The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“It Is Deep” is a short dramatic monologue of free verse divided into five stanzas of irregular length. The title, beginning with the indefinite pronoun “it,” suggests the slang meaning of “deep”: a highly abstract, intellectually profound idea lying beneath layers of superficial meanings. In Carolyn M. Rodgers’s poem, the superficial layers stem from the conflicting realities that typically exist between a mother and her adult daughter as the daughter asserts her independence and individuality.

The poet, commenting on her mother’s recent visit, notes how different her and her mother’s views are on issues of religion, politics, and lifestyle. This difference is particularly noted in their attitudes toward racism. The poet regards her mother, “religiously girdled in her god,” as having endured racial oppression by a delusion of heavenly deliverance and meek acquiescence. The poet, however, rebels against racism by stripping the “god” myth away and engaging in revolutionary rejection of the political ideology and lifestyles of white America. The opening of the poem makes the point that the mother, in her dogged role of “religious-negro,” cannot appreciate the daughter’s racial progress. Thus, when the daughter refuses to use the “witch cord” and gets her telephone disconnected, the mother can only suppose “that her ‘baby’ was starving” for lack of money to pay bills and buy food. The mother, “gruff and...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The language of Rodgers’s poem is rich in its imagery and use of black speech forms. The poet’s use of rhythmic speech lends cultural authority to her voice as she speaks the language of black culture with all of its irony, humor, and depth. Characteristic of black speech are its complex linguistic forms, the repetition of which create a musical, polyrhythmic style much like that of rap music. Several of Rodgers’s descriptions hinge on long phrases consisting of heavily subordinated and embedded sentence elements. For example, the first stanza consists of two long, complex phrases that introduce the main clause, which begins in the next stanza. Rodgers frequently violates conventional syntax to push the rhythm of her words forward. In the line “blew through my door warm wind from the south/ concern making her gruff and tight-lipped,” Rodgers juxtaposes the sentence’s obvious subject, “My mother,” with the “warm wind from the south,” leaving the reader to judge whether the mother or the wind blew through the door. Rodgers’s irony is that the southern wind intruding through the door is both a real breeze and her mother, who represents the passé lifestyle of the old South with its stereotypically submissive “religious-negro.” The inconsistency of conventional punctuation between these complex sentences creates an ambiguity of subject and action, oddly resulting in the poem’s structural coherence. This coherence justifies the narrative...

(The entire section is 476 words.)