Poem Critique


Tera Lynn Hackett wrote this is 2016 for an English 1A class

Words at Play

            In her book of poems, The Breathing House, Marcielle Brandler draws the reader in through descriptive and thought-provoking narratives. One could spend hours pondering her eloquent prose. The five poems that stood out in particular are “Frolic,” “Bury Me in Mojave,” “Watching River Moss,” “These are the Words,” and “On the Street.”

Brandler’s poem, “Frolic,” details the joyful, carefree nature of children playing at the beach. The reader can almost hear children laughing, taste the salt water in the air, and feel the cool mist spray as the waves crash in. “Frolic” elicits feelings of elation and sentiment.  Looking deeper, “Frolic” seems to be about the narrator’s free spirited nature reflected in the children. The poem begins with, “Footprints of children after a day’s sand hurling war.” The reader can envision those footprints and the children who left them. At first, it sounds innocuous, but throwing sand can be harmful. This could represent childish words or actions that have been “thrown” or directed at one another. Come nightfall, the ocean washes away any evidence of the children and their hurtful words. When the sun rises, the beach and the narrator will begin a fresh, new day.

In the poem, “Bury Me in Mojave,” a sense of peace is invoked as the narrator describes her desire to be returned to nature once she has passed on. The idea of returning to nature is a peaceful way to view death. The poem describes her lifeless body exposed to the elements; plants, animals, and insects alike are utilizing and thriving off of her blood and flesh. Her earth body returns to the soil, pure and clean. The alternative would be terrible. What a horror it would be – to be gutted and stuffed with formaldehyde. What a fraud – the mortician; dressing the dead and painting their faces. How lonely – to be abandoned in a box, amongst a field of boxes. Poison-filled corpses, oozing their contaminated juices into the ground below, is an insult to Mother Earth. By contrast, the narrator’s death is able to give life. She speaks of buzzards that “scoop entrail samples for their stretching young, and muffle their screeches.” This is reminiscent of a new born baby reaching out and crying for his mother’s breast, uttering sounds of satisfaction once he begins to suckle. In addition, she continues to live on as these plants and creatures are eaten by the next organism on the food chain.

The poem, “Watching River Moss,” seems to be about a person sitting on the river’s edge, gazing both into the water and into one’s self. This person sees the moss in the river and starts to day dream. The narrator contemplates, “an underwater geisha’s hand curling, wrist rotating around an eight ball across a table of dunked proposals.” In a game of pool, the eight ball is last to be pocketed. If the eight ball is sunk any sooner, the game is over and that player loses. The eight ball that the geisha is holding is the last proposal. She seems to be carefully playing with it, caressing it in her hand. The geisha almost seems to tempt the narrator to reach in to grab it. Also mentioned is “an old siren’s hair.” She does not see the siren, only a miniscule artifact. Perhaps the part of her that felt like she was detrimental to men is part of her past. The narrator could also be a man staring into the water. He may be having an internal battle, attempting to sort out his connection with women and the roles they play in his life. The narrator ends the poem with giving a calming visual of finches flying home to their partners. The narrator gazes “past the surface” to see this. In the water, one may see what is just out of reach, but “past the surface,” one can appreciate the notion of uniting with a loved one.

The poem, “These are the Words,” seems to be about either a child admiring her father or a woman in awe of her lover. In one perspective, a child can be seen climbing up on her father’s lap, laughing with him, and listening to stories of his youth. The child holds her father’s hands, noticing callouses formed from years of hard work. The child cherishes each word and moment as she gazes lovingly into her father’s eyes. Another perspective that arises is a woman climbing up on her lover. The narrator begins by saying, “Your body is a path I climb.” A path leads to somewhere, so his body is not the destination. She is after something more. She finds comfort in his humor and refers to it as a “meadow for my rest.” Meadows bring to mind wide, open fields full of lush, green grass and fragrant flowers. This brings a sense of peace, comfort, and freedom. Just like the child, she enjoys hearing his stories and takes note of his “knotted hands” as evidence of a hard life. She refers to his eyes as “languages I study and rehearse.” The eyes express many subtleties and people can more easily “read” each other the closer their bond is. The narrator studies his eyes, so that she may understand him better. She rehearses her own nonverbal cues through her eyes, so that she may also express herself. In both scenarios, this man seems to be a stable figure and of great importance to the narrator.

The poem, “On the Street,” seems to be about the narrator’s interaction with a “bum.” She turns from him with disdain and walks away. At the end of the poem, she questioned where she learned that behavior. She may have felt at risk by his presence and may have had bad experiences in the past or was taught not to talk to strangers. Alternatively, she may have felt guilty to see someone less fortunate than herself and that was the source of her discomfort. The narrator may have missed an opportunity for a meaningful experience by not engaging with this person. The transient could represent opportunities missed, having passed them up because it appeared less than desirable. Perhaps she learned to take the safer path and not to take chances.

Brandler’s poems give the reader insight into other perspectives and life styles. She leaves the reader with a sense of having connected with the characters in her writings. Through the use of vivid language and imagery, any reader is able to step into the scene and experience the story. As Marcielle Brandler aptly states in her introduction, “Poetry is not just for the elite. Poetry is for everyone.”

Work Cited

Brandler, Marcielle. The Breathing House. Lincoln, NE: IUniverse, 2006. Print.