The Three That Speak to Us: “Family Math,” “Morning on the Island,” “A Voice on an Answering Machine”

Throughout this semester of Contemporary Poetry, Morgan and I studied the 2011 Best American Poetry anthology. Out of all seventy-five poems, there were three that spoke to us: Family Math, Morning on the Island, and A Voice on the Answering Machine. We feel that these three poems are a good representation of the 2011 Best American Poetry book.

One of our favorite poems was definitely Alan Michael Parker’s Family Math.  Parker uses a creative technique to express his thoughts to his readers: he pushes his readers to read his poetry more than once, because each of his poems have a deeper meaning that is initially difficult to distinguish. He is a professional creative writer, an aspect of his life that can be seen in his complex style of poetry. He consistently puzzles his readers, just as he puzzled us in Family Math. Parker interestingly connects “math” and numbers to reality: the math is always “changing” because there are always people passing away, people being born, and people continuing to live. Alan Michael Parker focuses on the idea that there are people that have “more to let go” from their lives when they are being “subtracted” from the world. He uses numbers to emphasize how something is different everyday. For example, he connects his age to his personal life, constantly assessing his age in comparison with the many members of his family. While we were reading this poem, we felt a connection to it because it evoked questions like “What will my life look like when I am his age?”. We believe that our classmates and high school as a whole would support our decision in picking this poem as one of the most important from the 2011 Best American Poetry book and a poem that needs to be shared with our community.

Another poem we liked was Morning on the Island by Carolyn Forché, which appeals to high schoolers for a number of reasons.  First, this poem was not at all abstract, it was  instead very descriptive.  No time was wasted on trying to decipher cryptic lines or looking for some type of hidden meaning: it was all very straightforward and to the point.  The root of this bluntness was the description, which provided a lot of imagery to make the reader sympathize with the poem.  The description and the imagery evoked her experience in us, though it was one we had never actually had.  It was this level of detail that allowed us to walk in Forché’s shoes: though we had never walked on an island in the winter, we were still able to envision the experience.  Another part of this poem that we liked was the personification of nature.  Forché gives the wind and sea the human traits of organization and cleanliness: the sea “washes the conifers” and the wind “piles the conifers.”  It is these small writing techniques that really bring the poem to life.  Another interesting feature of the poem is its casual yet calming tone.  The poem reads softly and it flows nicely, despite some complicated word choice.  As a result of all these elements, we selected it as one of our three best poems from the 2011 book.

The third and final poem that we selected for the three best poems from the 2011 version of Best American Poetry was A Voice on the Answering Machine by Yusef Komunyakaa.  The feature of this poem that really stood out to us was the influence behind it. At first glance, this poem seems confusing and it appears that Komunyakaa is a master of writing about experiences that he has never had.  However, after a quick Wikipedia search of Komunyakaa and a glimpse into the difficulties of his life, one can really start to see this poem come together.  It is about the murder-suicide of his ex-partner and their two year old child.  It is a poem of remorse and regret and can be seen as Komunyakaa’s way of forgiving himself.  He makes it sound like he said something that he shouldn’t through the line“Sometimes we all wish we could put words back into our mouths.”  We thought that this poem was Yusef’s way of opening up to the world and accepting the reality that his ex-partner and child are dead.  Everyone has different ways of grieving and mourning, and we think poetry is Yusef’s strategy.  This is what gives the poem its sincerity: it is a very real poem about a very real topic.  The combination of sincerity, remorse, and influence are what give this poem its title as one of the best three poems in the 2011 version of Best American Poetry.

After reading 75 poems from the 2011 version of Best American Poetry, Morning on the Island, Family Math, and A Voice on the Answering Machine were our favorite three.  Each of these poems have elements of them we believe are relevant and useful for high-schoolers at both at DHS and around the country.

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