Monday, September 20, 2010

Review of One of My Own Poems for a Change

I rarely post any of my own poems on this blog, but I thought I would make an exception because of the poetry class am I teaching right now. They all just turned in poems to workshop for the first time this past week. So, I feel like they should get a sense of what I’m writing, too. The following poem was published about six months ago in Denver Quarterly Review and begins the collection that I am working on titled Spike.


By: Charlotte Pence

The wind bending a thin-trunked

Pine, butterscotch-scented,

Sounds like the opening of a door.

And so, I think of my father,

How through him—

His Oreo-fat,

His hardening cock,

His damp, long-curled lashes

I stutter-stepped into myself.

Why do you say that stuff? my father interrupts as I write.

What do you mean? About your cock?

No. That right there, he says and lifts up his arms, glass of OJ in one hand, Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie in the other, so he stands like a Lady of the Scales statue. Chewing a wad of snack cake.

What are you talking about? What’s in my poems? How I see the world?

All of this, he says and circles his drink in the air like a drunk. This house. Our family. You and me. You think it’s everything. Then he nods toward the window. And what’s out there doesn’t even begin it.

I answer: Yesterday I saw something I’ve never seen before: A canary-yellow web that only one spider in the world can weave. What do you think about that?

He shrugs. That’s yesterday.

I wanted to write a poem that questioned the poet as speaker, specifically a poet in love with poetry. It is quite tempting to write about the world in terms of dewy spider webs, deserted parking lots, and butterscotch-scented trees with the poet looking outward and turning these observations into moments of wisdom, meaning, and/or beauty. While this is very much the lyrical impulse, and something that I revere, the method is too often similar from poet to poet. It feels a bit easy. Sentimental. Manufactured. Too many poems feature a poet in love with the powers of poetry—and the reader’s entrance is limited to sharing that love for the genre rather than the particular poem.

Frankly, a poet is another person, no better, no less than others. And this Romantic sense that we are wiser than other people (Wordsworth said that poets are “possessed” with “more than usual organic sensibility”*) is not only a generalization, but a cherished generalization that deserves some questioning. And that is the role of the father in this poem: the questioner.

So, I begin with a very poet-y quatrain. The poet is reaching out first for natural imagery with the butterscotch pine and wind blowing through the trees as is so often the go-to (which also stems from Wordsworth’s beliefs that: “low and rustic life was generally chosen because in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity”). But then the father interrupts, calling the poet out on her sentimentalisms, and then the poem’s form changes to that of a prose poem. And who wins this argument about the wonders of the natural world, the subjects of poetry? Well, the dad does have the last word. But the poet did write that last word.

*All quotes by William Wordsworth are from the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the 1800, 1802 version.


  1. Great post, Charlotte. Thanks for sharing the poem. I must admit I was on my guard when I read "butterscotch-scented," but you do an amazing job with the whole journey. Love, love, love the father image and what he says.

  2. Thank you both for the comments! Sandy, I like the fact that you were "on guard" with butterscotch-scented because it is overly poet-y. Then again, it's tricky because as a reader at that point you don't know that this move is later going to be mocked a little. I'm glad you kept on reading.