“Poem” by David Shapiro

609 words | 3 page(s)

David Shapiro’s poem, ironically entitled “Poem,” is a complex piece that resists attempts at classification. “Poem” is written in open, free verse form, with no regular meter or rhyme. Spatially, “Poem” contains twenty lines in a lessening and descending order. With ten lines, the first stanza is the longest, followed by five lines in the second stanza, four in the third, and only one line in the last. Visually, this narrowing gives the poem a funneling or channeling effect, as it narrows to its shortest point, that being the final evocative line, “You sat in a corner of the page” (line 20). In “Poem,” Shapiro juxtaposes religious imagery with objectifying symbolism to project a self-referential effect that speaks of solitude and the meaning of love and loss.

The first thing one notices about Shapiro’s “Poem” is the title itself. In titling the poem “Poem,” Shapiro ironically calls attention to the artifice of the verse itself. Oftentimes, poets and writers attempt to draw the reader into the text, creating an immersive effect that makes the reader forget the fiction and artifice of the narrative. In “Poem,” Shapiro does the opposite. By using the title “Poem,” he explicitly points out the essential fiction of the piece. This effect objectifies the verse and encourages the viewing of the poem itself as an image in the reader’s mind. Following this imagistic effect, Shapiro uses religious imagery as a kind of object within the artifice itself. Line four contains a singular reference— “Tohu Bohu” —which is a Hebrew expression found in the Book of Genesis, meaning abject desolation or the emptiness before God created matter and light. In lines six and seven, Shapiro repeats the word “alone,” mirroring the emptiness before God’s creation and symbolizing the speaker’s isolation and sense of loss.

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Line ten, “and the speaker,” also becomes self-referential in a paradigm such as that created by the title. Here, Shapiro calls attention to the artifice of the speaker himself, who also becomes objectified by the verse. This furthers the metaphor of the speaker’s loneliness and essential separation from his own self-identity through loss. Shapiro makes the statement that the speaker also feels separated from God, as reinforced through the line, “The old abbot looked at us and laughed” (line 13). The mocking from the orthodox church, as symbolized by the “abbot,” further displays the speaker’s separation from the things he once held dear and from his own emotions, which appear distilled by the objectification of the title and of the speaker himself.

The past tense of line fifteen, “You were as beautiful…,” also signifies loss and a sense of the speaker’s dissonance between the past and the present. The dual similes in the following stanza reinforce this paradigm through disparate imagery: “as six almonds / as beautiful as / the naked foot / of the messenger of peace” (lines 16-19), leading us to the devastation of the poem’s final line, “You sat in a corner of the page” (line 20). This line furthers the theme of objectification in the poem and completes the circular transition from the poem to the speaker to the actual object of his separation, i.e., the “you” pronoun, signifying the real-world embodiment of the speaker’s loss.

In “Poem,” David Shapiro intertwines religious imagery with reifying symbolism to achieve a complex emotional effect that reveals the complexity of the speaker’s solitude and sense of loss. The self-referential objectification of the elements in the poem, i.e., the poem itself, the speaker, and his loved one, creates an intricate web of interconnected motifs that deepens the reader’s understanding of the speaker’s despair.

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