. The subjects in these accounts are dealt unfortunate circumstances that ultimately impart liberation from their inflated sense of self. Pines’ “Words” and “Music Theory” illustrate the futility of lies and exaggeration, reminiscent of Aesop’s “The Leap at Rhodes.” Pretense and exposure of oneself are similarly considered in Lopate’s “Charlotte Russe.” Human infirmity, and individual response, is addressed in “Homage to Guy Lombardo” and “The Unexpected Failure.” Love, too, renders one susceptible, and, indeed, any selection of love lyrics presents a literary exposition of the lover’s quintessence and vulnerability as evidenced in Pines’ “Pablito’s Blues” and Lopate’s “In the Dentist’s Chair.”
Individuals fall culpable of falsities and embellishment, illustrates Carl Sandburg. It camouflages one’s insecurities and deceivingly “maintains” “status quo,” ironically sought by all peers within his sphere of competition. “[B]ut what happens when [we] go away[?]” (Pines, “Words,” line 21). When there is no longer an audience? When we are once again confronted by ourselves? Pines’ “Words” features a speaker who has since discovered this syndrome for herself, thus electing silence in the company of others rather than superficiality and hype: “After all the lies / we tell each other & ourselves / what’s there to say…” (18-20)? Charlotte Russe by contrast chooses deceptive and imposturous self-inflation in the midst of her contemporaries, “reveal[ing] a false bottom / [h]alf cake half air,” allusive of the torrid aura frequently spewed by persons of affectation (lines 5-6). Author and poet Sandy McIntosh writes of a narcissistic man, Charley, who presents his fiancée Jane with a marriage stipulation—lose 40 pounds—in “Charley and Jane Were Fooling Around,” one poetic short in “Among the Disappointments of Love,” a seriality of prose narratives featuring love and relationships. Forty pounds later, it is Jane who ironically rejects Charley for being the wearisome individual that he is, a befitting paradigm of karmic humility for an egotist (McIntosh 59).
In “Homage to Guy Lombardo,” the main attraction’s imperfection is ultimately revealed to his disgruntled gathering who witness the fallibility of an ever-fading legend relegated to conducting an orchestra during his final annual strokes of midnight rather than performing in one: “[A]ll you did / was / wave your baton” (lines 94-96). The subject to which this “ode” alludes was in fact humbled by his shortcomings, however, he did manage to adapt to his curtain closing with integrity and resourcefulness, managing a band and humorously entertaining audiences, in stark contradiction to an unnamed performer whose ego is devastated by an unexpected failure (line 30). Lombardo responded modestly and humbly to his change of fate while the latter subject’s epiphanic, catastrophic turn of events renders him reticent and deferential. Pines’ “Music Theory” similarly features a performing artist whose personal vices are revealed, exposing him as the semi-competent wishful dreamer for who he really is:
clearly penitent for being
an embarrassment to himself
takes out his sax and plays
the Frog who says,
I will be a Prince for you.
(lines 10, 12-16)
Love renders one vulnerable, fearful and doubtful. Fear of rejection is a continual threat to the lover’s ego and integrity. Pablito fears that his lover will reject him, that his essence is insufficient and “that [he] [will] appear to be less before [her] than [he] [is]” (lines 13-14). While in the dentist’s chair, a man is summoning thoughts and feelings about a woman who has abandoned him for another. He is despondent and in doubt, questioning the veracity of a love that he had assumed existed: “[I]f I had judged the beloved right on target, / [w]ithout fantasies, there’d be no reason to be upset, / [f]eel rejected or angry at the parting scene?” (lines 162-64). He attempts reason, reassuring himself that the morrow will liberate him from his deprivation (173), and vainly seeks to deter his perseveration in industrious engagement (177).
British Baptist Charles Hadden Spurgeon once said that the higher one is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem. Whether it is “words” of vanity, Ms. Russe’s pretense, Bobby Mover’s and Guy Lombardo’s imperfections, Pablito’s fears of rejection or a dental patient’s despondency over a lost love, the human ego is indeed delicate and vulnerable to penetration, as evidenced in Paul Pines’ Last Call at the Tin Palace and Phillip Lopate’s At the End of the Day. Hence, the speakers in these poetic narratives are ultimately released from personal grandiosity through pain and prostration. Discerning the verses herein, the reader learns that modesty and humility are indeed preferable to self-centered aggrandizement.
Lopate, Phillip. At the End of the Day. New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2010. Print.
---. “Charlotte Russe.” Lopate 96-98.
---. “In the Dentist’s Chair.” Lopate 125-133.
---. “The Unexpected Failure.” Lopate 179.
McIntosh, Sandy. “Charley and Jane Were Fooling Around.” Ernesta in the Style of the
Flamenco. New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2010. Print.
Pines, Paul. Last Call at the Tin Palace. New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2009. Print.
---. “Homage to Guy Lombardo.” Pines 25-27.
---. “Music Theory.” Pines 29.
---. “Pablito’s Blues 1-The Fear.” Pines 22.
---. “Words.” Pines 21.
Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens, and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty‑five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. He is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy,” “Kingdom by the Harbor,” “Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem: A Critical Analysis of a Dying Art,”The Word: An Analysis of The Chained Hay(na)ku Project,“ “The Victims of Circumstance: Abandonment and Estrangement in Jack Lynch’s Girl in the Mirror,” “Make a Wish…and Blow out the Candles: An Explication of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie,” “John C. Goodman’s The Shepherd’s Elegy: One Man’s Inner Pilgrimage,” Anna Rabinowitz’s Present Tense & Paul Pines’s Last Call at the Tin Palace: Suppositions of the Afterlife, featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects, “Love Stories: An Analysis of Eileen R. Tabios’ Silk Egg,” featured in Remé Antonia Grefalda’s Our Own Voice, “Love Loss: Reflections on Eileen Tabios’ The Thorn Rosary,” published by Marsh Hawk Press and Reflections: An Interpretative Analysis of Eileen R. Tabios’ Silences: The Autobiography of Loss, featured in Litter Magazine. Spatafora and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.“