The Three That Speak to Us: “A House is Not a Home”, “The Happy Majority”, and “Concerning the Land of the South of Our Neighbors to the North”

In our 2009 version of “Best American Poetry”, we selected three poems that spoke to both my partner, Lucas Thompson, and I. We believe that these poems tackle very important issues in the modern world, but they do so without being too complicated to understand. We believe that the poems we chose are both easily accessible and pleasant to read.

We’re going to start off with “A House Is Not A Home” by Terrance Hayes.  I believe this poem speaks volumes about society today. He touches on topics such as lust, friendship, homosexuality, and betrayal.  Hayes’s style of writing allows him to tap into many different areas easily. I believe it’s due to the fact that he writes with such simplicity and concreteness.  He never tries too hard to be creative, by using meaningless themes that don’t line up or don’t make sense.  He lets his story speak for itself, rather than masking it with ridiculous sentences that leave people confused and uninterested. This would appeal to our younger generation, as the message Hayes is trying to convey to us is clear. Hayes is very forward in his writing. In the poem, the speaker states that they wants to work “at the African-American Acoustic and Audiological accident Insurance Institute so that I can record the rumors and raucous rhythms of my people, our jangled history, the slander in our sugar, the ardor in our anger, a subcategory of which probably includes the sound particular to one returning to his feet after a friend has knocked him down…”. Hayes manages to express his feelings in an artistic, but not too abstract way — the readers are still able to understand him.

A different poem we chose was “The Happy Majority” by Thomas Lux. This poem is about all the things the speaker would like to accomplish before dying, and going to “the happy majority”. I think this poem reflects the 1999-2018 era fairly well, though it would apply to most time periods. Death is something that all humans will have to face at some point, and the poem is not specific to any single religion. It allows people of all different backgrounds to be able to relate to the poem. The language is very simplistic, and easy to understand, while the ideas surrounding it cause the readers to think. It leads us to think about what we would like to achieve before we pass, who is important to us, our impact on the world, etc. After reading this, I felt inclined to think about the bigger picture which I think is something that society often forgets to do. The use of parentheses and repetition in this poem is something that caught my attention. Lux incorporates these and gives the poem a lyrical, song-like flow. “Before I join the happy majority (though I doubt one member happy / or unhappy) I have some plans: to discover several new species / of beetle; to jump from a 100-foot platform / into a pile — big enough / to break my fall — of multicolored lingerie; / to build a little heater / (oh not to join the happy ones, / until some tasks are done)”.

Lastly, the poem “Concerning the Land to the South of Our Neighbors to the North” by Mark Bibbins really opened my eyes to how absurd our country is at the moment. The speaker mocks extremists, and the whole poem is very satirical. It is extremely clever, the speaker is mocking everyone in the country and separating themselves (and the readers) from the commotion. The format is very strange, even a little confusing, but I believe that only makes the poem better as it conveys how odd and irrational people can be. It also brought up some serious issues and and the speaker offers their perspective on war — with how we send innocent people to kill other innocent people to clean up our mess. The poem is also comical in some ways. The lack of punctuation and the awkward formatting only exemplifies Bibbins’ message more. One part in particular was in the form of a joke with no punchline. “Knock knock who’s there Texas Texas who no just Texas.” There is no punctuation at all in this passage. It’s up to the reader to read with their own rhythm, which is also a very interesting way of writing poetry that I have not seen before.

I think the qualities of these poems are something that the majority of modern poetry lacks. Instead of complexity, the authors prioritize their message and how they could get it across to their readers. If more poems were as easily accessible, but still important, as these, I think poetry could become a bigger platform for all types of issues going on in the world.

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