“Petrichor” — stanza excercise


And if I were to lose my only name—
Here there is the scent of cigarette smoke infused into the core
of wooden benches.
It is as sweet and subtle as the Earth after rain. Call me nothing now
except after-rain: I exist beneath your wrinkled nose for just a moment; there
and then forgotten.
From here, your letters set your shoulder bones down deep into the center of your back.
They are the vessel for your arrogant laughter, traversing vast
distances. This is the one thing I expect of you:
avert your eyes from these benches (against this wall) as you pass them.
I see you walk the perimeter of your name,
a beetle around the inside edge of a glass—but this is not
my place. It’s time again to walk in line.

There are two hyphens in this poem, each revealing a significant shift in perspective and place. Each hyphen incites a strong break in the reading: the shifts are especially emphasized this way, because each break makes the last few words into an iamb and an anapest, respectively (“-ly name” and “of a glass”). If the syllabic emphasis were to fall instead of rise, the resultant sound would create more of a “finish” at the end of the line, and the transitions would be less jarring.
The first and last lines of this poem (the lines immediately before and after the hyphens), are written in iambic pentameter. The juxtaposition of the metered rhythm outside of the hyphens, and the lack thereof inside the hyphens, ties in directly with the poem’s theme of barriers. The strict form of iambic pentameter represents the strictness of the social limits imposed upon those who exist, per se, outside of the location to which the speaker makes his/her sudden transition. Only when the speaker leaves her familiar world is she able to express herself freely—in free-form verse. Suddenly, the lines are unmetered and often enjambed. In fact, as the character in the poem capitalizes on his newfound freedom of expression, the form of the poem does the same: enjambment effectively emphasizes certain words. Such terms include “the core”, “distances”, “except”, and “my place”. Each of these terms deepens the theme of social barriers, which are known to establish surface interactions, “distances” between people, and the confinement individuals to their specified “place.” Clearly, diction plays a significant role in relaying the poem’s message. In addition to the aforementioned terms, the repetition of “name” serves to highlight the restrictive nature of social barriers. (Use of a “name” is the most basic societal method of defining, and therefore limiting, other individuals.) The plural noun “Letters” is used as a double entendre, referring to the letters of someone’s name, but also a person’s Greek letters. The speaker is therefore using campus sororities and fraternities as examples of self-limiting social institutions.
The poem’s imagery further deepens this message about the restrictive nature of socialized labels. For example, the image of the beetle skirting “the inside edge of a glass” shows how the speaker, as a result of his/her heightened perspective, sees the others as trapped—less literally than metaphorically, as they are trapped within “the perimeter of [their] name.” The olfactory imagery of the “after-rain,” in conjunction with the title “petrichor” which can be taken literally to mean “the smell of the Earth after a rainfall“, relates the nature of petrichor to the nature of social constructs. Both are ever-present forces that become, over time, less noticed by the individual. Just as one gets used to the smell of after-rain, one loses awareness of his/her socialized existence—that is, until he/she can momentarily escape from it.

Stanza “Exiting the Student Union from the Basement”

Exiting the Student Union from the Basement

I bear the door before me like a shield

And pressing, push my eyes the vanguard for

My mind into the field – what force awaits

My flank to tear inside the rumbling dark?

The spies report “all clear!” and I march on.

Some hawkish general steers me right

A chain link wall to face, and peer beyond

The formless there to shape what lies within.

A thing, a pipe, or enemy a shriek

For Battle-cry performs and thusly I –

Tired now of war – flee onward towards the door.

            After several years of visiting Dickinson and at least a year of residing here, many of the places on campus carry a more personal flavor that mediates the way I conceptualize and describe them. While I wrote with my perceptions in mind, I chose to represent them in a different way; my interpretation, too, excludes them.

War is a familiar but destructive force in the world. While the lives of civilians may normally remain relatively unimpacted by it, for soldiers and veterans it is a defining experience. Its powerful impression stems from its ability to generate a rush from both terror and excitement. Such a quality allows warfare to form an effective metaphor for simultaneously experienced but generally opposed emotions. Use of military vocabulary to create a war motif in “Exiting the Student Union from the Basement” recreates textually the internal emotional duality as the speaker self-dramatizes his experience.

And just what is that experience? The poem at first appears to describe a military encounter. Terms and phrases like “bear…like a shield,” “flank,” “hawkish general,” and “battle-cry,” while usable for standard descriptions, carry military annotations. Yet nowhere does the speaker refer to his being a soldier. An enemy is never seen, only heard – dubiously, at that (see below). Thus while the speaker says he is “tired now of war,” war is something in which he is evidently not participating. In reality the speaker, as the title suggests, is moving through a non-hostile space. This revelation allows for a multi-tiered reading of the text. For if the speaker is not, in fact, fighting, then the military descriptions are not literal but rather metaphorical.

Meter is used to add further dramatizations to the poem. Iambic pentameter predominates in the poem but breaks down at the beginning of Line 11 with “Tired now of war.” The speaker’s internal metaphor at this point collapses with the meter, before picking up again at the end of the line as the warfare imagery “flee” resumes. Meter also emphasizes certain thought processes in the text, such as Line 9 “a thing, a pipe, or enemy. [emphasis added]” This non-logical progression reinforces the idea that the reality from which the speaker speaks is not a military, but rather an imaginative one. The agent in most clauses is the speaker, excepting those used as dramatic metaphors such as the “general” in Line 6 or the “spies” in Line 5.

Stanza Excersise – Church Ave.

Matthew Korb, Engl 220, 9/12/11

I am drawn back to settle.

And to contemplate my mettle

And start for things ahead.

But as I move to sit,

A yell comes and hits,

And I must away from the nettle.

                I know it is a poor critic who needs to draw upon background information for his analysis, but such a short snapshot of an otherwise larger poem requires a bit of background information.

The stanza describes Church Avenue, a stretch of road behind the Weiss Center and the President’s House. At night and, more specifically, on the weekends students use the street to go to and from parties. My apartment is right next to the street and, from my porch, I can hear students screaming and yelling at each other through much of the night.

The poem was inspired by a Saturday evening where, having coming back from a meeting, I sat on my porch to take a nap before meeting friends. I jotted the first line out before setting off for the night.

I wanted to have the stanza’s structure emulate the jarring nature of the yell on an otherwise pleasant evening. The poem is metered and has a rhyme scheme. The first three lines and the last line, intended to represent the speaker’s restful actions, are intended to be a long narration of actions and re-actions.

The fourth and fifth lines are designed to disrupt the flow of the story. The rhyme scheme for the piece is A-A-B-C-C-A. The A and B sections form a base to the story, a beginning that flows naturally into a narrative. The Cs are clumped together and brief, a jarring sensation that break the flow of the story. But, in the final line, we return to the A ‘base’. In later lines and stanzas, if the poem were to go on, the narrative would continue along the A and B scheme with other rhyme schemes coming in to simulate the yells and shouts.

Much of the inspiration for the story’s form is drawn, rightfully so considering our recent studying, from the poetry of Robert Frost. The narrative nature and topic of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” was the elements most used, with its narrative nature and repetition carried over into the stanza. In Frost’s poem he pauses to enjoy a scenic scene before being distruped because of an inner purpose. In this stanza the speaker, who is also the writer, is attempting to find privacy for self reflection as well. However, instead of internal reasons, the speaker is drawn out of his reverie forcefully by an outward exclamation.