“A Beautiful Day in August” is a poem by William Chiu, age 13. The poem describes, in first-person present tense, an August day. The speaker starts out wondering what happens now—school is out, their friends are gone. They describe their new routine: they wake up, have breakfast, practice violin, walk the dog, eat lunch, practice piano, and learn Spanish.
After describing the typical routine more broadly, the speaker then zooms in on the details of a single day. They are startled by the flickering bedroom ceiling light. They describe their dog’s soft white belly. The piano is out of tune, and the violin is scratched, and they learn a new word in Spanish. They end by concluding that the day is anything but routine.
How does this poet play with poetic forms?
This is a long poem—ninety-nine lines, to my count. It’s a poem that is not written in any traditional form, but even so, the piece has many formal constraints that the poet follows closely. The lines are very short, between one and three words. Even more unique is the way the writer uses punctuation. There is a punctuation mark after every single word, typically periods.
Often, the form of a poem—that is, its physical shape—responds to its content. In a poem where the writer is making such striking and unique formal choices, we can look to the text to help give us a sense as to why. The poem opens:
The word “pixels” might refer to the computer screen—perhaps the speaker’s friends are logged off. But “pixels” also informs how the poem itself appears to us. Just like pixels, the words are separate units that feel that they are blinking on and off, a few per line. Further, this idea of friends being gone points to a loss of communication. Just as the periods interrupt the flow of the lines, the summer has interrupted our speaker’s usual dialogues with their friends. And the speaker’s loss of their usual routine isn’t the only interruption—later on, we see that the lights are interrupted too:
Another technique the poet uses is something called “caesura.” Caesura refers to white space in a poem within a line—indentations, larger-than-average spaces between words or sentences. We see an example of this above—“light” is indented. The zig-zag formed by the text feels a lot like a flickering light—a quick, choppy movement.
When a poet writes a poem with a unique form, it’s sometimes pretty startling at first! We can tell that a unique form is successful if the poem teaches the reader to get used to the form. This definitely happens here—by the end of the poem, the narrative takes on a kind of flow that we can easily read, even amid the choppiness:
Just as the speaker of the poem is learning to speak Spanish, as readers we are learning to speak the language of the poem. The extra periods become more of a texture and less of a surprise.
- What are some moments where the poet breaks the “rules” they have established for the poem?
- Does the poem’s style or use of language change throughout it in any way? If so, how?
- Later on in the poem, the poet makes frequent use of caesura. Why do you think the poet chooses not to use as much caesura as later on in the sequence beginning with “Routine. / Wake. Up.”?
A Beautiful Day in August
_______Me. Mom. Bear.