What Can We Steal From Michael Bazzett’s “The Differences”?

Title of Work and its Form: “The Differences,” poem
Author: Michael Bazzett
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The poem made its debut in Volume 64, Number 2 of Beloit Poetry Journal.  (Winter 2013/Spring 2014.)  The kind folks at BPJ have made Mr. Bazzett’s poem available as a taste of what you will find in the whole issue.  You can read the work here.  (Warning: PDF.)

Bonuses:  Here is a brief and cute interview that Mr. Bazzett gave to Hunger Mountain.  Here is a poem Mr. Bazzett published in Rattle accompanied with an audiofile of a gentleman reading the poem.  (I don’t want to assume the voice belongs to Mr. Bazzett…you know what happens when one assumes.)  Here is a Hayden’s Ferry Review spotlight that may teach you a little bit more about the author.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Meter

Discussion:
Guess what.  There are now children who are born with polyhedral eyes.  They have trouble smelling certain kinds of cheeses and have coarse hair on their fingers.  Why are you still having difficulty in dealing with these children?

Mr. Bazzett’s poem reminds me, in a way, of a Kevin Brockmeier story.  Why?  Because the poem’s world is just like the one we know…just a little different.  How do we know?  Look at the poem’s first word:

Afterward…

Mr. Bazzett doesn’t tell us why some babies have been born differently, but the poem makes it clear that it doesn’t matter.  In this way, he puts the focus of the piece where it belongs: on the children and how society treats them.  Every writer is working in his or her own version of the real world.  Their job is to take us there in an efficient manner.  In only two lines, Mr. Bazzett sets up the idea that allows him to examine the frailties of the human psyche.  

For further reinforcement of this principle, you may also look to The Twilight Zone.  (Something we should do all the time anyway.)  Mr. Serling and his fellow writers examined the human condition by taking our world and just turning the kaleidoscope a little.

This is a world just like our own…on the day the Kanamits showed up from outer space.

Henry Bemis is a henpecked bookworm who works in a bank…on the day nuclear holocaust comes to be.

These small-time crooks just robbed a curio shop…and got a camera that can see into the future.

So from the first line of the poem, you’re not wondering how DNA changed…you’re wondering why peopel are treating these children differently from others.

Check out the first line as a whole:

Afterward, the most noteworthy change was children

Notice anything about those first five words?  Why, yes.  They’re in iambic pentameter.  (Yes, I know the unstressed foot of the first iamb has been cut.)  What does Mr. Bazzett get out of using “Marlowe’s mighty line?”  Perhaps some smarty-pants cognitive scientist can explain it better, but an iambic line just FEELS good for some reason.  It feels natural in English speech.  The reader approaches the poem with a sense of comfort.

I have the complicated pleasure of teaching a lot of folks who haven’t read a poem since they were forced to read “The Raven” in eighth grade.  How are these bright people to approach a work like Mr. Bazzett’s and to understand it as a poem instead of a piece of prose in which the author added a bunch of paragraph breaks?  If you read it aloud, the iambic part of the line FEELS good and comforts you, inviting you to read on, even though you may not know how the rest of the poem scans.  (You’ll also notice that the next six words of the poem are in iambic, too.)

A reader–particularly a beginning poetry reader–is looking for a handhold to figure out what each particular poem is going to be like.  Mr. Bazzett gives them that handhold.

I can’t help but point out my favorite line of the poem, the line that made me want to write about “The Differences.”

With all anomalies there is a desire for elimination.

A thought as true as it is lamentable.

What Should We Steal?

  • Communicate what is unique about the world of your story in an efficient manner.  Readers don’t need to be told that the sky is blue or that stuff, when dropped, will fall to the Earth at 9.8 meters per second.  They DO need to know that this is the timeline in which all of the votes from 2000 were counted.
  • Ground the reader in the flow of your poem.  You just spent hours playing with sounds and arranging each word where you felt it belonged.  Your reader needs a handhold before they can take off on that same wild ride.

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