Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
Because my biggest poem is a “number poem,” people often ask about that approach with regards to their own writing. In that question, though, there’s often a hint of suspicion, as if poems built around numbered sections represent some kind of poetic cheat code, an easy way to sound deep without really justifying the structural conceit. And sure, that happens.
This poem, however, is a great example of how a number poem can work, and work beautifully. At its core, a number poem is a way to fragment an idea; to use a visual metaphor, I think of number poems as less photorealistic and more impressionistic. Rather than offer some big, authoritative thesis statement about a topic, you can build an idea out of smaller pieces; the substance of the poem is contained both in those pieces and in how those pieces relate to one another.
In this poem, the separation of the main idea into smaller sections allows Smith to deploy a whirlwind of concrete images– the fire, the tampons, the stitches, the gallbladder, the hurricane, the bones. Because the poem is already fragmented, those images get to stand on their own as they appear. That fragmentation also allows different sections to provide context for one another. For example: …when I was reminded to be humble, when I was taught to be polite, when I was raised to be a Christian, all forgiveness and long suffering, when I was beaten into being a good girl… connects the deeply personal to larger ideas about society and culture, expanding the “work” of the poem in a powerful way.