Realistic Imagery

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Dennis’s “The God Who Loves You” is a poem that yanks readers around emotionally. By addressing the poem directly to the reader, the reader is pulled into the hypothetical situation that Dennis creates, where the reader is both made to feel sad that he—for the purposes of the poem, Dennis addresses the poem to a male reader—could have had a better life and also guilty because the reader is causing an unnamed, omnipotent god pain by not following the path that would have led to this better life. Dennis achieves this emotional roller coaster through careful use of both point of view and realistic imagery.

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When the poem begins, Dennis poses a hypothetical situation: “It must be troubling for the god who loves you.” The use of the word “must” shows that Dennis is assuming something about this god’s point of view and not stating a fact. If Dennis wanted to be more forceful and turn his assumption into a statement of fact, he would have used a more direct word, such as “is”: “It is troubling for the god who loves you.” By starting the discussion in the realm of the hypothetical, Dennis puts the burden on the reader to figure out whether or not the situations that Dennis is describing are real or imagined. But Dennis certainly makes them seem real, by taking the reader inside the mind of this unnamed god, and letting the reader see things from this god’s point of view. For example, in the second and third lines of the poem, Dennis has the god “ponder how much happier you’d be today / Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.” The use of the word “glimpse” indicates that the god has seen these futures, and it is the first of many visual words that Dennis uses to describe images of an alternative, better life that the reader could have had.

As the poem progresses, it uses this twin dynamic— point of view and imagery—to further pull the reader in. The reader is shown a number of situations which most readers can apply to their own lives. While still hypothetical, these situations seem all the more real because of the details that Dennis uses. For example, Dennis depicts an image of a typical end of a work week, where the reader is “Driving home from the office, content with your week—/ Three fine houses sold to deserving families—” This mundane situation will resonate with many readers who have had similar experiences. Because Dennis is relating these details through the point of view of his unnamed deity, it makes this god seem more real because the god has knowledge of this shared human work experience. In his review of Practical Gods for The Antioch Review, John Taylor notes how, throughout the collection, Dennis employs “Sundry ‘guardian angels’ and ‘gods who love you,’ ” who “become tangible in awesome or amusing ways.”

Indeed, as the poem continues, the god becomes even more tangible as he indulges in more of what the Publishers Weekly reviewer calls the god’s “regretful musings.” This sense of regret runs strong throughout the poem, and gets stronger as Dennis makes subtle changes to his language to take the situations out of the realm of the hypothetical. For example, in line seven, Dennis says the god knows “exactly what would have happened / Had you gone to your second choice for college.” Knowing “exactly” how something would have happened is a marked change from the beginning of the poem, where Dennis used indefinite, hypothetical words such as “must” and “ponder.” Now, the god’s knowledge— and by extension, the god himself—is referred to in terms of reality, not hypothetical situations.

This sense of reality increases as Dennis picks one mistaken choice and builds an extended example of how an alternate choice would have made the reader’s life better. “Had you gone to your second choice for college,” Dennis notes, the...

(The entire section contains 4286 words.)

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Critical Overview