The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Like Walking to the Drug Store, When I Get Out” is a letter in free verse with eight stanzas and a short, cryptic “PS.” The title of the poem is also the final line in stanza 6 and is a statement of the utter nonchalance with which the writer of the “letter” regards his impulse to violence, even murder. Although initially a confusing phrase, the title becomes a nugget of clarity when it appears within the poem. The speaker is a prison inmate, a convicted child molester, who writes a letter to the “famous” author Joyce Carol Oates, threatening her (indeed all unimprisoned, free persons) with vicious murder: “I’d just grab a baseball bat and I’d beat you/ till your brains leaked out.” The chilling aspect of the inmate’s harangue is his insistence that he “wouldn’t feel a thing.” It would be “just like walking to the drug store.”

The poem is written in the first person in the voice of an obviously male sociopath. Clearly obsessed, deeply paranoid, and intensely bitter, the prisoner has time on his hands and vitriol in his pen. He has written to Oates five times previously, and, although he promises this letter is the last, it is quickly clear to the reader that he is an obsessed fan. He has seen Oates’s picture in the paper in Iowa City, the location of a federal penitentiary where the reader may assume the letter writer has been imprisoned for the last “6 years.” It is intriguing that, in fact, Oates the poet writes this letter/poem to herself, to Oates the...

(The entire section is 618 words.)