A Bad Poem, Dissected

What exactly was I doing with that poem yesterday?

It was an old thing I'd written a long time ago, when I was turning out a fair amount of really dreadful poetry. I even tried my hand at songwriting. Someday, when I feel that I have too many regular readers and need to drive half of them away, I'll put up an mp3 of the song I wrote.

Yesterday's poem was an example of an utterly unrestrained use of just a couple of poetic devices. It's like a brownie covered in chocolate sauce, then another brownie, then MORE chocolate sauce, then some sprinkles, then ANOTHER brownie, and topped with yet MORE chocolate sauce. It goes beyond indulgence and vaults straight into sickening.

Here it is, dissected:

From the full bowl of ripe red cherries -
Alliteration/ Internal Slant Rhyme/ Alliteration/ Internal alliteration (“r”)
Choose and chew and let the flesh
Alliteration/ Internal Slant Rhyme/ Internal Slant Rhyme
Release the sweet sweet sweet;
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Repetition
Grip the pits in your teeth and
Internal Slant Rhyme/
Flip the pits off your lips,
Internal Slant Rhyme/
Arc through the air and BING! cherry
Alliteration/ Onomatopoeia/ Connotation
pits in the pots on the steps
Alliteration/ Internal Slant Rhyme/
That catch the mess of the cherries you chose
From the full bowl you hug 'tween your legs
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Connotation

Splat, and the spots stain the steps
Onomatopoeia/ Internal Slant Rhyme/Alliteration
where the pits miss the pots –
Internal Slant Rhyme/
The pits and the pots and the chewed cherries and the
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Alliteration/ Repetition
still full bowl
Internal Slant Rhyme/
and the laughs that are left in an afternoon
Internal Slant Rhyme/
of nothing to do.
Slant Rhyme/
Grip the pits on your thumb and
Internal Slant Rhyme/
Flip the pits on the lawn and
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Repetition
Run around and run away and run on
Repetition/ Alliteration
until sundown, when you strip off your clothes
and hose yourself off in the warm vinyl smelling spray.
Carried Slant Rhyme [clothes, hose]
Now not sticky, now not sweet, now not sweaty, now not smelly,
Repetition/ Alliteration
Just wet and ready for bed, after a
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Connotation
double rub with a bright red sun-warmed towel.
Internal Slant Rhyme/ Connotation

What a piece of work! And yet, when I wrote this steaming pile of literary abandon, I thought it was pretty good.

So why am I putting this up here, and why go to the trouble to label all of its froggy little bits? For the lessons it teaches about writing in general:

1. Knowing the tools is not the same as knowing how to use them. Framers, carpenters and cabinetmakers all might use the same hammer, but oh, how different the result.

2. Restraint is the foundation of quality. Paracelsus said, "The dose makes the poison." With whatever you're creating, give enough to tease and please, not so much that you choke the reader.

3. Embrace your mistakes. They can teach you, if you let them.

4. Erato has her favorites. You may or may not be one of them. If poetry isn't where your passion lies, then try something else. (Thalia's cuter, anyway.)


  1. You made me smile. I think you're right, sometimes we just play too much, go a bit too far, having a great time with the tools. ;-)

    Still, I loved these lines:

    Arc through the air and BING! cherry
    pits in the pots on the steps

    Fun play on "Bing!" You could think of this as a first draft. I definitely think lovely summer cherries are worthy of a poem. I like the idea of a bowl between the legs and the spitting of the pitts.

    danni (visiting via twitter)

  2. @danni This poem always makes me think of a little kid with a purple marker. Soon, everything is covered in purple!

    I'm glad you liked that bit. There are some glimmers and flashes here which I still sort of like, but I think that turning this into a reasonable piece is beyond my powers as a poet.

    As a poem, it stinks. As a teaching tool, it's not bad.

  3. great break down and like danni I loved the same lines. You should keep them

  4. @paige Thanks! Heh, maybe my next poem will go from throwing cherry pits to holding tightly onto peaches:

    "Grip with the fist and CLING! peaches
    a drip on the lip from the squeezes on the beaches ..."

    Well, maybe not.


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