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Poetry Review of Stephen Dobyns

Updated on November 28, 2016

Stephen Dobyns "Fragments"

I found this poem to be somewhat confusing. Nothing really fit or came together for me until the last stanza when the reader finds out that the poem is about a loss; and how no one can really find the right words to say when someone they know loses someone they love. I really enjoyed this poem because of the beautiful images Dobyns paints with his words. I loved images such as; "the sky is a torn piece of blue paper", "memory of death is like paste on fingers", "certain days stick like dead flies", "vanishing black specks in the indifferent sky". "a slit in the blue fabric of air", and "thin cracks in the fragile blue vaults of air". All of these images are ones that I never would of thought of for describing a loss, but they fit so beautifully.

Back in November I lost my Grandmother and when I looked back at this poem and read the line, "the memory of death is like paste on fingers" I instantly thought of my mom and my Aunts n how difficult their loss had been. Every time something new or interesting happened to my mom she would always call my grandmother, but could no longer do that. So with every new event she was reminded of her death and it always seemed to stick with her for days at a time.
It is difficult to lose those you hold dear, but finding the right words to say those people can be difficult as well and this poem says all of those things and more.

Now there is a slit in the blue fabric of air.
His house spins faster. He holds down books,
chairs; his life and its objects fly upward:
vanishing black specks in the indifferent sky.

The sky is a torn piece of blue paper.
He tries to repair it, but the memory
of death is like paste on his fingers
and certain days stick like dead flies.

Say the sky goes back to being the sky
and the sun continues as always. Now,
knowing what you know, how can you not see
thin cracks in the fragile blue vaults of air.

My friend, what can I give you or darkness,
lift from you but fragments of language,
fragments of blue sky. You had three
beautiful daughters and one has died.

Another interesting image in this poem is in the beginning when the man's world goes spinning out of control because of his loss. He has just lost his little girl and it's like a tornado has rushed in and caused nothing but sheer chaos. I cannot fathom the loss of a child and to lose someone that close to you it must feel like your entire world is imploding and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Stephen Dobyns


Stephen Dobyns "Cemetery Nights"

I love how Dobyns brought dead people to life in this poem. It made me chuckle a bit when I first read is because while I was reading the poem all I thouhgt of was a movie I had seen at that time, "The Corpse Bride". In this movie a young couple have this arranged marriage and before the big day the guy is off in the woods and somehow accidentally ends up marrying a corpse. Now in the movie the dead walk, but not in the traditional dawn of the dead type instead these corpses are funny and have other motives besides feeding on the living.

My favorite lines that still can make me chuckle are, "Two of the dead roll on the ground, / banging and rubbing their bodies together / as if in love or frenzy. No matter if their skin / breaks off, that their genitals are just a memory." What I find funny in this poem is that I imagine all of this stuff going on like some bad zombie flick and it makes me laugh. Then to top it all off in the next stanza the audience to watch these dead in the cemetery are the rats. And the human like qualities Dobyns gives to the rats makes it even more comical.

"The head cemetery rat calls in all the city rats,
who pay him what rats find valuable-
the wing of a pigeon or ear of a dog.
The rats perch on tombstones and the cheap
statues of angels and, oh, they hold their bellies
and laugh, laugh until their guts half break;"


Stephen Dobyns "How To Like It"

'How To Like It" is a poem about learning to appreciate what's staring you right in the face, instead of searching the far off hills for some kind of new and exciting horizon. It's a poem about being okay with your current state in time instead of living in the what if's and could have's. The man in the poem seeks something other than his mundane life, but the dog is content with what he can get in his town.

When I first read this poem I didn't fully understand its meaning, but after some discussion I realized the meaning and I could relate the meaning to my life. They way I saw it I was like the man, who has this desire to get away and set off on some amazing adventure into the unknown because I crave new horizons to keep me satisfied. Then the dog in a way if like my husband, who enjoys the simple things in life and is satisfied with what he has right in front of him. He doesn't crave the mystery around each corner or the suspense of what's beyond the hills, he is satisfied with what he sees and does everyday and that's all he needs. In my world I need dramatic harsh changes to fuel my fire and I think that part is the writer in me. It helps to keep my ideas flowing so I don't get stuck in my own head. So I guess I interpreted this poem to be what I writer needs to thrive verses what the everyday man needs. our desires are completely different.

What I find interesting is at the end of the poem when the man ends up making a sandwich instead of all of these things he imagines in his mind. The end of the poem brings another idea to the table, the idea of wanting so many things, but in the end you end up doing absolutely nothing at all. It's an interesting dilemma that many people are faced with. Me personally there are so many things I want to accomplish and do and places that I want to see, but I end up doing the same thing I do everyday.

"How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept-
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it."

This is definitely a poem that many people can relate to and interpret in may different ways. It's about learning to accept what you have and how to be happy with just that and not want more.

Poetry Reading Stephen Dobyns

Interesting poetry reading done by Stephen Dobyns. The first poem he reads is How To Like It. I thought it was an interesting video and helps readers of Dobyns get to know him a little better. It's always nice to hear the poems read by the author that way you know how they were intended to sound. The diction is sometimes everything in a poem or reading.

Stephen Dobyns



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