The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369

Charles Wright’s “Laguna Blues” contains three stanzas, each with five lines, which attempt to identify the vague reasons for the poet’s general malaise. Even though the poet never discovers what causes his unease in the course of this poem, he is left with a description of the California landscape around him and the quality of that uneasiness.

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Although details in the poem place the setting in the coastal town of Laguna Beach, California, where Wright was living at the time he wrote it, the poem is meant to reveal more insight into the poet’s emotional state than to describe the setting. The point of view wavers back and forth between actual objects within the landscape and vague references to the poet’s emotional state. On a Saturday afternoon, white sheets of paper containing the poet’s words lift and fall in the breeze; similarly, “Dust threads, cut loose from the heart,” rise in the air and fall. The emotionally weighted objects call attention to an unsettled quality of the poet, as he proclaims, “Something’s off-key in my mind.” The final line of the stanza, which becomes a repeated refrain throughout the poem, emphasizes this vague distress: “Whatever it is, it bothers me all the time.” The uncertainty of this uneasiness itself seems to be distressing.

Starting in the second stanza, the poet’s focus gradually shifts from himself and his work before him to the things around him. He comments on the weather (“It’s hot”), and he looks to a group of crows riding the ocean breezes. He mentions that he’s “dancing a little dance” and “singing a little song,” but because these descriptions are not accompanied by any other action, it seems clear that he means for these to be taken figuratively.

In the final stanza, the poet compares the crows to black pages that rise and fall like the white pages of paper before him. Likewise, he looks to two garden plants—castor beans and peppers—that seem to sleep in the afternoon heat. He stresses his subtle angst by repeating the refrain that “something’s off-key” and that the ambiguous feeling that bothers him still bothers him “all the time.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

In an interview in 1983, Wright claimed that he wrote “Laguna Blues” as one of a series of twenty poems with specific technical instructions to himself. For instance, one poem in this series was to contain no verbs in it. Another was to be written in only one sitting. “Laguna Blues,” the second of this group, was an attempt to write a blues poem. (In this same interview, Wright jokingly admits that writing the blues is something “which I am incapable of doing, actually.”) Therefore, some basic characteristics of the blues can be seen in the poet’s techniques.

The primary form used in blues lyrics is repetition. A single phrase or line is stated, and then it is repeated, sometimes with slight variation. The third and final phrase resolves or answers the first idea with an end rhyme. The folk quality of the form allows for very loose adherence to the metrical phrasing of the music. Because of the brevity of the form, blues songs often contain gaps that are filled in through suggestion and implication, and sometimes blues singers develop narratives over the course of several short verses, expecting the listener to interpret the stories’ innuendoes.

Wright takes this given form and transforms it into free-verse poetry that vaguely resembles the blues. He uses repetition in several places. For instance, the initial line of the first stanza (“It’s Saturday afternoon at the edge of the world”) is repeated in the same place in the last stanza, with slight variation (“It’s Saturday afternoon and the crows glide down”). The penultimate line of the first stanza (“Something’s off-key in my mind”) is also repeated in the same place in the final stanza, with slight variation (“Something’s off-key and unkind”). The final line of each stanza is the same (“Whatever it is, it bothers me all the time”). A line about dancing and singing a little dance or song is also varied within the second stanza.

Wright said that he was trying to write a blues poem, and the repetition that Wright uses—echoing lines in the first and last stanza rather than the first and second lines—merely suggests a blues form, not strictly imitating it. While this transformation gives the poem more of a literary quality than a simple set of lyrics, the song retains a subtle musical quality. Most notably, nearly every line is a sentence; this aspect creates an imagistic and disjointed narrative characteristic of the blues, rather than one that would be developed coherently, as in a more conventional literary work. The corresponding meter of each line is roughly repeated in subsequent stanzas; this metrical adherence strengthens until not only is the meter in the final lines repeated but also the exact words. The implication is that the poem could be sung in the nearly free verse folk tradition of the blues.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

Andrews, Tom, ed. The Point Where All Things Meet: Essays on Charles Wright. Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press, 1995.

Bourgeois, Louis. “An Interview with Charles Wright.” The Carolina Quarterly 56 (Spring/Summer, 2004): 30-37.

Wright, Charles. Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews, 1977-1987. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Wright, Charles. Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

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Themes