The Three That Speak To Us: “Skin,” “Dear Alter Ego,” “Song With A Child’s Pacifier In It”

2003 was a tumultuous year in and for the United States, with the aftermath of 9/11 still fresh in the nation’s mind, and wars overseas just starting to brew. In times of tragedy and discourse such as this, poets are often called upon to catalog the widespread feelings that everyday people don’t always know how to express. After many read-throughs of the BAP volume of 2003, my partner and I handpicked the three poems that we believe to show and encompass the pandemic state of the American nation in 2003.


Based on a 1996 bombing in Jerusalem, Skin does a picture-perfect job of painting the aftermath of a terror scene, right down to the grey-tinged air and silence of the aftermath. Not mentioning the Jerusalem bombing until the last line, readers can see this poem as being about any type of leftover war scene, whether it be 9/11, a school shooting, or just another old battlefield in the desert. This kind of flexibility that Dickman gives her words makes the piece timeless, as it could refer to disasters of any age. An obvious choice for our top three, Skin seems to fit into any high school poetry course in America (or the world).


The inner dialogue of a woman’s different sides of herself, Dear Alter Ego shows off a personal experience in the journey every teenager, let alone person in the world goes through while growing up. Hoping to put away the darkest parts of herself, Heather Moss writes a spell-like poem to cast out into the world so that she may be rid of herself. When speaking about choices for important poetry in high schools, this piece’s relatability to teenagers is obvious. The changes a person goes through in high school are arguably some of the most extreme they will ever experience. Think about who you were as a freshman, and then as a senior. Most have cut or dyed their hair, changed their clothing style, or at least switched friend groups. These changes are more concrete, but they are all connected to inner shifts in your mind, personality, and who you identify yourself as. Most people do not realize the change as it is happening, but we all are known to struggle with the different parts of ourselves, and what we like and don’t like. In this age, more than ever, we see adolescents’ self-esteem lowering, and trouble brewing stronger in the mind every day. Dear Alter Ego is reminiscent of all these sort of changes, and although Moss may not be in high school, the words in her poem might as well belong to a sixteen year old girl in her junior year, struggling between being a cheerleader and her love of environmental science.


Less about the idea and all about the language, Bruce Smith writes two poems in one, and almost ten different story lines littered throughout. An almost textbook like example of poetry in the modern 21st century, Song With A Child’s Pacifier In It does an excellent job of being impossible to understand (at least for the first few read throughs). Although this elliptical writing style tends to ward off high school readers and confuses most, it is important to include because of the challenges it presents. A poem to work through rather than sympathize with, Song With A Child’s Pacifier In It gives readers a chance to try and understand the misleading styles that so many poets love to experiment with nowadays. If we never make students read things they don’t understand (at first), what is the point of learning?

With this, we give you our three final picks from the Best American Poetry volume of 2003. Happy reading. 🙂 

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