Showing 31 - 40 of 483 annotations in the genre "Poem"

Skunk Hour

Lowell, Robert

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Skunk Hour is the penultimate poem in Lowell’s 1959 volume of poetry, Life Studies. It is composed of 8 sestets with an internal rhyming scheme in each sestet that can only be called irregular from sestet to sestet. The poem moves slowly, beginning with a descriptive tone that is somber ("she buys up all / the eyesores facing her shore, / and lets them fall."), progresses to frankly pessimistic ("the season’s ill") and ultimately becomes confessional and egoistically relational ("I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, / they lay together, hull to hull, / where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . . / My mind’s not right.")

The poem opens with a series of portraits of people and phenomena that comprise the poet’s current landscape: "Nautilus Island’s hermit heiress" who is "in her dotage"; the "summer millionaire" whose nine-knot yawl / was auctioned off to lobstermen"; the decorator who brightens his shop but appears as hopeless as the narrator, who draws yet another contrast between appearance and reality, remarking that the decorator knows "there is no money in his work, / he’d rather marry."

The fifth sestet marks a turning point and, to signal it, Lowell takes as his first line the famous "Una noche oscura" of St. John of the Cross, another dour poet/mystic: "One dark night". (In a collection of essays cited on the Internet (reference 1) Lowell writes, "Then all comes alive in stanzas V and VI. This is the dark night. I hoped my readers would remember St. John of the Cross’s poem. My night is not gracious, but secular, puritan, and agnostical. An Existentialist night.") This line begins the first of two consecutive sestets that are concerned with corporal love, bracketing a middle line that announces, to no reader’s surprise, "My mind’s not right."

The second of these sestets moves from a maudlin song refrain to a frankly depressive, almost suicidal pose: "I hear / my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, / as if my hand were at its throat. . . ." and ends with "I myself am hell; / nobody’s here --", which, as James E. B. Breslin reminds us, is a quotation from Satan in Book IV of Paradise Lost. (ref.1)

Enter the titular skunks: as a parenthetical predicate to the final line of the preceding sestet ("nobody’s here --"), the poet corrects the apparently psychological meaning of "nobody’s here --" to refer to physical presence, noting that in fact there is someone here, namely a family of skunks.

The final two sestets are among the most visually powerful images in poetry with the paradoxically high drama one would not expect from skunks. The hungry skunks "march on their soles up Main Street" in search of food with fiery red eyes as the poet, in response to their upward march, stands "on top / of our back steps" and takes a deep breath of the "rich air", watching the mother skunk jab her head into a cup of sour cream--a mother skunk who, in a fitting yet curiously ambiguous final line, "will not scare."

reference 1. http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lowell/skunk.htm accessed January 5, 2005.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Twenty-one stanzas of couplets spin out stereotypes of Native Americans promulgated by white American culture.  Among those stereotypes that Alexie develops: the tragic Indian; Indian women as sexual objects for white men; Indian men as secretly desirable to white women; Indians as violent, alcoholic, childlike, mystical, and members of a "horse culture."  But in addition, Alexie emphasizes how American whites have co-opted Indian culture: "white people must carry an Indian deep inside themselves" until finally, "all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts."

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The Abortion

Sexton, Anne

Last Updated: Apr-24-2008
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem begins, "Somebody who should have been born / is gone" and this phrase is a refrain intercalated between two sets of three tercets, with a final closing tercet. Each tercet has a rhyme scheme of a, b, a. The speaker narrates a journey that takes her south to an abortionist in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and then, after the abortion, back home to the north. The situation and the speaker's perception of it are rendered in metaphors that draw on the natural environment through which the journey proceeds. At the beginning, the earth puffs buds, and the drive proceeds toward blue-green mountains -- metaphors of fecundity. The description of the mountains as "humps" might imply the sex act that initiated pregnancy.

Soon, however, there is foreboding as dark images of tearing and splitting appear: "the ground cracks evilly," "and me wondering how anything fragile survives." Then "a little man . . . took the fullness that love began" and the speaker returns north, physically and emotionally reduced as the sky grows thin and the road is "flat as a sheet of tin."

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Childless Woman

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker, the "childless woman" of the poem, describes the way infertility has rendered her body aimless and horrible. Her womb, like a dried-out plant, "rattles its pod." Her body is a knot, lines turned back on themselves instead of leading to the future, making it unnatural, "Ungodly as a child’s shriek." All her body can produce is the blood of menstruation, which signifies her own death, and a surreal and horrifying landscape "gleaming with the mouths of corpses." (18 lines)

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Beyond Harm

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Feb-21-2008
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem expresses the devastation that parental abusiveness inflicts and the rationalizations its recipients adopt for emotional survival. In a perverse way, childhood mistreatment by her father meant the narrator was being given his attention. His death has guaranteed that the loving relationship which she had with him at the end of his life is safe from harm. So precarious did she believe his love to be that she feared even now to offend him: "he could / re-skew my life."

 

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Rope Bridge

Cohen, Nan

Last Updated: Dec-03-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Nan Cohen's poem, Rope Bridge, from the collection of the same name, explores the intersections between science and art by lyrically describing a landmark psychological study on the attribution of emotion. The study, by Dutton and Aron in 1974, was based on the theories of Schacter and Singer from the previous decade. In one set of experiments, male volunteer subjects met a female assistant under two different circumstances - either in a benign setting or after braving the swaying Capilano Bridge. This bridge is suspended hundreds of feet above a river near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; subjects who met the assistant after crossing the suspension bridge were more likely to exhibit behaviors compatible with feelings of attraction to the woman.

The brilliance of Cohen's poem is the smooth interplay between scientific and poetic language. Imbedded in the poem are survey questions with lines ready for tick marks, as well as phrases such as "the attribution of a heightened state". The scientific language is not only juxtaposed, but intertwined with lyric flights: "Who would say: it is fear that takes my breath, / that wets my palms... / the fear that sleeps in me".

 

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Word of the Cure

Glowney, John

Last Updated: Jul-13-2007
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet beautifully captures the connection between a successful neurosurgical operation that restores "the jitterbug of impulses" of the brain, with the neighbors' "word of the cure." He likens the neighbors' conversations to "the way, in Montana prairie country, / the first telephones let the local secrets / and sorrows pour through the survey-staked / barbed-wire fences now doubling / as makeshift transmission lines."

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Torn

Young, C. Dale

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this poem, a young male patient receives stitches in an emergency room for a face wound from an alleyway knife fight. It seems the violence involved drugs, as a "broken syringe" is involved in the fight. However, more telling is the label that the ER doctor uses to describe the patient. The narrator of the poem, apparently an exhausted physician-in-training, is told by the ER doctor to quickly "Stitch up the faggot in bed 6."

The narrator meticulously sews his patient's wound, empathizing completely with him: "Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe / in that town." He too, could be ripped open "to see the dirty faggot inside." Furthermore, he ruminates that when the perpetrators of such violence themselves become victims, he would also stitch their wounds--silently, carefully, passively, "like an old woman."

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Fieldwork

Hicok, Bob

Last Updated: May-18-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Hicok begins the poem with a statement and jocular rhetorical question that set the tone and pace: "There are two kinds of people and five hundred / seventy-one thousand, three hundred / ninety-six species of beetle but who's / counting?" Immediately we wonder what are the two types of people and who would take the trouble to write out a species count while also joking about it.

The engagement with the poem continues as we learn about the narrator's platonic friend, an entomologist, freshly returned from the Amazon with a bottled beetle and a raging fever. The narrator, alarmed at her delusional state, rushes her to the hospital ("driving / in a way that proved you can be / in two places at the same time") and good medical care. After several days she has regained enough strength to say one word--jar--which refers to the jar containing her beetle specimen. The narrator restores the jar to her, she recovers and returns to the life she loves, a life in the treetops of the Amazon jungle.

Through the course of the poem, the poet plays with all manner of philosophy and religion. The beetle's body is likened to Michelangelo's image of the finger of God reaching towards Adam. The poet plays with numbers as well, rearranging the numbers of types of people and beetles (and throwing in the number of "delicatessens where you can get a fried- / tuna sandwich on waffles"). This lightness is a disarming way to shed light on the heart of the poem--the narrator's deep caring for the scientist and the scientist's deep caring for her work of discovery.

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El Curandero

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Mar-22-2007
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The Cuban-American physician-poet Rafael Campo tells a story in this poem. His speaker is both a curandero, or folk healer, and a modern-day American physician. Returning home after a trauma-filled day at the Emergency Ward, the speaker immerses himself in a soothing bath with "Twenty different herbs at first (dill, spices / From the Caribbean, aloe vera)." He weeps and prays to his patron saint and curandero St. Rafael, who has the same name as the poet himself. Rafael announces his arrival: "Rafael, / He says, I am your saint." The speaker tells his healer about two female patients he has seen that day, one, an abused wife, and the second a little girl killed on her tricycle. St. Rafael listens, touches the speaker, and carries him to bed. Sleep "takes the world away."

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