The Three That Speak To Us: “20 Questions,” “Chicken,” and “Dog That I Am”

The Best American Poetry edition of 2004 is filled with an abundance of astounding poems published that year. After a considerable amount of discussion we decided on three poems in our volume that particularly spoke to us while reading them. These three poems include “20 questions” by Alan Bernheimer, “Chicken” By Kim Addonizio, and “Dog that I am” by Gerald Stern. All three of these poems bring up real world problems and impact the reader in one way or another. These poems also present a clear message to its readers while incorporating creative writing and interesting ideas. Another attribute that stood out to us about the poems is there accessibility to readers. Many of the poems in our volume were unnecessarily hard to understand while these three poems made the message clear to the readers while also leaving some room for interpretation.

20 Questions

“20 Questions” by Alan Bernheimer is a  poem that  is a series of twenty questions, that cover multiple issues within society. The inspiration for this poem started after the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. Mr. Bernheimer  had heard on the radio that poetry was too personal to respond to events so large and horrific. This inspired the first question of the poem in which Bernheimer asks, “What can be said of the unspeakable that has not already been unsaid”. Over the next three years Bernheimer would go on to write nineteen more questions that challenge the readers view on society. Mr. Bernheimer also made the choice to not include question marks on any of the twenty questions. This allows for the reader to create their own mini questions like they would in an actual game of twenty questions. This allows for the reader to really grab ahold of the poem and make it their own. This could stem from the fact the poem is written in free verse and doesn’t really follow any typical outline for a poem. This poem is very important for high school students to read because it makes us go into society has adults not just accepting what or how it is. That’s really important because it allows for people to call out the problems that they see and that can lead to change and usually change leads to better things. We think that this poem is important to study because of the fact it is calling for a change in society.



The poem “Chicken” by Kim Addonizio is a poem that stood out to me in the 2004 Best American Poetry edition and is one that I have spent a considerable amount of time on throughout this semester. This poem spoke to both Lindsey and I for numerous reasons. The poem takes the well known question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and gives a deeper meaning to it by addressing the problem of poultry. Right off the bat it is very clear what the authors opinion is. Through her use of free verse, Addonizio calls to the reader’s attention the crime of caging animals and that humans are the ones who are doing this horrible crime. If the chicken and other farm animals were not caged up by humans they would have the capability to be free. An interesting component in this poem that the author adds is she relates the chicken escaping her cage to a convict escaping from jail. In the end, the convict escapes and gets away with it, while the chicken remains confined. Addonizio adds an interesting twist at the end saying, “He’ll make it to a farmhouse Where kind people will feed him They’ll bring green beans and bread, home brewed hops”. Here the author is implying that when the convict escapes he is fed the innocent chicken by the farmers. Through this poem Addonizio communicates to her readers the inequalities and injustices of our world. Her mention of god in lines like “God knows how she got out, God sees everything” shows the importance and significance of this poem and that in some way there has to be an explanation for what goes on in this world. Addonizio’s use of language and swears also further accentuate her passion towards poultry that create a considerably persuasive poem that makes a great impact on its readers.

Dog That I Am

“Dog That I Am” by Gerald Stern is about a failed love affair the poet himself lived through. Although the poem is very specific to his love affair it still teaches a very important lesson to the reader. The reader is able to learn the signs of what a toxic relationship looks like when one using and emotionally abusing the other. As the reader you can see the emotional toll the relationship is taking on the speaker when it says “I could be from Rome waiting for her command,”. The speaker is so trapped by their lover they are so submissive to their lover, so when the speaker tries to leave at the end of the poem they have this call back to the relationship, “I scream outright at the likeness.”. As the reader you feel like you are living through this abuse with the speaker. This is very important for high school students to read because we are in some form of relationship, whether it be with a lover, or a friend, or some other kind we need to be able to see if the relationship is causing us more harm than good. So many people are in emotionally abusive relationships and are unaware of it.  This poem makes its extremely easy for that. The poem is written in free verse which makes the poem easier to read and understand. Although, it is  all very simple language and is a shorter poem, so its super accessible for students, however it still holds a deeper meaning. We think this is important poem to read because as students we need to be more educated on real life situations, such as an emotionally abusive relationship.

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