Metaphors in Praying Drunk
In Andrew Hudgins’ poem, Praying Drunk, the speaker portrays the act of writing as something important, mysterious, and difficult when sober, and compares it to the act of praying, which, for him, is equally complicated. The entire poem is in the form of a prayer, which provides an insightful look at the motivations for faith, the pursuit of truth, and the struggle to come to terms with both. When these ideas are applied to the act of writing, they reveal the complex struggle that a writer faces in developing confidence in his own ideas, while maintaining a degree of credibility that will encourage an audience to care about what he has written.
The poem begins with the speaker addressing God as “Our Father who art in heaven” (1.1). If this prayer is a metaphor for writing, it would seem that the he is actually speaking to the audience, the group of people who will ultimately judge his writing and his ideas. The casual nature of the prayer is partly based on the fact that the speaker is admittedly drunk on red wine, but also because the writer is trying to establish a relationship with his audience: A rapport with his readers is important to a writer’s success. He thanks his readers for the red wine, because it is they who have made it possible for him to maintain a lifestyle wherein he can afford the wine, and this wine acts as the liquid courage he needs to write in the first place.
The speaker in this poem claims that praying follows a “simple form,” because it “keeps things in order” (1.7-8). This can also be said about writing; at least the kind of writing that follows a prescribed formula, such as, the sonnet or the five-paragraph essay. Writers often use these structures, because the methods are established and have been proven successful in the past. This speaker, however, expresses difficulty in following a formula. In a prayer, one should start with praise, while in traditional writing; one usually begins with a main idea or a chosen topic. “Praise comes hard” (1.3-4) to this speaker, however, because he stutters. His trouble with articulating praise can be compared to the writer’s inability to find the right words or the appropriate place to begin a piece of writing. This dilemma is often referred to as “writer’s block.” Praying drunk seems to relieve this problem, however, and he proceeds to discuss a woman, whom he taught this prayer or writing formula. Perhaps she is an aspiring writer who has asked him for guidance in her writing. He asks his readers to take care of her, which is a plea for them to give her ideas the same attention that they have given his writing. With this request, he is deviating from the blueprint, to which he is trying to adhere, which suggests that writing, much like life, does not always follow a prescribed formula, and that creative ideas do not always conform to the standard.
The speaker returns to the prayer structure in the second stanza when he begins his confession, “the dreary part” (2.1). He considers his confession to be dismal, because much of it focuses on his desperate attempts to work within the constructs of the expectations of his audience. He cannot figure out why deer are beautiful, because he thinks “they’re like enormous rats on stilts” (2.3), and he recalls trying to shoot and kill rats when he was twelve. This shows a conflict between what the speaker feels and what his audience expects. The deer and the rats represent the preconceived notions of his readers regarding what constitutes good writing and that which is bad. He expresses how difficult it is to conform to these opinions and to change these attitudes, because they want “to live more savagely” (2.13-14) than he does. They are so entrenched in the readers’ minds, that it is futile to try to extract them. The speaker’s garden, which the deer eat, is synonymous with the store of his creative ideas. As a writer, he is watching his garden disappear because he is limited to producing the type of writing that his audience anticipates, and many of his ideas may not live up to these standards. He could “plant more beans” (2.16), or concoct new ideas to write about, but he assumes that these will also be rejected.
The speaker’s lack of faith in his writing is addressed in the third stanza when he confesses to hoping that a giant wave would “come and wash the whole world clean” (3.6). He wants to eliminate his reader’s expectations, so that he will be free to create in an environment where the audience has nothing with which to compare his writing. This desire is compared with the sin of despair, and for him, it is the belief that nothing he writes will ever be adequate when evaluated in the current context. He admits that this is his favorite sin, and he celebrates it with wine and prayer. When applied to the writing process, his despair is likely the cause of his stuttering or “writer’s block.” He is telling the reader that in order to overcome hopelessness and to find the courage to write, he must drink.
It is apparent that the speaker is not satisfied with the customary practice of recycling writing material when he compares it to the act of one elephant searching for “the goodies hidden in the lump” (4.10) of feces from another elephant’s ass. He is suggesting that audiences ask for so little in life when they commend hackneyed methods of writing for the simple reason that these concepts were once considered fresh and brilliant. He is also reflecting on the fact that he feels stifled by these uninspiring styles of writing, and compares himself to a monkey who, in order to be successful, must model the great writers of the past. Throughout the poem, as he “lurch[es] from metaphor to metaphor” (4.18), which he claims is a form of praying, he is using a traditional poetic device, which illustrates his formal confinement.
In the final stanza, the speaker continues with his prayer to the reader and solicits a means of escape. He is embarrassed to ask, because it is “as if [he’s] stayed up late and called the radio and asked they play a sentimental song” (5.2-3). He feels as though his request is meaningless to anyone other than himself or, perhaps, other writers who appreciate his plight. He asks for the usual, “a lot of money and a woman” (5.4), but more importantly, he asks for vanishing cream. He expects that the vanishing cream will allow him to be invisible, while allowing his audience to be aware that he still exists. He compares the ability to be invisible to the nature of his audience, the group of people that is out there, somewhere, waiting to judge his next piece. Invisibility would grant him the capability to relate to his readers and to understand what they want from him. This would give him the wisdom to create on another plane, one that deviates from the norm, while still producing something that his audience will want to read. He would not need to have faith in himself or his ideas, because he would be taking no risks.
Even with his prayer, and his wine-induced courage, the speaker still despairs. He compares himself to “the poor jerk who wanders out on air and then looks down” and “below his feet, he sees eternity,” when he realizes that “suddenly his shoes no longer work on nothingness” (5.12-15). It is as though he is submitting to the reality that, if he steps beyond the safe borders of the proven approaches to writing, there is no magic potion that will guarantee his success. Nevertheless, he appears to be willing to take his chances, and, ironically, he does so with this prayer, which is stylistically unconventional. In a desperate attempt to remind his readers that he was once considered a good writer in the event that this poem does not meet their traditional standards, he makes one final request: “As I fall past, remember me” (5.16).
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