If you were the editor of a new poetry anthology book, why wouldn't you want to publish the following poem?  “Child Beater” Ai Outside, the rain, Pinafore of gray water, dresses the town And I...

If you were the editor of a new poetry anthology book, why wouldn't you want to publish the following poem?

 

“Child Beater”

Ai

Outside, the rain, Pinafore of gray water, dresses the town

And I stroke the leather belt,

As she sits in the rocking chair,

Holding a crushed paper cup to her lips.

I yell at her, but she keeps rocking;

Back, her eyes open, forward, they close.

Her body, somehow fat, though I feed her only once a day,

Reminds me of my own just after she was born.

It’s been seven years, but I still can’t forget how I felt.

How heavy it feels to look at her.

 

I lay the belt on a chair

And get her dinner bowl.

I hit the spoon against it, set it down

And watch her crawl to it,

Pausing after each forward thrust of her legs

And when she takes her first bite,

I grab the belt and beat her across the back

Until her tears, beads of salt-filled glass, falling,

Shatter on the floor.

 

I move off. I let her eat,

While I get my dog’s chain leash from the closet.

I whirl it around my head.

O daughter, so far, you’ve only had a taste of icing,

And you ready now for some cake?

8 Answers | Add Yours

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Here's the thing about this poem--it's graphic and will certainly maintain student interest due to its shock value. The decision, then, is what kind of anthology are you creating?  If it's one which is full of modern, rather shocking work, then I'd include this.  If it's an anthology designed to showcase the best examples of all kinds of poetry, I'd leave it out.  This poem's merits aren't as strong as many others with the same theme, such as Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz."  Sometimes leaving something to the imagination is better, and less can be more.  Let the reader do more of the work.   

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This poem actually reminds me of another excellent (and also somewhat disturbing) poem that we use as part of our GCSE curriculum for poetry by Carol Ann Duffy called "We Remember Your Childhood Well". You could definitely do a great compare and contrast on these two poems as they deal with the same issue, but this latter poem takes the perspective of the parents or carer of an abused childhood. Well worth googling it to read it! I would say I would want to have this poem in an anthology - I think we need to be careful not to avoid good poetry that nonetheless has a shocking or disturbing subject.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I wouldn't say that it shouldn't be included in a poetry anthology because I've seen more graphic poems in other anthologies that are considered timely.  However, I would say that I would not teach the poem in my high school class or ask my students to read it.  While it does have imagery, that can be found in other poems, it simply doesn't encourage much critical analysis on the reader's part.  The voice of the poem is so overwhelming that high school readers would most likely focus solely on that and miss any other questionable benefit that the poem might offer.

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

While the subject matter is disturbing, that is not enough to preclude its inclusion in an anthology. The poem is graphic and brings to mind many images, but "Outside, the rain, Pinafore of gray water, dresses the town", and "taste of icing, And you ready now for some cake?"is really the only strong literary technique used in this poem.

In addition, the reader is beat over the head with the topic of child abuse, and a quality piece of literature will let the reader decide for himself or herself.

There is a difference between graphic writing and strong writing. I think this could be a strong and powerful piece of writing, but right now, it's simply too graphic for an anthology.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I'm not an English teacher, so I can't give as good of an answer as these other two, but presumably poetry anthologies are for people who aren't English teachers too, so here's my answer:

1. I'd never want to read that poem -- it's too disturbing.  It would be no fun to read a book that had a poem like that in it.

2. If this were for an HS class and the teacher made my kids read this, I'd be pretty annoyed.  There's no need for kids to have this put in their faces.  I don't think we need to shelter HS students, but there's no reason to be gratuitously in-your-face with this either.  If this is included, then why not a graphic paean to rape?

mrs-campbell's profile pic

mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Poetry has certain elements and characteristics that give it quality and depth.  It must contain poetic techniques such as imagery, metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, assonance, and other sound and figurative language elements.  All of those elements are tools that, when used well, separate poetry from flat-out prose, and set a poem apart from say, a journal entry about feelings.  The above poem has a few good techniques that could be discussed, but you have to balance that out with the message being stated.

Consider the content matter; it is very disturbing.  Poetry anthologies are often used in high school and college classes.  This poem is loaded with intense, deep issues that overwhelm the fact that it is a poem.  It overwhelms any language devices that might be used, and instead screams with its awful message of abuse.  Because of that intense message, the focus is taken away from the poetic aspects of it, and a poetry anthology is meant to include poems that exemplify excellent poetic techniques.  Plus, the students reading it might be offended, or it could bring up topics and baggage not elemental to an English or poetry class.

Subtlety is often another tool of poetry; it allows for reader interpretation and connection.  And, this poem is not very subtle; rather, it forces its meaning onto you, giving you very little room for personal connection or interpretation.  That means that it does not have much depth or many layers, which poetry is known for.  A poetry anthology would have poems that demonstrate the highest quality of depth, the highest quality of technique, and contain poems of subject matter that doesn't distract from the language's meaning.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

rshaffer's profile pic

rshaffer | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

This is a difficult question to answer because structurally, I would want to include this poem.  The strong imagery engulfs the reader into the content and keeps the reader interested to the end.  The content, however, is another story.  I wouldn't include in the anthology because the subject matter is too disturbing.  It's bad enough to read abuse by a father, but a mother, now that crosses the line for many.  Because authors, poets, etc. tend to write about familiar experiences, this poem could be too realistic for many students.  Discuss of this poem would also have to handled gingerly.  It could promote high emotions in discussion and tread on delicate ground with students.  I mean the idea that a mother would after starving her daughter would beat her when given food to eat is sick.  In addition, the last stanza is disturbing.  The fact that the beating while eating is only a "taste of icing" is a sickening image.  Also, the satirical question asking if she wants some "cake" would push students too far.  Boy, what a strong poem this is though.

rshaffer's profile pic

rshaffer | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

This is a difficult question to answer because structurally, I would want to include this poem.  The strong imagery engulfs the reader into the content and keeps the reader interested to the end.  The content, however, is another story.  I wouldn't include in the anthology because the subject matter is too distrubing.  It's bad enough to read abuse by a father, but a mother, now that crosses the line for many.  Because authors, poets, etc. tend to write about familiar experiences, this poem could be too realistic for many students.  Discuss of this poem would also have to handled gingerly.  It could promote high emotions in discussion and tread on delicate ground with students.  I mean the idea that a mother would after straving her daughter would beat her when given food to eat is sick.  In addition, the last stanza is distrubing.  The fact that the beating while eating is only a "taste of icing" is a sickening image.  Also, the satirical question asking if she wants some "cake" would push students too far.  Boy, what a strong poem this is though.

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