The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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.”