POE ON POETRY By Eyrna Heisler

[I am thrilled with Eyrna’s 9th grade English teacher at Stuyvesant. He allows her to think outside the box and use her creative abilities in her papers. It is so hard for students to appreciate classic literature, with all the other media available to them, and the speed at which entertainment is offered these days. Eyrna and I talk over her assignments. This gives her a chance to think through her feelings about the novels, short stories, and poems, to express her thoughts freely without feeling that there is a right or wrong answer. I am extremely grateful that her English teacher never implies that there is a right, or wrong interpretation.

Here is Eyrna’s final paper for the unit on Poetry:]

To: Board of Directors
GLAD: Grumbling, Lonely, and Depressed Quarterly
(The Magazine for Complainers Who No Longer Have Friends)
From: E. Allan Poe
Re: National Award for Loneliest Poem of the Year

I apologize for having taken so long to reach a decision concerning the First, Second, and Third Prizes for GLAD’S yearly poetry awards for the Loneliest Poem of the Year. Unfortunately, I was locked up in a mental hospital after having completed a short story about a cat getting its eye poked out and its face mutilated by a lunatic. The three finalists are “Sky Diving,” by Nikki Giovanni; “The Guitar,” by Federico Garcia Lorca; and “Desert Places,” by Robert Frost.

Overall, I was disappointed in the lack of sadness in the poems submitted this year. Many of them were so optimistic they were practically glowing with self-confidence. I was up to my ears in morality and happy endings. It basically could have been a fairy tale competition, for all the lack of misery I was forced to endure. However, given the slim pickings, the prizes should be awarded in the following order:

Third Place for Loneliest Poem of the Year is awarded to Nikki Giovanni’s “Sky Diving.” Ms. Giovanni writes elegantly about the lonely journey towards her own death. In a stunning visual image, she states, “I hang on the edge/of this universe” (verses 1, 2). The poem’s formatting is very interesting in that she uses white spaces to depict absences and the coldness of empty space. She also describes in exquisite detail the pain of the experience: “I will spiral/through that Black hole/losing skin [space] limbs/internal organs/searing/my naked soul” (verses 14-18). However, the poet seems much too enthusiastic over her independence and her separation from earthly concerns: “singing off key/talking too loud/embracing myself” (verses 3-5). She also states, about her own death, that “It is not tragic” (verse 12), which undermines the very essence of this competition. Lonely as her journey may be, Nikki Giovanni is much too content in her own skin to win First Place for Loneliest Poem of the Year.

Second Place is awarded to Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The Guitar.” Unfortunately, the poem was sent to me in Spanish, in which I am hardly fluent, and I had to ask my Hispanic orderly in the mental institution to translate it for me. The poem is unquestionably lonely and full of despair, which fits our criteria; however, I could hardly make heads or tails of Lorca’s metaphors. “The glasses of dawn/are broken” (verses 3, 4) is open to many interpretations. Does the poet mean a man has dropped his reading glasses and now can no longer see the dawn? Or, perhaps, the partiers are done for the night and are reluctant to go home? Nevertheless, the visual and auditory imagery of shattering of glass definitely evoke a feeling of sadness and loneliness in the reader. Lorca equates the guitar’s weeping to “the first bird/dead upon the branch” (verses 23, 24). While I cannot say that I fully comprehend his simile, it is indeed a horribly depressing and lonely image, which relieved me, because depressing and lonely imagery was in short supply in many of the poems. My orderly read me the poem in the original Spanish, and I must say the word repetitions and the use of assonance in the “o” and “a” sounds, along with the alliteration of “l” and “ll,” were as melodious as a song.

Robert Frost wins First Prize for his poem “Desert Places.” At first I misread the title and thought the speaker in the poem was writing about places to get the best desserts, which had me terribly concerned. If Robert Frost recovered from his depression, where would his poetry go next? No concerns there, the poem is fabulously depressing and lonely. His careful repetition of the words “lonely” and “loneliness” (verses 8, 9, 10) emphasizes his terrible fear of being alone and filled with despair. The very first line of the poem, a visual image, indicates urgency and worry: “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast” (verse 1), with the repetitions of the words falling and fast. The poet states that his loneliness “Will be more lonely ere it will be less” (verse 10), which captures the very theme of this competition. While Nikki Giovanni describes her own lonely flight through space without regret, Robert Frost describes his terror of an endless universe that holds no people.

As an expert on the subject of despair and loneliness, I can assuredly state that his closing verses, “I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places” (verses 15, 16) come closest to depicting the onset of misery and gloom, and the impending doom of depression.

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