Joyce Huff’s “The Hymn of a Fat Woman”

Image: Poetaster/Professor Joyce Huff  

This frivolous and flawed piece, “The Hymn of a Fat Woman,” displays the ignorance of a speaker, trying to excuse her own corpulence by demeaning slender women saints.

Introduction and Text of “The Hymn of a Fat Woman”

Associate Professor Joyce Huff‘s piece, “The Hymn of a Fat Woman,” fashions a speaker, who is contrasting her own corpulent physical frame with slender saints, who have “starved themselves.”  While the tone of this piece might seem to suggest that the speaker is just whimsically showing her acceptance of her obesity, the underlying assertion reveals that she is likely attempting to unveil a new societal norm, wherein fatism can now compete with racism.

The speaker sets up a dichotomy between herself, an obese woman, and her opposite, the skinny saints. In the postmodern American mainstream culture, especially that of higher education,  the anti-religious, anti-spirituality, anti-church environment often invites the degradation and denigration of the religious, including saints.

In this corpulent speaker’s anti-religious world, she promotes her own proclivities for overconsumption of food as a viable lifestyle, while demonizing those with whom she and her fellow travelers remain blissfully unacquainted. A quick glance at the pictures of some of the most notable saints renders this speaker’s claims obvious prevarications.

As this speaker concentrates on her truth, she misses the actual truth that saints come in all sizes.  Such an oversight renders the poem silly, a foolish conglomeration of images that results not in a poem but a piece of doggerel

The Hymn of a Fat Woman

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

Reading of “Hymn of a Fat Woman”

Commentary

Women saints, as well as men saints, like the public-at-large, come in all sizes. There are skinny saints, there are fat saints, and there are average-framed saints; thus, this piece offers fallacious assertions that a beg to be refuted.

First Movement:   Fasting vs Starvation

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

The speaker begins by asserting, “saints starved themselves.” She has likely heard that saints and other spiritual devotees traditionally observe days of fasting as part of their spiritual, cleansing routine. But to claim that they “starved themselves” is grossly disingenuous.

The speaker then declares that there is not a single saint who is fat. Actually, there are many fat saints, as exemplified by both Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Teresa of Ávila as well as the modern day soon-to-be canonized saint, Mother AngelicaSaint Thomas Aquinas is also noted for being portly.   Despite Saint Jerome’s quip that, “A fat stomach never breeds fine thoughts,” the saintly class does include a number of heavy-set members.

The speaker then claims, “The words ‘deity’ and ‘diet’ must have come from the same / Latin root.” Actually, they do not: “deity” comes from the Latin “deus,” meaning “god.” And “diet” comes from “diaeta,” meaning “mode of living.”   The diphthong “ei” is not etymologically related to the diphthong “ie.”

Image:  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Teresa of Ávila

Second Movement:  Derogatory Colorful Images

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

In the second movement, the speaker continues her vilification, employing very colorful images that are nevertheless derogatory in execution.  Advancing her description, the speaker claims that the women saints were “[h]ard” and “[b]rittle,”  employing details that children and undisciplined adults find distasteful about the spiritual path, for example, my father was fond of recounting his childhood memory of his dissatisfaction with Sunday-go-to-meetin’ because of having to sit so long on the hard pews and having to dress up in his uncomfortable Sunday clothes. 

The speaker then declares that the women were swallowed up by their religious “fervor.” Instead of consuming ample quantities of food themselves, these ghastly-thin saint-women are themselves consumed by their religious dedication and devotion, a clever juxtaposition but devoid of accuracy.

While concocting her own imaginary experience and assigning it to the saints, the speaker is contrasting her ideas of the pleasures of the flesh to the unimagined pleasures that those saints might experience. She is, in effect, erecting straw men, which she thinks she can easily set ablaze with her own imaginary matches.

But because the speaker has identified her views as antithetical to religion and spirituality, her straw men have no real locus from which to offer a useful comparison/contrast, that is, one cannot compare/contrast two sets of facts, if one is acquainted with only one of the two sets.

Image:  Saint Thomas Aquinas

Third Movement:  Allusion Delusion

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

The speaker then speculates about the ability of these skinny skeleton woman to “walk three or four abreast” “down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.” She guesses that they could easily slip through “the eye / of a needle.”

This speaker is alluding again to biblical lore in order to disparage the lives of disciplined woman for whom she, with her own insatiable and ungoverned appetite, possesses no tolerance and about whom she possesses little to no knowledge.  Again, the speaker has employed colorful imagery but in service to the false god of material physicality not transcendent spirituality.

Fourth Movement:    No Science, No Religion

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

In the fourth movement, the speaker gloats that no one will find her kind within the confines that hem round these skinny saints.   She presents herself and her ilk through the braggadocio of of superiority to these skinny freaks because she is a fat woman.

With pride in her own choices, this speaker is glad to announce that she does not partake of the “fervor” that keeps those saintly women looking like bags of bones.  And the speaker obviously deems her own fat body representative of a healthy lifestyle, despite medical evidence to the contrary.  Thus, this speaker is, in fact, ridiculing science as well as religion.

Fifth Movement:  Suspension from Reality

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

Instead of undergoing any physical discipline to bring her rotundity within the realm of moderation, the speaker asserts that she will be found “lolling in the garden / munching on the apples.”  Figuratively and symbolically, the “apple” is a symbol of the fall of Adam and Eve after engaging in sexual experience, but literally the apple, as part of the human diet, is not notorious as a culprit in keeping the human frame covered with excess flesh.

In order to accept the accumulation of fakery in this piece, the reader must engage in some seriously blind “willing suspension of disbelief.” Such willingness is not what Samuel Taylor Coleridge had in mind as he elucidated that critical concept.

Image  Mother Angelica  

Sources

Comments

Joyce Huff’s “The Hymn of a Fat Woman” originally appeared on HubPages, and it had garnered the following comments from my followers; they are listed newest to oldest.  I have included my responses:

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 15, 2021:

Thank you, Teodora, for your response. I agree with your evaluation of the merits of the piece. It is pathetic when folks attempt to denigrate others to absolve their own flaws. And even more atrocious is attempting to create a poem out of such base motivation.

Have a blessed day!

Teodora Gheorghe on September 15, 2021:

A very thorough analysis of a poem that seems to convey a rather feeble attempt at sarcasm masking a deep frustration and suffering in regard to the author’s physical appearance. While understandable, I’m afraid it fails to impress… I am a very sensitive person, but I find it rather difficult to empathize with the poet. On a side note, I am delighted to read your poetry commentaries. I studied English literature in college.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 15, 2021:

Thank you, Umesh, for the kind words.

Not an enjoyable piece. I plan to avoid these pieces of doggerel from now on. I had written a commentary on this one a while back, so I decided to revise it, but concentrating on works like this has become a fool’s errand.

Have a blessed day, Umesh!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 15, 2021:

Interesting. Well analysed.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 15, 2021:

Thank you, OLUSEGUN! Pleasant to hear from you.

Actually, I am in the process of converting from this kind of negative criticism to that of a positive nature. I have been of the notion that it is useful for bad poetry to be highlighted alongside good, in order to assist beginners in the study. I am now rethinking that stance.

So glad you found the piece useful. Hope you have a blessed day!

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 15, 2021:

Thank you for commenting, John! Nice to hear from you.

You wrote: “It seems to me that Joyce Huff was being totally sarcastic in regard to the saints, making no real attempt to keep the poem factual.”

My response: But sarcasm cannot work unless it is based on facts—or at least, based on the opinion of the one employing the sarcasm. It is neither fact nor opinion that “All of the saints starved themselves. / Not a single fat one.” Perhaps the writer of the piece “thinks” that all the saints are skinny—sorry, but like ignorance of the law is no excuse; ignorance of the facts is no excuse in poetry.

It certainly is not factual nor opinion that “deity” and “diet” are etymologically Latin-based related. Although the juxtaposition at first may seem clever, because it does not hold up under scrutiny, it falls flat.

I am willing to concede that the writer of the piece may be trying to be whimsical, but she fails to achieve a believable discourse because of her many inaccurate claims. If she is employing sarcasm or even exaggeration, she is misusing those literary devices.

For example, regarding sarcasm: what does the sarcasm serve? Does it serve to enhance the desirability of the saints’ thinness or does it serve to uphold the speaker’s acceptance of her own fatness? In order to be effective, sarcasm still must remain truthful; it may be ironic, or it may exaggerate, but in either case, it must still focus on reality, not clear inaccuracies.

If the speaker wished to concoct a sarcastic or exaggerated stance, she might have chosen one or two actual, emaciated saints and concentrate on their habits, instead of stating the easily debunked lie, “All of the saints starved themselves. / Not a single fat one.”

In this piece, I think it is clear that this speaker is railing against the saints’ thinness and arguing for her own stance supporting the desirability of remaining obese. But instead of employing viable literary devices, such as sarcasm and exaggeration, she is relying solely on literal provably false assertions.

OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on September 15, 2021:

Clearly elucidated. Good work

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 15, 2021:

I enjoyed reading your analysis of this poem, Linda. It seems to me that Joyce Huff was being totally sarcastic in regard to the saints, making no real attempt to keep the poem factual. Thank you for sharing.

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