The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Beware: do not read this poem” is written in free verse, divided into six unequal stanzas. There are no capital letters, and the poem has many spelling irregularities and abbreviations, with apparently random spacing in many lines. There are very few punctuation marks except for an occasional comma or slash, usually in an odd place. However, a single voice speaks the whole poem, and, although there are no neat markers to indicate divisions, the poem can be divided into three distinct parts. Moreover, despite its appearance on the page, the “grammar” of the poem is straightforward and clear.

A story is told in the first three stanzas. This story, a kind of modern folktale, is related by the speaker as he synopsizes the plot of a television show he has just watched (“tonite, thriller”). The episode concerned an old woman who was so vain that she filled her house with mirrors, becoming finally so wrapped up in the mirrors that they became her life and she locked herself indoors. Eventually “the villagers” broke into her house, but she escaped by disappearing into a mirror. Thereafter, she seemed to haunt the house. Everyone who lived there “lost a loved one to/ the ol woman in the mirror.”

In the fourth stanza the poem changes; instead of narrative fantasy, the poem becomes more discursive, and the speech pattern becomes more concrete. Now the voice speaks of the poem itself as though it were the mirrors or the old...

(The entire section is 415 words.)