Poetry Monday: “What I Do” by Ellery Akers

As I did last week, I’m drawing today’s poem from The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.

“What I Do” by Ellery Akers is a prose poem in 22 stanzas.  It’s a poem I’ll probably return to again and again because it shows me how to describe the ordinary from a different angle.

I drive on country roads where kangaroo rats shoot across the blacktop and leap into the bushes, where feral cats streak through fields, and cows lift their heads at the sound of the car but don’t stop chewing, where the horses’ manes blow in the wind and the cheat grass blows, and the grapes are strapped to stakes as if they have been crucified …

Writing teachers all talk about the importance of showing rather than telling.  That’s the prefered technique these days, and has been for some time.  (It wasn’t always so, as anyone who loves Jane Austen knows.)  Tied to that is the telling detail, that specific way of describing something in a few words that makes it clear what’s going on with a character.  That’s the strength of this poem.

There is an overall detatched feeling to this poem, while it provides snapshots of emotion through specific images.

... I notice the dead mouse on the path, its tail still curled, its snout eaten away by ants

So that although I’ve forgotten what John and I said to each other outside the airport, I remember the cedar waxwings chattering and lighting on the telephone wires, the clipped stiff grass and how sharp it was against my thighs as the waxwings flashed by …

It’s exactly these kinds of sharply focused details that the best fiction writers include in their writing, and “What I Do” serves as an excellent reminder to look around and really see what is there.

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