Famous for being the lead vocalist and guitar player in the 90s grunge band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain is a musical legend. From Nevermind to In Utero, Nirvana was without a doubt busy releasing amazing music throughout the decade. From Nirvana’s album Nevermind, however, one song, “Polly“, stands out to me specifically.
The song is written from the point of view of Gerald Friend, the rapist of a 14 year old girl from an abduction that occured in Tacoma in 1987. The girl’s name, Polly, was released along with details of the crime, including the fact that she was whipped, cut with a razor, and blowtorched. The way the song is written allows us to be inside of Freind’s head, sharing with us his thoughts about the girl and the crime. While many other of Cobain’s lyrics can be seen as extremely personal to him, this is blatantly written from the point of view of someone else.
Cobain begins with the line “Polly wants a cracker”, a common saying used when people try and get birds to talk or do something. The girl in the song, referred to as Polly, is being starved and raped by Friend so asking her if she “wants a cracker?” is an extremely eerie allusion to the starvation and coercion that she is being put through. Cobain proceeds to sing “I guess I should get off her first”, showing that she is being actively raped as Friend has these thoughts. He continues with “I think she wants some water / to put out the blow torch”, referring to the aforementioned blowtorch used in the girl’s torture.
Perrine defined poetry as the communication of experiences that we haven’t had ourselves, which is clearly what this song does for us. Putting the listener into the mind of the rapist, specifically in the chorus of the song, while Freind talks to both himself and the girl, is extremely disturbing, yet allows for the listener to create new experiences in their head based around the details that Cobain uses.
The chorus of the song is perturbing, with multidimensionality oozing from every word performed by Cobain. Starting with the lines “Isn’t me, have a seed / Let me clip, dirty wings” , they each could be considered to have double meanings. By “having a seed”, Cobain describes the small amount of food being given to the starving girl but this can also be a reference to the “seeds” that Friend is planting in her physicially (semen) by raping her. He follows by singing “let me take a ride, cut yourself / want some help, please myself” , directly reflecting Friend being on top of and torturing the girl while she cries out for help.
Cobain’s use of extremely disturbing multidimensional language to put the listener in the mind of a child rapist is not something that one may consider sterotypically “poetic”, however, in the words of Perrine, poetry is sometimes meant to be ugly. The lyrics in this song intending to bring the listener out of their comfort zone with detailed descriptions of rape, starvation, dehumanization, and torture relay new experiences to (at least I would assume) most people listening to it.