Stroud’s book, Of this World: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press,
2009), begins with 84 six-line poems. He calls the section, “Suite for the
Common.” With one exception (to be discussed later), the lines in each
particular poem are of roughly equal length. The
poems in this “Suite” cover a multitude of themes: childhood, responses to
literature and objects of art, family and relationships, travel, and death. A
variety of poetic devises, including metaphor, assonance, alliteration, and
internal rhyme, have been used to enrich the collection.
have not discussed the intended meaning, if any, of these poems or the poetic techniques
with Stroud. Another reader probably would selected different favorites from
the set, and would highlight different poetic techniques. This commentary on
the poems is my subjective response.
read this poem, I will never again view obsidian, crows or watermelon seeds in the
the poetry carefully, I notice that the words “light” and “night” are each used
twice, giving the poem internal rhyme. The poem has just the right amount of
alliteration—enough to enrich the poem without calling attention to itself and
thus diverting the reader’s attention. On first reading I was not fully aware of
the “g” sound until I read the last line although it occurs in “give,” “great,”
“guzzle,” “glistening” and “grass.”. Reading the poem aloud now, though, I
see how that sound serves to link the six lines sonically. The “t” and “s”
sounds also enhance the sound of the poem.
husband, who isn’t too fond of poetry as a rule, got a chuckle out the
following poem when I read it to him:
The Life of a Dog
understands: Go get your rug! Want to go
for a ride?
Time to eat! Where’s your toy? BAD dog!
she has problems with Come back here!
on the guest! At times when
we’re alone, when she’s looking
I’ll say to her slowly and sadly, What do
of existential angst? She’ll look up
and her tail will wag & wag.
lot of people can identify with this poem. If you don’t have a dog, you may
have a child who doesn’t understand, “Come back here!” Or a cat like one we
used to have who hid from guests, unless the guest in question hated or feared
or was allergic to cats. Then she delighted in creeping out of the corner, and
jumping in their lap. I suppose most people with pets sometimes wonder what
their animal friends are thinking, especially when they are “looking pensive.”
wonder if Stroud drafted this poem, then moved the instructions to Marie around
or if they fell into this order immediately. Was he intentional in putting the
sentences with “rug” and “ride” on the same line? And on the next line, “time”
and “toy”? This organization of the lines works well. The
strongest part of the poem is the ending. It is humorous and ironic. Also, the
“a” in “wag” echoes the “a” from “angst” at the end. Rereading the poem, it is
easy to identify the assonance given the entire poem by the short “a” sound, beginning
with the word “understands.”
Some of the poems are much more serious.
The Executions on Príncipe Pío Hill
stand before the Goya in the Prado,
close all I can see is paint, but if I step back,
scene appears—men against a wall, soldiers
rifles—so I keep stepping back—
an ocean, across time, backing away,
it will focus into something I can bear.
poem shows the narrator standing before Goya’s powerful painting of French
soldiers executing Spanish men who resisted Napoleon’s attempted take-over of
the Iberian Peninsula. The desire to back away and not see so clearly is an
elegant way of showing (not telling) that the painting has a strong visceral
impact on the viewer.
poem can be a metaphor for the very human desire not to see such things, for
fear we might feel called upon to respond—and thus end up against the wall with
me, one of the sonic effects that stands out is the use of the two words with
the long “a”: painting and aiming. Obviously they are not exact rhymes, but
that sound stands out in this short work. For me they heighten the drama of the
artist depicting (in a modern way) the impact of warfare. Another sound effect
that seems especially appropriate to the subject matter is the seven-fold
repetition of the “k” (or hard “c”) sound. In my subjective reading, that sound
stands for the repeated shots from the French guns.
I mentioned earlier, one poem in the set breaks the pattern of making all six
lines roughly equal in length.
My Father Died
put down the phone. I put down the phone.
is there to hold on to? Now grief
have its way. There is a great machine
the blackness that dismantles one moment
the next. It makes the sound of the heart
it is heartless.
poem, I think, does an excellent job of depicting grief. In my reading, the
missing half line says more eloquently than words could, that sometimes there
is nothing to say. Much more could be said about this poem.
Poetry Challenge for February
may have guessed by now that the challenge for February is to write a poem of
six lines of relatively equal length. The theme is open. Use various poetic
devises, but don’t overdo it. No poems with rhymed couplets or other regular
rhyme, please (save them for another time). Poems which could have been slipped
into Stroud’s “Suite for the Common” will have the advantage, but make it
your own in some profound way.
How to Submit Your Poem
put your name at the bottom of the poem (note the format used above). Poems
published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line
social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a
periodical, please include publication data. Poems submitted after the February
15 deadline will not be considered.
reserve the right to declare no winner, if the judges for the month do not
believe any poem submitted is quite good enough. Decisions of the judges are
your poem to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at”
and a . for [dot]). Put "February Poetry Challenge" in the subject
line of your email. If you want a bio published with your poem should it be a
winner, please include put a brief bio below your poem. Submission of a poem
gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner. The
deadline is February 15, 2012. Copyright on poems is retained by their authors.
More about Joseph Stroud
Stroud’s poem used with permission from the author. They are all from Of this
World: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), pages 3 (“Night in
Day”), 11 (“Life of a Dog”); 26 (“An Execution on Príncipe Pío Hill”), and 14
(“My Father Died”). The book contains numerous longer poems of various kinds,
including odes, narrative poems, and compressed lyrics.
has published several other collections of poetry, including Signatures (1982);
Below Cold Mountain (1998); and Country of Light (2004), a finalist for the
2005 Northern California Book Critics Award. Stroud, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was
awarded a Witter Bynner Fellowship by the Library of Congress. He lives in
California, where he divides his time between Santa Cruz and a cabin in the
Sierra Nevada mountains. I had the pleasure of meeting him and hearing him read
from his work at the 2012 San Miguel Poetry Week in Mexico (http://www.sanmiguelpoetry.com/).
2013 Wilda Morris