Dan Schneider’s Poem: You Are All Desire (And Commentary on the Poetic Meta Game)

Lately I’ve been looking up some Go strategy and Chess strategy, and, in the past, I’ve had experience with playing trading card games like Magic: The Gathering. Anyway, all this is leading up to some conception of poetry, and Art/Lit/Media in general, that is slightly more different than the aesthetic theories that many people seem to subscribe to.

Coming across Dan Schneider’s poetry is contributing to some of that, because it feels as though he’s playing the medium of poetry like an elaborate game – making artistic decisions with sound intellectual foundations while also considering the ‘meta’ – as any good card player would. It’s really exciting because it feels as though he’s the first person who conceives of it like that – and it has a lot of implications for the future of creation in general.

Okay, lemme get a bit into some gaming terminology here. In MTG and other kinds of card games, people usually say that there’s the game itself, but there’s also the metagame. A trading card game is a type of game that requires both logic and creativity, moreso than many other types of games. This is because there’s an always changing card pool that you draw your resources from, and although limited, its vast enough (provided that the makers balance the cards properly) that there can be many many many options as to what sort of deck you want.

Half of the game is decided before competition itself begins, because much of your victory comes from reading the probable strategies of the other players out there and creating a deck to counter that. If you are a good player on a field but have a deck that isn’t fit for the competition, you’ll lose against a normal player as long as they have a deck that can easily trump yours. Then again, because you’re still dealing with human variables, it could also go in the way where your skills on the mat, combined with the other player’s bad moves, will lead to your victory – but you have to be very lucky for that to happens enough times for you to get to the final round.

Reading the poetry of Dan Schneider is like watching some guy take the entirety of Literature as a meta-game, and countering it with his own deck. Choosing the areas where people haven’t yet staked out their artistic communication – and tailoring his own works such that it fits into those cracks. Dan is a beastly writer that wants to cover all the bases possible such that his words will shine out above all the rest in the long run – to the point where anyone who can perceive what he’s doing will have no choice but to find his works unforgettable and built on the strongest structures. As he himself stated in his own video on artistic realities:

“If you just read something at a straight narrative level and get something from it – great. If you can read it at an allusive level – great. If you can read it at a metaphorical level and a political level and then a philosophical level…I wanna do some poems that aren’t self contained. I wanna do some poems that are dependent to a certain degree on other works and what not. Why wouldn’t I wanna do all poems in all kinds of ways? I wanna do all things in all (words?) which is why I call my show Omniversica and I prefer the term Omniverse to Multiverse when it comes to physics because a Multiverse – the presumption is its multiples of this universe. For me, Omni is better than Multi cuz Multi just says ‘many-of-things’. Omni says ‘many things in many ways’.”

And, in this case, I want to focus on one of his love sonnets, entitled: “You Are All Desire”:

YOU ARE ALL DESIRE

My needs, they fall away from me. (Dull flesh-
can it convince itself?) They are: oxygen-
to flame each breath; sources of food and water-
to quell the instinctual ravening
brought by you; sources of clothing and shelter-
to protect my body from the world’s duress.

My needs, they fall away from me. Not you,
my love, for you are verging on somethingness,
like the full beats of my growing heart, which falls
likewise itself, in infinite crashes
into conflagrations which are only all
that keeps my sonnetry in this small purview

which falls from me to you. Should you inquire:
You are not a need. You are all desire.

Dan himself has stated that Love Poetry is one of the hardest kinds of poetry to get into and stake out something great, because it’s a subject that has been so utterly overdone that you have to fight against everyone from Shakespeare to Cummings to Neruda to Berryman who have already communicated all sorts of things about it in their own poetry.

So, by looking at how Dan fares in the micro and meta, we can see how his ‘counter-deck’ method of poetry works.

My needs, they fall away from me. (Dull flesh-
can it convince itself?) They are: oxygen-
to flame each breath; sources of food and water-

The very title – ‘You Are All Desire’ – immediately tells the reader that this is a Love Poem, but this is where the magic starts. The fact that Dan used ‘Desire’ rather than, say… ‘You Are The One I Love’ – doesn’t place it in that definite boundary. How he teases out the meaning from this word ‘Desire’ will be explored as the poem continues.

So we begin with the first line. In the linguistic possibility space of the poem, Dan chooses to begin with ‘My needs…’ and the line itself is smooth in its rhythm, but this is where he begins to work on his intellectual counter. Since he’s chosen to attack the field of Love Poetry, he has to start with something that calls that to mind, and this opening line seems to be a very standard opening of talking about the lover’s all-encompassing nature, eliminating even ‘needs’.

Yet, there’s the parenthetical ‘(Dull flesh-‘ there, which jars the thought, even though it still falls into the normal message. For example, with a more Shakespearean or old view might have come up with something like:

My needs, they fall away from me. My dull flesh is brightened in your view.

But Dan’s attack begins in the next line, where he ends the thought with ‘can it convince itself?’ – which is talking about whether love can indeed transcend its biological station. Suddenly, the ‘needs vs desires’ theme is set up, and then there’s the introduction of the word ‘oxygen’. This innocuous word is actually like an atomic bomb in terms of creativity, because it reeks of the scientific turn that counters the normal love poem tone.

But, immediately after setting ‘oxygen’ – he describes it as ‘flaming each breath’ – and we are back into the linguistic realm of the normal Love Poem, where fire is a standard motif. Yet, notice how this love poem conceit is used not to describe the lover, but to describe the needs. Desire has to fight against the ‘fires’ of life itself in biological necessity. Immediately afterwards, it returns to the realm of science with ‘sources of food and water’ – which has a very documentarian tone to it (“the animal has to find sources of food and water to survive”).

to quell the instinctual ravening
brought by you; sources of clothing and shelter-
to protect my body from the world’s duress.

This biological tone is continued in the next line with ‘instinctual ravening’ – and yet ‘quell’ is a poetic turn. Then – another attack in the next line – love returns as a conceit when Dan switches it so that the ravening is not brought by biology but ‘brought by you’. Yet, he simultaneously attacks the next line – enjambing at ‘sources of clothing and shelter’ – to make it seem as though it reads that the ‘sources of clothing and shelter is brought about by you’.

Go professionals will tell you how the game is played with a balance of attack and defence. You have to lay pieces down to push forward, but also draw back to solidify those areas you’ve staked out on. The best moves are those that can attack and defend at the same time. When you read Dan’s poem here, it feels like he’s doing the same in these two linguistic realms of the Love Poem and scientific description – after choosing his meta-theme (Love Poem), he chose an approach to enter (Biological Need vs Mental Desire) – and now he’s killing it by playing like Go Seigen. He attacks from one realm, but swaps over, and uses that other field to solidify his previous realm. This balance is so subtle that it requires an extremely close reading to see its power.

Final part of the stanza, ‘protect my body from the world’s duress’ does the same. It solidifies the biological description from the last line, but it also provides an intellectual split between body and world – returning back to the overarching theme. Combined with the ‘brought about by you’ & ‘instinctual ravening’ – this ‘duress’ could either be read as the ravening caused by the lover, or the lover protecting against the biological realm of Nature. The fact that it encompasses both ambiguities is what makes the poem so strong. It is not a description, not a noun – but a verb. When reading it you feel yourself within this struggle.

My needs, they fall away from me. Not you,
my love, for you are verging on somethingness,
like the full beats of my growing heart, which falls

From here on, the rest of the poem will turn away from that biological view, and return to the cosmic love tone. The first line is a restatement of the struggle that occurred in the first stanza, but now it seems as though love has won, because the needs have fallen away. Yet there is still an ambiguity, because the enjamb makes it read like ‘my needs fall away from me, but not you’ – so is a great twist that makes a small comment on unrequited love – how it can be so directly affecting to the lover but not the person who is the subject of that love. The next line uses an abstraction ‘verging on somethingness’ – which opens up the theme into many avenues, making the poem feel larger. But in this case it also has the philosophical implication that its talking about how love, an immaterial thing, can become ‘something’ against the material world of needs. So the abstraction still fits within the theme. And, the next line roots the abstraction down into a full simile – ‘the full beats of my growing heart, which falls’ – which is both calling back to that theme, by creating this physicality where the abstraction, love, is tied to the beating of the heart. The enjamb at ‘which falls’ is a continuation of the love phrase of ‘falling for someone’.

likewise itself, in infinite crashes
into conflagrations which are only all
that keeps my sonnetry in this small purview

‘Likewise itself’ is a turn that is very much grammatical play – because the previous line was a simile describing how the lover was like a beating heart – but this extends it from simile into the speaker’s own direct palpitation – extended with ‘infinite crashes’. The next line, ‘conflagrations which are only all’ enjambs at that ‘all’ to bring out the ‘all-encompassing’ nature of the love, while the crashes and conflagrations place make it ambiguous whether the poet thinks that it’s a good thing or a bad, possibly destructive, thing – a very old theme of course – since Donne. The final line is very Shakespearean in its opening up of the theme to the poem itself, but it also seems to be a twist, because Shakespeare was all about the Immortality of words with his:

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

But this is a lessening compared to the previous grandiose hyperbole about conflagrations. It talks about how his sonnet is actually hindered and stuck into this theme rather than opening up. It could be read as a meta-attack on love poetry itself, the overdone genre that people keep writing bad fluff in, when they could be writing about other stuff – like Bela Kiss the murderer, or Comic Books, or Poverty.

which falls from me to you. Should you inquire:
You are not a need. You are all desire.

This couplet is the BOMB. It wraps everything up in such a nice package. It calls back to the standard motif of the poet’s dedication to love in the ‘which falls from me to you’ – but notice how the last line restates the theme of this struggle between need and desire, yet it also seems to be an admonishment. Dan has given his abstract lover his poem, but taking into consideration the ‘small purview’ – is this a dedication or a putting away? Perhaps, the finality of the last line is Dan, the poet, firmly stating how small love is in the view of greater needs – and he’s throwing it away, relinquishing it to his greater duty to art. But the entire poem is also about that struggle. Does love win in the end as a thing that can overcome needs? Or is it unmasked as merely a fading desire? The poem encompasses these two views, and puts it into action. Some will perceive it as victory, others, as falling away. It doesn’t matter to Dan – he has staked his poem into your cognitive ground such that it fits your view of it while also dragging you out into the other view by posing it as a question.

But notice, overall, how clear the effects are, both in the wider scope and within the poem itself. How so much is a subversion of tropes, while simultaneously honouring them. It feels written with extremely clear intellectual objectives in mind – and yet it also flows naturally. This is called winning at both the meta-game and within the game itself. It goes against the idea of poetic spontaneity and wild passionate creativity (although it could also have been written within that state), and shows how poetry can be created on the firmest and clearest intellectual foundations. One of the comparisons that Dan has used to describe poetry before is claiming that poetry is like a High Jump Event while novels are like running a Marathon – one is about years of training condensed into the burst of a single moment, while the other is about sustained effort, though it doesn’t have to be as focused. But, because of that, good poetry is still hard and requires effort – and it can’t be done by just anyone.

So, I also wish to remove myself from that mindset of ‘wild individualistic creativity’ – and wish to understand how the sublime is built on clarity and the development of meaning. How, despite ambiguities and obscurities, it can be just as much a high intellectual process as the other fields. Until people realize this, and talk about it in these terms, and become better at their critique of these things – there will always be the naysayers who think that it’s merely a fancy born from silly passionate intensities. But, these people will just have to remember – It is not a need, it is ALL desire.

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