The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Montage of Disasters” begins with an italicized query: “Where’s the eloquence in all this?” The question is followed by, as the title indicates, a montage of disasters—train wrecks, fires, earthquakes, bombs, viruses, biblical plagues, mutant spiders, and sinking ships. The poem is like a series of newsreels spliced together in a random fashion or a collage of cover stories from old newspapers, a few copies of The Star and The National Enquirer thrown in with The New York Times. The narrative begins with the train wreck: “The train lurched, shuddered, and snapped in two.” However, the train story is abandoned there, and other disconnected scenes follow: “No one knew for sure how the fire started./ Then the virus got into the milk supply.” As cataclysm is piled on cataclysm, the report becomes oddly and blackly humorous as reality merges with fiction and nightmare blends with horror story. After bombs destroy the zoo, setting the animals free, “grinning crocodiles new orphans watched/ slither into fountains by the ruined library.”

The poem begins in the third person. However, somewhere around the middle the first-person point of view finds its way into what was hitherto a report by an unidentified narrator: a meteorite is described as crashing through the window and turning “my side/ of the bed to a tidy pile of cinders.” Once the first person surfaces it remains until the end of the poem,...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Montage of Disasters” is a forty-four-line poem in blank verse. The tone is relaxed and conversational. Most of the lines have three to five accented syllables, or six to eight words, which give a vague uniformity to the poem’s slightly ragged rectangular appearance on the page. There is, however, no clear pattern of rhythm, and there is no obvious reason for the positions of the line breaks except to maintain the overall appearance. The enjambed lines are not pulling against an underlying rhythm, and this informality enhances the flat, reporter-style tone of the poem. The flatness of style is also emphasized by the lack of simile and metaphor. Language is simple and direct, with some colloquialisms and some deliberately vague expressions that create the impression of casual understatement: “The women/ caused an awful lot of trouble/ in the lifeboats that night.” There is a preponderance of short words, even monosyllables. The sentence structure is intentionally unvaried, with verb predictably following subject. The reader has a sense of being given “just the facts,” although the facts themselves are strange and shocking and combine the improbable or mythical with the ordinary: “Nuns poured stiff jolts of whiskey/ into paper cups for sooty rescue crews./ Later, it rained frogs.” When the ordinary is consistently and repeatedly combined with the peculiar, the reader tends to blur them after a while, and this blurring contributes to the effectiveness...

(The entire section is 491 words.)