In-Depth Poem Analysis

I’m trying to learn for my English class and I’m stuck. Can you help?

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In-Depth Poem Analysis
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what is the theme,tone, and setting of this poem?

what kind of imagery,figurative language,sound patters, structure, and diction does the author use?

give specific examples by citing the actual poem


speaker, tone, sound patterns (alliteration, for example), metaphor, personification, diction and structure

a. imagery (what pictures does the poem conjure up?)

b. diction (or word choice. Here for example, how would the poem differ if Frost used “street” for “road”?)

c. sound patterns (alliteration, for example–the repetition of beginning consonant sounds such as soft sunlight)

d. figurative language (metaphor or simile)

e. structure (how many lines is the poem? are there patterns in rhyme, length of line, length of stanza? can you start to see how the form affects ideas of the poem?)

f. speaker (what kind of person is she or he? Don’t assume that the speaker is the poet: sometimes the speaker’s and poet’s sensibilities may be very similar, but a poem may be told from the point of view of a bank robber and the poet need not have robbed a bank.)

g. setting (where is the location of the poem–in space and time? how does that contribute to the poem’s meaning.)

h. tone (what the author’s attitude is toward the subject–is he or she angry, sad, amused, frustrated? Or…?)

i. theme (what is the poem about, to you? Poets usually don’t like this question, since they want the overall effect of the poem to be important. If a poet wanted you to think, “it’s ok to be sad sometimes,” the poet would have just said so! Still, for our purposes in a critical thinking class, I’m interested in what the poem suggests and what details lead to that conclusion for you. For our class, while there is not a “right” answer, there is a constellation of valid readings. And there can be “wrong” or unsupported readings. We know this is true since language implies some agreement of understanding. If I say to you that the book is made of bananas–and that for me “bananas” is simply another word for paper–well, that would make use of the English language very confusing. So look to explain your reading of the works of literature–both in these discussions and in your essays. In the past I have given papers As–even though I disagreed with the reading–because the paper used logic and evidence to support a reading. Conversely, papers that simply assert a point without support receive a lower grade.

Poem itself:

Matters of the Father


She could live on chips on paint chips potato chips the poker chips he stacked in towers on the nightstand she could live in glass or underground or in his Cadillac she lived inside his head his cowboy boots she found a scorpion in once stabbed him in the shoulder by mistake he called her lucky charm called her witch made her practice in a walk-in closet how to cast a spell draw fortune how to make herself more pretty she dreamed she buried the brother she didn’t have dreamed her brother was dwarfed he died when her father called her pet he died when her father left she learned to live in the parking lot alone outside the casino learned to live at the bar by the pool tables theatres where men shot men raped women shot women shot themselves skinned animals ran one another over and over she learned to live in his smoke his vodka his idea of perfection the perfect girl the perfect evening unencumbered by her needs she dreamed of being buried on her knees her knees are plum so cute and sore so sturdy the father is dying now the girl is grown she dances with knives in her panties the men love her knives she loves the mistakes she makes the knives are her father the men are her father the panties are wool are sheep she dances in sheep with knives she strips off the sheep and for a moment feels her flesh at peace with her flesh she almost puts away the knives almost lets the men lose interest there is still so much work to do

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New York University

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