Stephen Dobyns

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Student Question

How can one analyze the style of Stephen Dobyns' poem "Loud Music"?

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The poem "Loud Music" is a great example of free verse - not only is it not structured in stanzas, as you mention, but it also is without any consistent meter or rhyme pattern.  While the lines are approximately the same length, no specific rhythm stands out.

The poem does make abundant use, however, of figurative language and imagery.  Many of the sounds in the poem are brought to life through onomatopoeia, as seen in the "speakers throbbing," the "hand smacking," and the "music blasting." 

The poem also paints an interesting contrast between the loud, pulsating music the speaker enjoys and the more "decorous" music the four-year-old stepdaughter prefers.  Here, personification adds to the contrast, with the music being seen as both rebellious and well-behaved.  

Similes add to the imagery, as the speaker says that "each bass note is like a hand smacking the gut," and that his stepdaughter "uses her voice as a porpoise uses its sonar."  The imagery really comes alive in the color and emotion of following passage:

If she had a sort of box with a peephole
and looked inside, what she'd like to see would be
herself standing there in her red pants, jacket,
yellow plastic lunch box: a proper subject
for serious study. But me, if I raised
the same box to my eye, I would wish to find
the ocean on one of those days when wind
and thick cloud make the water gray and restless
as if some creature brooded underneath,
a rocky coast with a road along the shore
where someone like me was walking and has gone.

This passage captures the different effects of the opposing types of music.  The music the stepdaughter prefers helps her "to find herself in all this space," for what she truly wants is "self-location."  The speaker, by contrast, likes the feeling of disappearing in the music, becoming "lost within the blare" somewhere out on a secluded "rocky coast."  This hyperbole also further develops the contrast between the two musical styles and preferences.

Whereas the stepdaughter thinks loud music makes her lose herself, the speaker seems to think he finds himself:

Loud music does this, it wipes out the ego,
leaving turbulent water and winding road,
a landscape stripped of people and language-
how clear the air becomes, how sharp the colors.

It makes everything more vibrant, more alive.  The free verse style of this poem fits well, for like the loud, throbbing music, it offers no restrictions, no absolute rules or structure, and is less "decorous" in its presentation that a quieter, more structured poem would be.

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