The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sprawl commonly denotes an unevenly extended spatial position lacking visual order, as in “urban sprawl.” This fifty-line free-verse poem adapts the usage to identify a behavioral stance in which individuals exceed the limits of conventional behavior to achieve an end. The poem contains eight stanzas, each of which is an independent unit of illustration. The word “Sprawl,” which begins each stanza, is the subject of a present-tense statement of what sprawl is or does contrasted with its negative image.

Many of the characters and incidents representing sprawl have the exaggerated quality of social “tall tales,” but are offered in a straightforward and definite tone that invites belief. The opening incident shows sprawl to be a farmer cutting down a Rolls-Royce to make a pickup truck. The reaction of the company in trying to reclaim its image is predictably routine and bespeaks a lack of sprawl.

In the second set of illustrations, a farmer sows his fields by plane, a hitchiker is driven “that extra hundred miles home,” and someone concentrates on internal being. These are acts of “sprawl” because they exceed accepted norms for a purpose that can be seen as practical. Wasteful and useless gestures such as “lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes” are not acts of sprawl.

A contrast is also drawn with “style,” which has display as its goal. Sprawl extends the rules, as when racing dogs are fed “liver and...

(The entire section is 521 words.)