What Can We Steal From Alicia Ostriker’s “April”?
Title of Work and its Form: “April,” poem
Author: Alicia Ostriker
Date of Work: 2011
Where the Work Can Be Found: “April” was originally published in the February issue of Poetry Magazine. The fine folks at the Poetry Foundation have even published the poem on their web site. “April” was subsequently awarded a Pushcart Prize and was included in the award’s 2013 anthology.
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Theme
“April” is a pleasant meditation on the arrival of Spring in New York City. The theme of rebirth is a constant in literature, and for good reason. It’s true that “The seasons go round they/ go round and around” and part of the pleasure of life is relaxing into these cycles.
The structure Ms. Ostriker chose for her poem is felicitous because it maximizes the potency of her theme. What is the structure? There are three stanzas, each of which focuses on a different kind of organism that responds to Spring: people, nature and dogs. The reactions to the season are different in each stanza. Aside from “the old woman” (who has experienced many changes of season), people are awash in optimism and working toward a better world. In nature, the tulip dances “among her friends/ in their brown bed in the sun/ in the April breeze” and is unfazed that she is not as “powerful” as the trees that cast shadows alongside her. The dog, of course, loves the gross smells and is gratified by the sounds of the river and traffic.
The reader is prepared to switch perspective from “people” to “nature” because Ms. Ostriker adds a stanza break. White space, whether it’s in a poem or a short story, indicates to a reader that you are making some sort of substantive change. You could be switching point of view or jumping through time. (Those are just a few of your options!)
Another important and meaningful detail about the poem: there is no punctuation at all! Why is that okay? The omission of periods and commas create an appropriate feeling in the poem. Doesn’t Spring wash over you in a warm, relentless breeze? The poem mimics this effect because Ms. Ostriker provides the reader with a gentle stream of words.
What Should We Steal?
- Consider your subject from a wide range of perspectives. “Spring” is a pretty big topic. Isn’t it interesting to think about what nature “thinks” about it? Just like Mozart, perform variations on your theme to encounter exciting ideas.
- Employ punctuation to your benefit…or omit it completely. Without pauses or full stops, your work may be a tiny bit less formal. There’s at least one benefit: your reader will stop reading only at line breaks, allowing the words to simply flow through their mind.
2011, 2013 Pushcart, Alicia Ostriker, Poetry Magazine, Theme
I’m taking my second annual trek through the Pushcart poetry - and I know very little about poetry. I liked the lack of punctuation in the first stanza - “for no good reason” could go with the line above, or the line below. Or both. I also liked the three-ways-of-looking-at-spring thing. Is the poem a rising arc, a downward spiral, or a level playing field? Hah, I think I’ll use that in my blog post… see, you’ve inspired me already.
Aw, I love thinking that I inspire folks. All of this writing I’ve been doing about these different works has been really helpful to me. (We’ll see if it helps me write better stories!)