“The Poem is a Substitute for Love” was the title I picked to analyze in my free write yesterday. I think Mike Rose picked this title, not only because it was a line from a poem he remembered, but because he believed English was consuming his life. This chapter is about his time spent in graduate school on his UCLA fellowship, and as he submersed himself deeper in the world of academia, the more he was sacrificing in the way of a social life. He was beginning to substitute this inanimate thing—words on a page—for human connection, sacrificing everyone he cared about for a future career that he wasn’t even sure about. Even though he was keeping in touch with his friends through letters and sending them his poems, it wasn’t really a physical connection. He couldn’t hear their voices or see their faces, and he couldn’t offer an instant response to anything they write. Again, it was just another substitute for connection with words. This was also the time he became disillusioned with getting an English degree because it was driving him away from the people he cared about and a little bit insane. It felt like he had no purpose, no sense of belonging or of who he really was.
Finally, I think that this idea then makes the image of his comatose father and Rose apologizing through his tears becomes even more poignant—he’s apologizing for giving up his fellowship after all the sacrifices he and his family made to get him there, but he’s never really come to terms with his father’s death or got to say goodbye, and he’s never felt more alone than in this moment, giving up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like his fellowship, and he has no one to confide in.