Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What kind of imagery is used in the poems "On Stage" and "The Dream"?

Quick answer:

Both “On Stage” and “The Dream” are about playing the piano. The imagery evokes different kinds of music and Billie Jo’s relationship with the instrument at different phases in her life. “On Stage” is vibrant and active, like the performance she describes. “The Dream” is subdued and contemplative, revealing how the piano connects her with her deceased mother. “On Stage” is also notable for the visual arrangement of text to resemble a piano’s keys.

Expert Answers

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Playing the piano is an ongoing theme present throughout Out of the Dust. Billie Jo learned piano from her mother, and their shared love of playing was one of their most important common bonds. After her mother dies, the piano connects the girl with beloved memories of her mother, but she is prevented from playing by the injuries that her hands sustained in the accident. This poignant contradiction is highlighted in “The Dream.” As the book progresses, Billie Jo’s hands recover, and she gains a fierce determination to play in public, even entering a talent contest. The energetic, almost frenzied passion of performance is shown in “On Stage.”

In “The Dream,” Billie Jo equates the piano with her mother. Using the literary device of personification, she endows it with human qualities, as it provides the companionship she once had with her mother. The imagery is associated both with the human qualities and with the calm, still sensations she is experiencing. The sensory images are more visual than aural, as she gives the piano “eyes” like hers:

[W]e close our eyes

and together find that stillness

like a pond

a pond

when the wind is quiet.

“On Stage” offers a vivid contrast as it reveals the passion that the partly recovered girl brings to her performance. In addition, it emphasizes the audiences reactions as well as her collaboration with other musicians:

sizzling with

Mad Dog,

Swinging with the Black Mesa Boys.

The energy of playing “hot piano” is conveyed with active verbs such as “springs” and adjectives like “sharp.” She also uses synesthesia, the mixing of senses, as in “buttery rhythms.”

“On Stage” also has a dramatic visual image: the text is arranged on the page to resemble the keys of a piano. The arrangement of any text to create a visual image is the literary device of calligram; for verse, it may be referred to as concrete poetry or pattern poetry. The term derives from an influential 1918 volume of such works titled Calligrammes by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. In it, one a poem about Paris is shaped like the Eiffel Tower.

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