BY AJA MONET & MEGHANN PLUNKETT
Narrative shapes our capacity to imagine. There are common images we are taught that limit or expand our worldview. I grew up Christian and my poems were obsessed with all things angels, heaven, and God. It was freshman year, the first week of orientation at Sarah Lawrence College. I walked anxiously toward the open mic to share a poem.
Meghann Plunkett just finished reciting a piece about the devil serving dinner in a diner. I was shocked, who writes poems about the devil? It turned my perspective of spirituality upside down. Plunkett’s poem humanized the devil and offered depth and character, a sense of compassion or complication. I was too busy writing poems about God and unaffected by the perspective of the devil, traditional skepticism rose with the mention of the word.
A few weeks later, we ran into each other at a mutual friend’s dorm room. We remembered each other’s poems from the open mic and began talking about our love for poetry. Plunkett had a quick sense of humor and I sensed her disbelief in religion while I clenched closely to my faith in God. Although, we both approached creation and spirituality from two different perspectives, we valued each other’s love for words, language, imagery, and reciting poems. We became good friends over the years and I am always intrigued by how Plunkett alters perspective through imagination.
Her poems have strong metaphors and touch the intangible while shaking loose traditional human attachments, ideas, stories, or myths. Plunkett’s poems shift assumptions to their core. One never leaves a poem the same as they entered. I come away forever changed by the vision conveyed. She introduces new concepts or ways of seeing the world and her poem "Human" does just that.
The speaker boasts of human sophistication while addressing a silenced goldfish. It represents a sentiment of the vulnerable or the often unheard. It reveals a sense of arrogance in the human so boastful, impressed by human achievements and privileges, until midway through, the speaker flips the poem upside down. It encourages humility while exposing human fragility from the perspective of God looking at us as if we are now the goldfish. The poem confronts our assumptions about humanity and encourages us to ponder our perspective of self-centered importance in the universe.
I often share this poem with students of all ages in poetry workshops. Every time, I sense they leave with a new impression on their own importance and arrogance toward the earth, its creatures, and even themselves. It is a poem that shakes up our preconceived notions of what it means to be human and why we are here. Plunkett’s irony isn’t so subtle and reminds me of Lucille Clifton’s "Cruelty." She states something so profound quite simply and creates a sort of introspective mirror for the reader. We leave with a new awareness of our interconnectedness and yet also of our self-centeredness.
Meghann Plunkett takes these large concepts such as humanity and God in a way that reminds me of the poem she read years ago in college. Plunkett’s voice is perfect and imaginative like a wise child. "Human" complicates our existence and how grand we assume we are yet how small we can be in the grand scheme of it all. What best fits this poem than an animation? The animation is fluid and the words carry Plunkett’s images instead of the other way around. Andrés Fernández Cordón did an amazing job capturing the simply profundity of the poem with his drawings.
The animator has only added to the sense of travel through "Human." One feels as if we are utterly present, here on earth. And yet, simultaneously, so very far away looking back or within. The music, produced and composed by Shayfer James, leads us through this poem as if it is a children’s bedtime story flawlessly. The recording is comforting, clear and also mysterious.
This is the poem we share with our children for years to come, the one we continue to revisit, even as elders looking back. It preserves some part of us that used to imagine beyond symbols. "Human" confronts the ego’s projection onto other images or objects of our imagination.
Meghann Plunkett is a poet, performer, coder and feminist. Her work has appeared in national and international literary journals including Muzzle Magazine, The Paris-American, Simon & Schuster's anthology Chorus, and Southword. She teaches creative workshops at Omega Institute and co-directs a children's summer camp called Writers' Week Aboard the Black Dog Tall Ships in Martha's Vineyard. Currently, Meghann is an MFA candidate at Southern Illinois University.
A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College (2009), Aja Monet received her BA in Liberal Arts. She then went on to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2011). Aja Monet’s poems have appeared in the NY Times (April 2007) and in television programs as far away as Germany and Australia. She independently published her first book of poetry, The Black Unicorn Sings (Penmanship books, 2010) and collaborated with poet/musician Saul Williams on the book Chorus: a literary mixtape (MTV books/Simon & Schuster, 2012).