Thursday Poems: I’m Not a Man by Harold Norse

Well would you look at this nonsense! It’s Thursday already AND I’m on time! Nailing this. This week, I want to talk about a poem that hit home with me quite strongly. And it’s exceptional that it was written in 1972. I only discovered its author in this big book I bought in a used bookstore, which was called The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. It had poets I liked and knew and so I bought it. Harold Norse was a wonderful surprise.

Honestly, I felt that reading this poem was like being solidly beaten in a boxing match. Which is an amusing allegory considering the content, style and emotion evoked in the poem itself. The poem opens with a strong uppercut:

I’m not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family.
I have acne and a small peter.

BAM! You know what this poem’s going to be like. I have often felt like this due to the way “manliness” is described in our culture, especially as I am a slight guy who writes poetry and has long hair. Especially in a culture that can be as aggressively masculine as Australia’s.

I’m not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars.
I like to express my feeling. I even like to put an arm
around my friend’s shoulder.

Phew. Yeah. That final line there in that stanza drives it right, for me. That masculinity is not only about hiding your own feelings, your hurts, but about only cheering up your friends with sports/breasts/alcohol, not by listening to them and, if unable to offer advice, just tell them, “Man, that sucks, I’m here for you”. And that physical contact is to be limited to upper arm punches – weak or strong, depending on the friendship and the level of depression present in the object of cheering up efforts.

I’m not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks.
I do not get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should
love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

Throat punch. That equivalency of “being a man” with raping a woman. That’s some rough shit right there. And it’s frightening. That the aggression, power, and sexual dominance are held up as manly…yeah, I don’t need to finish that sentence. I also love the equivalency between the racism and nationalism with the depiction of “manliness”. That rings scarily true to me. See: white, European history.

This whole poem is actually summed up well in the next couple of one line stanzas:

I’m not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I’m not a man. I do not feel superior to women

There it is. As a fun side note, crying used to be seen as quite manly (See entry #4 in that article) – at least, amongst kings and soldiers – because it showed that you cared.

Pictured: pretty fucking manly.

Pictured: pretty fucking manly.

The final line, though, that’s the K.O. in this poem that ends the boxing metaphor I started and sort of half-abandoned:

I’m not a man. I don’t want to destroy you

Oh, yeah. So, think about what society expects of you and your gender. And then question the shit out of it, because, in the end, we are who we are, and no set of preconceived stereotypes is enough to cage and define us. Be you. Be the best you that you can be.



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