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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stanzaic organization is a conspicuous element in the framework of “The Quality of Sprawl.” Free verse is often organized according to word and line placement that avoids recurring patterns in favor of rhythmic effects and visual configurations. In many unrhymed poems, stanzaic division is irregular or nonexistent.

By comparison, the discursive content of this poem is presented in eight orderly stanzas of roughly equal informational importance. The basic component of all stanzas is the complete grammatical sentence. Phrases do not dangle or drift loosely. Most are integrated within sentences as clauses. Word groupings in longer sentences are regulated by means of the correct use of commas and parentheses, though some internal quotation marks are left out.

A large variety of sentence length and structure is used. The five lines of the first stanza are a single, elongated compound-complex sentence with three clauses. A short, simple sentence, “Sprawl occurs in art,” opens the fifth stanza. While the stanzas range between five and nine lines, the number of grammatical sentences in each varies from one to five.

Every stanza can be read independently. No sentence or idea is continued from one stanza to the next, nor are there intricate transitions between the stanzas. In place of such links, a basic internal organization is repeated. Each stanza contains one central statement about sprawl followed by a discussion focusing on an example of this aspect of sprawl....

(The entire section is 614 words.)