What Can We Steal From Allison Davis’s “Summer Contours”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Summer Contours,” poem
Author: Allison Davis
Date of Work: 2009
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The poem was published in the December 2009 issue of Prick of the Spindle and can be found here.

Bonuses: The VERY cool poetry analysis blog A Retail Life After the MFA took a look at Ms. Davis’s poem, “Beautiful, The Dead End.”  The poem can be found here.  Kent State University Press released her chapbook Poppy Seeds.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Motifs

Discussion:
Ms. Davis’s poem is told from the perspective of a man immersed in a rural area as summer weighs heavy on the land and its people.  The poem leaves a great deal to the interpretation of the reader.  It seems to me that the solitude is getting to be a bit much for the man who may be putting his own state of mind onto the crickets, who chirp: “come to me,/ stay, fuck me, fuck off.”

One of the things I like most about the poem is the way Ms. Davis made use of a recurring motif.  Language and its elements play an important role in the piece:

  • “a wet-ink alphabet”
  • the man reads the paper on the patio
  • there are “subtitles” in the grass
  • shadows “shake like insects across the headlines”

Language and reading are complicated cognitive concepts that kick up different feelings for us all.  Whether we read voraciously or not at all, we have a relationship with the printed word and we all understand the underlying concepts.  (The alphabet, an older person reading one of those giant paper things with news on them…)  By repeatedly evoking the idea of communication and news, Ms. Davis trains the reader to understand that she’s including important messages in the poem’s images.  Readers are invited to divine the meaning of headlines–What does this mean for the price of gas?  How will people recover from the latest trauma?–and they are invited to figure out why the man is looking at his wife’s angles and what it means that the neckties are handing still.  (And why the ties are “blacker than a killer’s shoes.”)

Using a motif in a work such as this also aids in comprehension.  The poem is a little bit abstract; it requires a little bit of effort on the part of the reader.  (What are the subtitles?  Why that one-sentence stanza about the yellow blood?  What’s the yellow blood?)  The repetition of the language and reading concepts offers the reader a point of entry into the poem.

Ms. Davis also plays with sounds in an interesting manner.  Remember–poetry is meant to be spoken and heard!  Read that second stanza aloud.  Look at the first two lines of that stanza:

at eye-level. A man reads
the paper on the patio. He goes to close the windows

If you didn’t read it aloud, you might not have noticed those four long O sounds in a row.  Isn’t this how a long summer day feels?  It flows as though it will never end.  Interestingly, Ms. Davis uses the word “stops” in the next line, breaking the streak by employing a short O sound.

I’m guessing that most people encounter poetry in written form, but making additional use of the sense of hearing doubles your opportunities to “play” and to pack your work with fun possibilities for the reader.

What Should We Steal?

  • Employ a motif to offer your reader a way into more abstract works.  Feel free to bring your reader to the summit of a mountain of your creation…just make sure you provide them with a base camp.
  • Remember that poetry is an aural medium as well as a visual one.  Why not appeal to as many parts of the reader’s brain as possible?

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