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Susan McLean 10-16-2019 01:03 AM

Age Gap
 
Mind the Gap

Women who wed much older men
may find their roles have been reversed
when he grows frail and must be nursed.
They may be troubled by a yen
for younger men they meet, but then
their spent youth won’t be reimbursed.
Perhaps their spouse will not die first,
and if he does, they can’t know when.

Of four young second wives I knew,
one got divorced, re-wed, then died
of cancer; one chose suicide;
one flourished, then got cancer, too;
one stayed—yet they lead separate lives.
Each of the husbands still survives.

Revisions:
S1L8 "and" was "yet"
S2L5 comma replaced by —

John Isbell 10-16-2019 06:09 AM

Hi Susan,

This packs a punch, and the title is one of my all-time favorite British phrases. The second stanza is a bit unexpected, for me - it comes out of left field - but it does neatly concretize the abstractions being reviewed in S1. One detail - since they in S2 is unprepared by mention in that stanza of the husband, I'm tempted to fiddle with punctuation to prepare it. How about an em dash in the middle here? "one stayed, yet they lead separate lives."

Cheers,
John

Susan McLean 10-16-2019 06:28 AM

John, thanks for the suggestion about punctuation, which I have taken. My original sestet did not have enough of a turn, but continued the generalizations of the first stanza and (I felt) misrepresented my attitude toward the women, which is actually sympathetic, not satirical. I wanted to show that the reality is often widely different than the stereotypes of marriages in which there is a gap of 20-30 years between the spouses. A couple of these women were actually third wives, but I didn't think that detail mattered enough to include.

Susan

John Isbell 10-16-2019 06:49 AM

Hi Susan,

Yeah, I like the volta increasingly, having got used to it - S2 works IMO. The repetition of cancer is pretty brutal, but there we go. Life has a way of doing that. I don't think the wives come through as unsympathetic. Their stories play out in real time.

Cheers,
John

Max Goodman 10-16-2019 08:51 AM

In line 8 I think "and" makes more sense than "yet."

Strong ending.

Susan McLean 10-16-2019 09:07 AM

Max, thanks for your suggestion, which I have adopted.

Susan

Andrew Frisardi 10-16-2019 09:42 AM

Susan,

I’m not fully getting the opening sentence, which I do like the sound of though. How is the role reversed, since the women were never frail and needing to be nursed? I think you mean they wanted to be pampered and now they have to do the nurturing. But that would mean the older man was also a well-off man, which isn’t true of all older men. And nurturing is somewhat different from pampering.

Also, “they meet” in line 5 seems like filler: they have a yen for younger men, ones they meet no doubt, but also ones in movies or in their dreams, no? In any case, those two words don’t seem necessary or especially functional.

A thought: the epigrammatic force of the poem might be increased by leaving out lines 4-5 altogether, making line 6 a sentence unto itself, and so creating a string of -ursed rhymes. The sonnet would be lost but you’d have two six-line stanzas.

Just tossing around ideas here, of course, not sure if I’m off the mark or not.

The terse brutality of the second stanza is very effective.

Andrew

Mark Stone 10-16-2019 10:00 AM

Susan, Hi.

1. This is a clever and interesting poem.

2. LL4-5 state:

They may be troubled by a yen
for younger men they meet, but then

When I first read “yen for younger men,” I thought it meant that the women would have a yen for men younger than themselves. But after reading it a couple more times, I concluded that you might mean that the women would have a yen for men younger than their older husbands, i.e., a yen for men about their own age. If that is the case, you could possibly change these lines to read:

They may be troubled by a yen
for men their age they meet, but then

3. If you keep “the younger men” language, I wonder if better use could be made of the feet in L5 by removing “they meet” and replacing it with a second adjective that describes “men.” I don’t think that “they meet” is necessary. Perhaps something like:

They may be troubled by a yen
for sexy younger men, but then

I see that Andrew just posted this same thought.

4. Finally, I have a concern about causation. The poem says that of four women who married older men, two got cancer, one committed suicide, and one is leading a separate life from her husband. To me, the poem implies that the age difference of the spouses caused or contributed to the bad results that ensued. It may have contributed to the one couple living separate lives (since the age difference might mean they have vastly different interests). However, I don’t think that a spousal age difference will necessarily increase the risk of cancer or suicide. I might be the only one who reads the poem this way, and it may be the poem is not intended to imply this, but this is just my two cents worth.

Best wishes,

Mark

Susan McLean 10-16-2019 11:13 AM

Andrew, with regard to the first sentence, I am assuming that women who marry much older men do so not in spite of the age difference, but partly because of it. I think such women are sometimes in search of a kind of daddy to look after them (not necessarily a wealthy man, just an older, authoritative man who makes them feel safe or cherished). In S1L5, I did not think "they meet" was filler. Who would be troubled by a fantasy? But a person you find attractive in real life could be a threat to the marriage.

Mark, I meant the "younger men" to be ambiguous. Definitely younger than the husbands, but possibly younger than the wives, too. As people who were abused as children sometimes become abusers themselves, a much younger spouse may find (when older) an attraction to younger people. See my note above to Andrew on "they meet." I am not implying that marrying an older man killed the wives. Their deaths may be coincidental (though the suicide seems possibly related). It does seem strange that all of the (now quite elderly) men have survived. Perhaps marrying a younger spouse is good for your own health, but not necessarily the spouse's. The one who stayed with her husband is not physically separated from him; they just each spend all of their time doing separate things rather than being together. But not one of the wives was a stereotypical gold-digger, after money or a lavish lifestyle or out to disinherit the children of the man's first marriage. In fact, since I was in academia myself, the women were all students and the men were professors (but not in all cases their own teachers).

Susan

A. Baez 10-16-2019 02:24 PM

This poem is so great in so many ways! You've packed in so much, both in content and in implication, so adroitly, and with just the right amount of openness to interpretation to make these lines feel broadly inclusive. The rhyme scheme heightens the sense of the two gender roles' stereotypes getting mixed up, which makes me feel the resultant discombobulation in a very real way.

However, the first stanza, especially the first three lines, got me off to a troubled start, partly due to pronoun confusion. I grew up being taught that a pronoun refers to the noun that most directly precedes it; however, there also seems to be a commonly accepted convention that it (a pronoun) may refer to the subject of the sentence (usually the first noun). While technically, by the second standard, you can get away with "their" as referring to women, it's confusing and part of me was thinking at that point that you were referring to both women and men. As I continued reading, it became clear that this was not the case and that you were referring to women, but my confusion was given an extra spin straightaway by "he," which, being singular, does not match up with the plural "men." Of course I understand that "he" could be used here in a sort of artful way, as an example of one man, and that's probably what you intend (along with meeting the demands of metrical conformity), but I found it awkward. In addition, I agree with Rick's comment following mine that the tone of these lines (mainly the first three, I'd say) is light, belying what follows, and not in a good way. I'm sure part of this is due to the dactylic variation in the first feet. However, I didn't have a big problem with confusion over the "nurturing" role reversal allusion. As a reader, I'm willing to bridge the gap here between what has been said and what there wasn't space to say. I agree with you, Susan, that "they meet" plays a critical role in its sentence because it is the experience of meeting someone face to face that piques true temptation--at least for women! I can't help but wonder, though if gender differences in this regard may account for the differences in our perceptions and those of the men who've commented so far on this. My sense is that abstract temptation is much more compelling for men--witness the pornography industry and its main target audience. I like the ambiguity of "younger." I see Andrew's point about the potential advantages of removing Ls 4-5, but I think more would be lost than gained by doing so. Having those lines there adds to the sense of interlocking complications piling one on top of another, which makes this poem such a treat. And there is enough detail in S2 that it feels more well balanced, I think, by holding onto the details in Ls 4-5. There is also more continuity in the rhyme scheme by leaving these lines as is, though arguably, the contrast would have virtues of its own.

The litany of the varied fates of the second wives in S2 has great echoes in it of "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived," the grim mnemonic device used to remember the fates of Henry VIII's spouses. The slightly flippant feel of "chose suicide"--as though suicide were a measured, reasonable decision--feels just perfect here, thrown in rather casually as it is with a mishmash of other less alarming outcomes and thus accentuating the random quality of all these events. Being spread out as they all are on a backdrop of perfectly controlled rhyme makes for a lovely contrast. I'm so very sorry, though, that these are all true stories. Finally, I love the anapestic variation in the last line--how it helps to deliver its ironic zinger observation.

Savorable technical details:

alliteration of "yen" and "younger"

internal rhyme of "men" with "yen," etc.--adds another great layer of dizziness!

the extended-metaphor play on words with "reimbursing" a "spent youth"


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