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Rocks at Pohoiki Beach
"Rocks at Pohoiko Beach" by Lila Raj, 11 (San Francisco, CA) Published in Stone Soup October 2020


A note from Emma

Before you read this, scroll down to the bottom of the newsletter to read Daniel Shorten’s poem “Afterthought.” It is one of the best poems I have read all year.

I can describe what happens in the poem very simply: in it, the narrator goes to see a play (or perhaps a movie); then he goes home. But there is so much more “happening” in it than that.

The poem is titled “Afterthought.” To be an afterthought is to be secondary, peripheral, on the margins. This poem is about what it feels like to be an afterthought. It opens by situating the narrator in space:

Just in front of the back wall

Was my seat

Full of salty popcorn

He is in a theater. His seat is all the way at the back, and it hasn’t been cleaned—it’s filled with someone else’s spilled popcorn. Both of these things indicate the narrator’s marginal status: he is literally on the edge of the theater, about to occupy a seat that’s been neglected, or overlooked, by the theater’s cleaners. The status of the seat which the narrator occupies reinforces his own peripheral status.

It continues:

No curtain went up

There was no curtain

The fact that there is no curtain indicates that there wasn’t a clear separation between the audience and the actors, reality and the play. Everything occurring on stage seemed immediate, close.

In the following lines, the narrator describes some of the action in the play; however, he doesn’t announce he will be doing this, which creates a sense of immediacy for the reader as well. It seems as if the things he describes are “actually” happening—in real life, not on stage:

A poor man buried his children

Who will bury me he wept

A dog barked suddenly

Then Michael stoned the rabbit

And Peggy said the leg stinks

Straight away, Michael said you stink

There is grief, violence, and humor in these lines. The “poor man” who buried his children has become a peripheral figure, an afterthought himself. “Who will bury me he wept”—a question that carries other questions within it: Who will care for me? Who will love me? Who will call me every Sunday?

As if to reinforce his now-marginal status, the focus shifts quickly away from the “poor man”—to the dog and then to Michael and Peggy, who are not definitely peripheral figures. They aren’t standing on the sidelines, weeping—they are out in the world, killing and eating a rabbit, and talking to each other. They are at the center of life.

From there, the poem returns to the narrator’s experience, concluding like this:

All I could smell was cola

As we got back on the bus

A man and a woman kissed

Who will bury me?

In these final lines, we see once again that the narrator feels marginal. The bus he returns to smells like cola—no one has bothered to clean it for them. Then a man and woman kiss—they are not peripheral; they have each other. While the narrator is alone, wondering, like the “poor man” from the play, Who will bury me?

You will notice that throughout, Daniel does not use what you might normally think of as “poetic” language. Instead, he uses short, direct sentences and simple vocabulary—most words only have 1–2 syllables. This gives the poem an immediacy and directness as well as a deceptive plainness!

I hope you enjoyed my academic reading of this poem! I know many of my students often wonder about “intention” when we read poems closely, as I have read this one. I had a teacher once tell me that, as a writer, I should always just answer yes when someone asked if I meant to do something in a poem. Because I did do it—my subconscious knew, even if I didn’t! And after a certain point, the author’s intention doesn’t matter: the author can’t ever fully know or see what she has created. They are too close to the work. That is why outside critics are so important.

Your writing challenge for the weekend: using Daniel’s poem as a model, write a fifteen-line poem in simple, direct, non-poetic language about something you did or saw in the past week without explicitly saying what it was. So, if you write about going to a park, don’t title the poem “A Trip to the Park” or say, “I went to the park with my mom.” In short: don’t be afraid to confuse the reader! Often that confusion will create unexpected complexity.

Until next week,


Highlights from the past week online

Don't miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com!

“Coronavirus if you’re reading this, / please stop doing this!” Patrycja, 13, writes in her poem about what it was like in the spring during the beginning of the pandemic. Read the entire poem here.

Ava, 10, reviewed The Whale Child by Keith Egawa and Chenoa Egawa. Read about what why she hopes there’s a sequel and how the illustrations add to the story.

Olivia wrote a review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Find out why she thinks it’s not a typical fantasy novel.


Contest, partnership & project news

This was the first full week of October, so this week is Flash Contest week! You have until midday PDT on Sunday (Oct. 11, 2020) to complete and submit your entries.

Write a Poem That Can Be Read Up or Down
We are looking for a poem that can be read both from top to bottom, and bottom to top.

To read examples of the kind of poem we mean, see Love Hate Relationship by Morgan Lane (12) in the February 2018 issue of Stone Soup or 11-year-old Layla Linnard’s Lost Dog from September 2019.

For full contest details, submission links, and previous winners, click here.


Daniel Shorten
Daniel Shorten, 9
Mallow, Ireland

From Stone Soup
October 2020

Afterthought

By Daniel Shorten, 10 (Mallow, Ireland)

 

Just in front of the back wall

Was my seat

Full of salty popcorn

No curtain went up

There was no curtain

A poor man buried his children

Who will bury me he wept

A dog barked suddenly

Then Michael stoned the rabbit

And Peggy said the leg stinks

Straight away, Michael said you stink

All I could smell was cola

As we got back on the bus

A man and a woman kissed

Who will bury me?



Stone Soup is published by Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization registered
in the United States of America, EIN: 23-7317498.

Stone Soup's Advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.

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