In these poems the poets explore the theme of relationships. One poem deals with grief about divorce whilst the other tackles the taboo topic of death. While “Long Distance” is a poem about the abundance of love, conquering even death, “The Sick Equation” is about the total lack of it. Both poems share the themes of ‘family’ and ‘love’, but there are also many contrasts too. ‘The Sick Equation’ by Brian Patten is a poem which portrays a young child’s struggle to cope with the ‘adult world’ and the long-term effects his parents’ quarrelling has on him.
This poem deals mainly with divorce, and the child’s response and feelings towards it. Therefore, it is indeed a very hard-hitting poem. As well as tackling the topic of divorce, he also writes about the overall concepts of growing up and the difference such changes make in later life. Long Distance’ by Tony Harrison begins to talk about the widowed father’s reaction to the death of his beloved wife. The poem shows the reader how the man deals with the situation and portrays that he seems to be in a state of denial.
Although he still manages to deal with it, pretending that his wife is still around and performing many actions as if she was still with him. “And still went to renew her transport pass” this line tells the reader that the man still believes his wife is with him, however later on in the poem, we are assured he is completely sane, and understands the death of his wife as he writes “to clear away her things and look alone’’. The vocabulary and writing techniques used in ‘Long Distance’ are very strong, and surprisingly, not very sensitive. This is not exactly what one would expect in a poem dealing with mourning and death.
The opening line for example, “Though my mother was already two years dead” Harrison is very straight forward and blunt in introducing the topic within this poem. Although the word ‘dead’ may seem quite casual, it is quite strong and moving, the poet hasn’t tried to ‘sugar coat’ the topic as such. ‘Though’ is also used, as if to say his mother has been gone for a while now, yet his father is still trying to get over the loss. The blunt and brutal words used, combined with the simple yet effective rhyming structure enable the poem to be understood quickly, making the poem even more ‘hard hitting’.
In some ways the reader may feel sorry for the man. His love is obviously very strong and he doesn’t seem to be able to let it go. The many different techniques used increase the impact of the poem on the reader themselves and makes the understanding of the poem a lot easier. “Though sure that very soon he’d hear her key scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief” the onomatopoeic word ‘scrape’ enables the reader to come out of the surreal thoughts about the poem and consider the brutality of what has happened. This poem is called “Long Distance” because death is the longest distance possible.
This dark irony is mirrored in ‘The Sick Equation’, where the title describes that even though 1+1=2, at home 1+1 stays 1+1. Patten is possibly talking about the child’s parents and even though they are still married, they stay separate. The language and poetic techniques used in ‘The Sick Equation’ are very effective. Not only do they add suspense and tension to the poem, they help with the understanding also. For example the onomatopoeia “Stung more than any teachers’ cane” is, like the rest of the poem very hard hitting. In the first stanza the emotions are very mixed, quite confusing, and just like the topic and layout of the poem itself.
Not until quite late on in the poem is the reader certain as to what exactly the problem is that the poet is addressing. Never-the-less, when it hits the reader it is indeed rather mind-blowing and emotional. ‘Long Distance’ is a very strong poem. Not only because of what is actually said, but also because of what can be interpreted from the scenario. When reading the poem it may be especially difficult for the reader not to dig deeper and think about the real meaning and situation. It is clear that the poet tackles the difficult subject of grief from the first line.
Not only does he intend for the reader to know of his actions, the poet would also want the reader to understand why he is doing, what he is doing. Again mentioning the opening line, “Though my mother was already 2 years dead”, the writer uses no form of euphemism. The lack of euphemism and understatements throughout the poem, shows us just how strongly the poet feels about what he is saying and is not scared of speaking ‘the truth’. Although the ideas within the poem are indeed complicated and almost scary to understand, the structure of which it is written in is simple.
This is both useful to the reader and effective. Having a simple rhyming structure can help the reader to understand the poem, and focus on what is being said rather than getting to grips with the structure of it. In the first 3 verses an ABAB, quatrains structure is used. In contrast, in the final verse a couplet is used. The reader may understand that this is in result of the poet changing from talking about his father to his self, hence changing the structure and flow. In juxtaposition, the structure of ‘The Sick Equation’ is almost the opposite. The structure of which it is written in is complicated, and jumbled.
Although, once getting to grips with the idea and meaning of the poem, reading it is simple. ‘The Sick Equation’ is obviously to do with the failure of the relationship, however, towards the end of the poem, we learn that the sick equation, like all other mathematical equations, can be balanced. The rhyming and written structure of the poem seems to come together more at the end. The final two stanzas are written in the same format, suggesting that towards the end of the poem the poet is more certain in what he is saying, becomes more confident perhaps.
To conclude, both poems reflect on the way both authors have copied their parents’ actions, much to their dismay. In ‘The Sick Equation’ the writer fears not loving again, he is scared that all the fighting and arguing in his parents relationship will also occur in his own relationships. Whereas in ‘Long Distance’ towards the end of the poem the reader finds out that the man contradicts himself. The poet ends the poem with “and the disconnected number I still call” here the reader discovers that the writer has done the same as his father, however much he hates his father’s way of dealing with his wife’s death, his way of coping is the same.