In "Brian Age Seven" and "Dirt," the authors both center their poems around the concept of childhood. The two poems, however, have drastically divergent moods as they relate to this concept; "Brian" celebrates the purity and naiveté of children, whereas "Dirt" chronicles the way in which childhood trauma can leave permanent scars. The authors Mark Doty and C. K. Williams choose their words very carefully in order to create this stark contrast in the moods of their poems.
The first word in Doty's poem "Brian Age Seven" helps to set the tone: "grateful." The speaker, presumably an adult, marvels at the fact that these children are grateful for a tour of something as drab and unremarkable as a pharmacy. Doty proceeds to utilize rhetorical questions to enforce this mood of awe and wonder. "Why do some marks / seem to thrill with life, / possess a portion / of the nervous energy / in their maker's hand?" wonders the speaker at Brian's drawing. This rhetorical question serves to emphasize the incomprehensible nature of childhood and encourages the reader to wonder along with the speaker. Doty further builds this mood of awe through exclamatory statements; "Such naked support / for so much delight!" exclaims the speaker about the drawing. This exclamation serves to highlight the excitement the speaker feels about the magic of childhood.
Williams's "Dirt" begins in a decidedly different manner: "My grandmother is washing my mouth / out with soap," he writes. Instead of focusing on the child, Williams draws the reader's attention to the adult authority figure in control of the child's fate. He proceeds to employ descriptive adjectives and vivid sensory imagery to create the painful, traumatic mood of his poem. He describes his grandmother's "thick, cruel, yellow bar" of soap and hypothesizes that its "bitter burning" was the original trauma that led him to become a poet. He also gives the reader a shocking image of his childhood self peeing into a sink; one can imagine the stench and humiliation that must have accompanied such an act. In the final passage, Williams fills out his image. He describes the "cramped rooms," "fetid kitchen," and "squalor" of her home; he encourages the reader to smell and feel the desperation of his youth.
Although both poets have written about childhood, they utilize poetic devices such as rhetorical questioning, exclamatory sentences, and sensory imagery to create vastly different depictions of youth.