Mel Glenn Poetry: American Poets Analysis
Mel Glenn was one of the first authors to write book-length children’s literature in free verse. His early works consisted of poems in which adolescents, speaking in first person, were linked by their school. Glenn’s later books presented more diverse speakers, including adults, and poems that contributed to developing a plot. He stresses that his poems empathize with teenagers and validate their feelings. Themes of confusion, frustration, and apathy contrast and often intersect with themes of accomplishment, confidence, and satisfaction.
Glenn sometimes mimics well-known classic poems and compares his style with Shakespearean sonnets, saying he purposefully creates final lines that either surprise readers or connect with ideas presented in introductory lines. He also omits resolutions for problems to encourage readers to think. Glenn’s use of puns and double meanings convey his sense of humor. His rhythmic lines, which make his poems similar to song lyrics, appeal to younger readers. Glenn has said that the fragmented thoughts in his poems represent how teenagers express themselves. Some of his characters use slang. Glenn has been criticized for creating stereotypical teenaged characters, especially in terms of race or gender; however, some critics have praised his portrayals of teenagers.
Inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), Glenn wrote Class Dismissed! to give a high school community a poetic voice. In thirty-five poems, each named after a fictional student, teenagers confide their thoughts and emotions regarding specific issues and situations confronting them. Glenn compresses each character’s story into several concise lines, with such literary elements as similes, metaphors, and repetition transmitting broader concepts.
School connects the students, who represent different socioeconomic classes and positions within the school’s social hierarchy. The teenagers—who yearn for autonomy from the adults who control their lives at home, work, and school—all experience similar concerns such as conflicts with parents and worries about the future. The poems address teenagers’ pressures and fears, and the characters deal with abuse, scholastic struggles, the unemployment of a parents, cancer in a sibling, and pregnancy. Although many characters express anger or boredom, others are jubilant because of their successes athletically or academically or possessions such as cars.
Glenn occasionally pairs seemingly disparate characters to show common elements in their lives. Some narrators are dropouts who work and wish they had stayed in school. Immigrants reveal their culture shock upon discovering that most American teenagers do not value education. Glenn recognizes teenagers’ tendency to be self-absorbed and to overreact to problems, yet he expresses respect for their turmoil as they seek to establish their identity while existing in limbo between childhood and adulthood.
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