In-Depth Look: EJ Schoenborn – “Controversial Opinion: In Defense of Cargo Shorts”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“My body and cargo shorts are both thought of as disposable.”
In a weird coincidence, I once also wrote a poem called “In Defense of Cargo Shorts.” I only ever performed it a couple of times, so I’m sure EJ hasn’t heard it. But it speaks to the power of that particular symbol, and of symbolism more generally. So much of poetry is “digging in” to a particular image, or moment, or object in order to unearth something meaningful, something that might transform how people understand an issue or idea via that symbol.
And what a symbol. Cargo shorts, culturally, carry so much baggage related to class, culture, gender, and beyond. Every now and again, there’ll be a think-piece or listicle up on fashion sites or pop culture blogs talking about how terrible cargo shorts are, and if you don’t think critically about them, it can be easy to just laugh them off. But if you do take a moment to dig a little deeper, you might unearth some powerful questions about the relationships between identity and expression, culture and consumerism.
This poem uses that symbol in such a specific and powerful way, also utilizing the structural tool of “the turn” (how a poem might start with one tone, and then shift to another to make the audience understand what came before in a new way). That last line brings in all home so unforgettably: “If the pickup lines think I’m a straight man, maybe I can walk home tonight, alive.” The line challenges the audience to rethink their assumptions about cargo shorts, sure. But in doing that, it digs so much deeper, challenging us to rethink other assumptions we might have too– about gender identity, expression, safety, and more.