Poem of the Week, “Tropical Death,” Plus Links!

This week I was asked to do the unthinkable. Pick one poem from the 19th, 20th, or 21st century and discuss its rhyme in a class. Just one poem? It was one of the most difficult choices I’ve made all semester. I finally decided on Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” but I felt terrible to not be able to share Grace Nichol’s “Tropical Death” or Philip Larkin’s “Wires” (to name but two on my list of ones I love). So, instead of sharing with the class, I will post “Tropical Death” here along with an abridged commentary on why it’s badass, awesome, and beautiful.

Tropical Death
by Grace Nichols

The fat black woman want
a brilliant tropical death
not a cold sojourn
in some North Europe far/forlorn

The fat black woman want
some heat/hibiscus at her feet
blue sea dress
to wrap her neat

The fat black woman want
some bawl
no quiet jerk tear wiping
a polite hearse withdrawal

The fat black woman want
all her dead rights
first night
third night
nine night
all the sleepless droning
red-eyed wake nights

In the heart
of her mother’s sweetbreast
In the shade
of the sun leaf’s cool bless
In the bloom
of her people’s bloodrest

the fat black woman want
a brilliant tropical death yes

What I love about this poem is how carefully wrought it is. Of course, as Jessica recently pointed out, that is true of most of the poetry that I love. This poem takes the idea of a ballad stanza’s rhyme (abab or abcb) and completely subverts it. Most stanzas provide a rhyme with the final line, but the line rhyming with the final one is not consistent throughout the poem. Even the final stanza has a rhyme that closes the stanza, in the uncomfortably close “death yes” phrase. Other awesome things? The way that Nichols controls capitalization of beginning lines. The anaphora in the penultimate stanza. The very Emily Dickinson move of providing two options for the reader to consider (far/forlorn, heat/hibiscus) and choose between (like Dickinson does in her manuscripts!). The incredible assonance and alliteration throughout. The creolization of language without that device driving the poem. ANYWAY. So as to not make this a beast of a post, I shall progress onto the links promised in the post’s title! (More information about Grace Nichols can be found here)

Recently, I’ve found some neat ways to indulge in poetry in a scheduled way!

Poetry Foundation offers a poem of the day, via a podcast! It’s great. If you subscribe to it with google reader, or some similar RSS apparatus, you can look at the old ones… I spent a good two hours this weekend combing through and finding exciting things (Charles Wright and Wallace Stevens reading their own poems to name a few). http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audiolanding

Poems of the day, for the eye rather than the ear, are also available through poetry daily (http://poems.com/) and through verse daily (http://www.versedaily.org/).

Last, but not least! Daily Lit offered a few neat things during national poetry month, and you can still enjoy them! Two books I am currently subscribed to are the Farrar, Straus and Giroux Featured Poets (http://www.dailylit.com/authors/farrar-straus-and-giroux) and the Knopf Poem-a-Day Collection (http://www.dailylit.com/books/poem-a-day-collection).

In other news, Jessica’s poem of the week was an imposter!!


One thought on “Poem of the Week, “Tropical Death,” Plus Links!

  1. Impostor or not, having twice the poetry around here is looking pretty good to me.

    I really like the rhythm this takes when I read it to myself.

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