What Can We Steal From Elizabeth Powell’s “Match.com/Matthew Likes Buttered Toast, Vulnerability…”?
Title of Work and its Form: “Match.com/Matthew Likes Buttered Toast, Vulnerability…”, poem
Author: Elizabeth Powell
Date of Work: 2011
Where the Work Can Be Found: The poem appeared in Issue 9 of New Ohio Review. Ms. Powell’s poem won a Pushcart Prize and was included the 2013 anthology.
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Concept
“My love lives in a little tiny box/ Made of pixels and engineering.” So begins “Match.com,” a poem whose narrator describes action on an online dating site. If you are starting a relationship with another person on a dating site, doesn’t the other person really “live in a tiny box?” Don’t they “make” the person when they write them? The poem ends on something of a sad turn, a reminder that people never really belong to each other. Do we ever really know one another, or do we simply create an image of people in our heads?
Elizabeth Powell was very shrewd in composing the poem. What was her smarted idea? (In my view, at least?) She knew she was writing about online dating, so she thought about it a lot and decided to show the reader a different side of something they already knew. Poems are great places for a writer to reconceptualize cultural touchstones. If you try to show people the dark side of Disney World, for example, in a novel, you have to write a whole bunch of pages and come up with a plot and all of that stuff. In a poem, however, it’s perfectly acceptable to present some ideas and keep them at the forefront. Sure, there’s a narrator and a dramatic situation, but these are not as “important” as the work Ms. Powell is doing in making the reader think about human relationships.
By the same principle, if you set your screenplay in a burger joint, you have to work with what you will have around you. Burgers, grills, vegetables, drive-through microphones, terrible music, salads that don’t sell because burgers taste way better… Your characters should interact with these objects at some point, right?
What Can We Steal?
- Employ your title in the service of your story. Titles don’t have to be a simple reflection on what is happening in your piece. The title of this poem actually does some big work: it informs the reader immediately that the poem is all about the world of the online personal ad.
- Brainstorm and make use of the different facets of the phenomenon or object you’re writing about. “What do you do on a dating site? You write the other person…you see pictures, but these pictures have been carefully chosen…you’re really inventing the person you want to meet.” See how this mental process can work?