The Three That Speak To Us: “The Afterlife,” “Pill,” and “The Imagined”

The poems in the 2012 volume of Best American Poetry are highly relevant even in 2018 to high school students everywhere. “The Afterlife” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, “Pill” by Bruce Bond, and “The Imagined” by Stephen Dunn are all poems that reflect today’s issues and are considered great. In 2012, our generation was only about 12 years old and growing up, we learned from our mistakes with having healthy relationships, healthy habits, and a healthy perspective on life. Out of the 75 remarkably written poems in the volume, we chose these three poems because we found that they relate to our generation more than the others. The struggle to cope with death, the temptation of using drugs and peer pressure, and complications with relationships are all problems that teenagers in high school tend to face. These poems are considered a safe haven for those struggling because they are relatable and remind kids that they are not alone. Their structure and message play an important role in creating a successful and great poem that earned its spot in the Best American Poetry book.

“The Afterlife” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz triggers emotional feelings and makes readers consider what happens after death. Schwartz started writing at an early age and knew she wanted to begin a career in writing early on in life. She received a BA, MA, and a PhD during her time at multiple universities. Schwartz then went on to teach at prestigious schools such as Columbia, Michigan, and Rice university. Her experience in writing is the reason for how she is able to convey such deep meanings throughout her works. “The Afterlife” is a prime example of how Schwartz writes about a meaningful, deeper meaning. This poem is written in free verse and mostly composed of tercets, or three line stanzas with the last two stanzas made up of two lines. Schwartz set it up as a story and focuses more on the complexity of the poem rather than poetic values. The poem conveys two very debated ideas, religion and death, and makes readers really wonder what happens after you die. Schwartz offers her readers an emotional response when a girl is looking for her mother in the afterlife as when she finds her, she receives a dreadful reply, “Mothers, she said, fathers, families, lovers are for the place you came from” (Schwartz). This is meant to strike reality into the readers as she is saying that when you die, you will never see the people from your past. It is a harsh reality but is is something Schwartz feels is important to mention. Schwartz also tries to play with the reader’s minds by mentioning a description of the afterlife: “It was so crowded, hordes of people, everyone seeking someone, staggering every which way” (Schwartz). This quote sets in another reality as Schwartz is saying that the afterlife is not exactly a beautiful place to be as this quote makes the dead seem like zombies. The afterlife is a religious value, and the complexity of the poet’s words shows her neutral stance by not specifying whether there is a heaven or hell, which allows all people to relate to her poem. This poem can relate to our generation because sometimes death is a difficult thing to deal with and everyone feels the loss of a loved one at one point in their lives. Teens can turn to this poem to know that they are not alone and put their faith into an afterlife.

“Pill” by Bruce Bond is an emotional journey of a poem, with plenty of metaphors and descriptive language that intrigues the reader. Bruce Bond has earned a BA from Pomona College, an MA in English from Claremont Graduate School, an MA in music performance from the Lamont School of Music, and a PhD in English from the University of Denver. His background in English, music, and teaching has a strong influence on his writing. The structure of “Pill” is composed of tercets, which creates a simple outline to the poem that is easy to read and accessible to all audiences. The poem is in the free verse format, with no rhyming, to create a serious tone and fit the definition of a contemporary poem. One quote that stood out to me was “In time you are addicted. And it takes more of the drug to get you back” (Bond). This triggered an emotional response because it shows the struggle with addiction and how accepting one’s problem is difficult. I think many people can relate to this quote because addiction is a worldly problem that especially teens in high school are exposed to. I think this poem does a good job with explaining the reality of a drug problem, like it feels like your “dissolving”  like a “black star” (Bond). Towards the end of the poem, Bond writes: “In time you tell yourself you are the age you are” (Bond) which is another way the narrator copes with reality. In all, this poem is important for our generation to read because teenagers can connect to it and not feel alone if they are struggling or know someone struggling with addiction.

“The Imagined” by Stephen Dunn shows an interesting perspective on a old couple whose relationship is fading out. Though at first, it may seem like teenagers can’t relate to this, but after analyzing it, it is very relevant in today’s society. Dunn attended the New School and earned an MA in creative writing from Syracuse University, where he studied with Philip Booth, Donald Justice, and W. D. Snodgrass, and he has over a dozen books of poetry. In “The Imagined”, Dunn writes about a married man and woman who seem to be better off with their imaginary spouses. Dunn explains the make-believe husband and wife as “satisfying” (Dunn) and that they have to pretend it’s “just the two of them” (Dunn). The poem written in prose and separated into two paragraphs to represent the man’s perspective, then the woman’s perspective. The relevant idea is the message of miscommunication, and how this can ruin a relationship. It is relevant in today’s society because teens often mishandle communication because of texting and social media and avoiding face to face contact. Teenagers should read this to learn from the couple’s mistakes, and be honest with the ones they care about, whether that’s family or friends. A quote from the poem that comes to reveal this message is “Hasn’t the time come, once again, not to talk about it?” (Dunn). This shows the problems with not confronting issues in a relationship. This couple continuously avoids talking to each other and it furthermore complicates their problems.

The 2012 edition of “The Best American Poetry” proves to be very relevant to high school students around the country. The series offers insight on addiction, relationships, and death, all three of these topics important to the development of a teenager. The three poems, “The Afterlife”, “Pill”, and “The Imagined”, are thought to be the best from the 2012 edition for their effectiveness on making people aware of world-wide issues. Not only were these poems outright the best from the edition, but they perfectly summed up the main messages from the other 72 poems. The edition focuses on the complexity of death and real life issues, both of which are talked about in the three poems chosen. The issues written about are extremely important for today’s youth and the messages should continue to be spread through other works of writing.

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