Notes about the Arnold poem

I was talking with my friend Gretchen today, and the topic of hot sauce came up. I’m a total lightweight, and can’t touch the stuff (my sister on the other hand, can eat spicy food until the cows come home). As we talked, I remembered this great poem by Craig Arnold, and sent her a link.

I found a copy of the poem online, but it was marred with grammatical and typographical errors. I’ve compared it with the original, as it appears in BAP 1998, and fixed what I could catch. If you see any errors, let me know and I’ll fix ’em.

I love the way Arnold’s poem reads. Many people use the term “flow” when referring to poetry, but what they’re really talking about is the way in which a piece of writing allows for a continuous, unbroken reading experience. In terms of, say, a paper or a student essay, “flow” refers to the ease with which one paragraph transitions into another; it also refers to the way in which an argument/thesis is advanced, step by step.

In this particular case the “flow” of the poem is due to several elements: Arnold’s decision to use couplets, his use of contractions (which make some lines sound more like dialogue), and the use of enjambment (where the sentence spills over from one line to the next).

When reading poetry, our natural inclination is to stop at the end of each line. And in some cases, there is punctuation at the end of the line to indicate a pause, be it a period or a comma. However, for a good chunk of Arnold’s poem, the lines spill over from one couplet to the next, and as a result your eye carries you down the page. The poem in this case “flows” well, allowing for an unimpeded reading experience.

Ah. Sorry about that. Once I got started writing, I couldn’t stop. As much as I love my day job, every once in a while I wonder what it would be like to be back in the classroom. Lord knows I can natter on at length.

I’ll leave you with this one final note on Arnold’s poem. When I first read it, I was immensely pleased by the story within the poem. On looking back though, my jaw dropped when I noticed that not only is the entire poem in couplets… but they’re RHYMING couplets to boot!

If you look at each individual couplet above, you’ll notice that the end words rhyme, providing a sort of AA, BB, CC, DD rhyme scheme. Granted, some of them are loose rhymes… but rhymes nonetheless. On my first read through this poem, I completely missed it! Going over his poem a second time, I was in awe at how deftly Arnold handled things – using not only rhyming couplets, but also enjambment and indentation to seemingly hide those close rhymes. Simply amazing.

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