What does Ruth Forman's diction in "Poetry Should Ride the Bus" reveal about the speaker?

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Diction is the type of words and grammar a poet or writer uses. Diction can be very simple and childlike, using short sentences and words of one syllable. It can also be very complex and literary, using unusual words and difficult grammatical constructions.

The diction in "Poetry Should Ride the Bus" is simple and childlike. It uses words that everyone would know, such as "bright red lipstick" and "sit on the porch," in ways which are very direct and straightforward.

The descriptive language—images that use the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—shows us that speaker is an observant person who has taken note of her environment and can communicate what it is like in concrete terms, such as "orange plastic covered lazyboy."

Her diction also doesn't use perfect grammar, reflecting the dialect of her culture. For example, she uses "n" for "and." This reinforces the childlike quality of her words and also shows she is not trying to impress anyone with her erudition. She comes across as simply being herself in a very authentic way.

However, some of the words interspersed within the bright, childlike prose are disturbing and remind us that this narrator is living in a dangerous place. For example, she mentions the "yellow crack house." This shows she is not ignoring the bad in her world. However, she chooses optimism, saying poetry should "whisper electric blue magic." The poem ends on the simple and upbeat word "smile," which suggests the speaker has chosen happiness.

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The diction of a poem refers to the word choice and style used by the speaker. In "Poetry Should Ride the Bus" by Ruth Forman, the speaker uses the social vernacular of the African American community while using rhythmic, descriptive words to describe their experiences. If I were to analyze the author’s purpose for this, I would focus on these key points:

  1. The poem accurately represents the voice of the black community and their common, everyday experiences. When most people think of poems, they think of romantic, lofty poems written in a formal, Old English style by old, white men, long gone, who dressed like Shakespeare (think Dead Poet’s Society). But is that how everyone talked back then? Is that how we talk today? Is poetry dead? The speaker of Forman’s poem is loud and clear: No, poetry is still alive! It can be found and should be sought anywhere, anytime, by anyone—hence, my favorite lines:

poetry should ride the bus
in a fat woman’s Safeway bag
between the greens n chicken wings
to be served with Tuesday’s dinner

Forman personifies poetry, asking it to experience what the regular folks do. She doesn’t want poetry to just be the stuck-up voice of high society.

  1. The poem is meant to be spoken aloud. African Americans have a rich oral history that has been passed down through the generations. In fact, Forman aims to celebrate and continue that tradition and can to this day can be found traveling the country while performing many of her award-winning poems, including this one. Listen to her perform the poem at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC (see YouTube link below). Which words of the poem have a rhythmic sound? Which words does she deliver with the most passion?

  2. Some parts of the poem seem to be autobiographical. Forman grew up as a black girl in the 70s and, according to one biography, “spent many summers on the brownstone steps of her aunts’ and uncles’ homes in Philadelphia." After she earned her degree from the prestigious UC Berkeley and became an award-winning poet, many of her works drew from her childhood experiences and were meant to celebrate the strength, beauty, and pride of her culture. Which lines in the poem seem to represent her experiences growing up in a city? Which lines seem to represent her struggle to fit in with her new life as well as the community she left behind? Which lines seem to show her pride in her community?

All in all, Forman is able to convey through the speaker that everyone deserves to be heard and that beauty can be found in the little things and in the everyday experiences.

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