The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Wave” by Michael Collier is a nine-stanza narrative poem consisting of unrhymed trochaic hexameters. It describes the ritual of a wave during a baseball game, the way fans stand up, block by block, to demonstrate support for their team. The setting is an unspecified town or city in the United States on a cool summer night.

The poem opens with an overview of the baseball stadium, as vendors of cotton candy, soft drinks, beer, pretzels, and hot dogs parade up and down the stands plying their trade. Panning the crowd like a camera, the poet’s eye sees birds “attracted// and repelled” by the lights on the field, trapped under the overarching dome as they flit back and forth above the stands. Caught by a glimpse of an anomalous “skinny kid sitting between two fat parents,” the poet’s vision finally hones in on the home team’s mascot taunting the visitors with “oversize antics” above the dugout.

About halfway through the game, as the fifth stanza explains, two slightly drunken soldiers walk to the front of the stands, strip to the waist, lift up their arms, and exhort the crowd, section by section, to stand up and raise their arms in a wave of movement. The aim of these leaders of the crowd, says the poet in the last stanza, is to keep the wave going for as long as they can, for their own sake as well as that of the players and “all of us.”

Apart from the final stanza, in which the “us” may include the...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Collier’s modernity in this poem lies in his reliance on a fast-moving sequence of images rather than on the direct expression or argument of abstract ideas that some other contemporary writers have found necessary. His emphasis on fast-paced imagery at the expense of rhetorical persuasion also links this work with the visual arts, especially films. The result is a poem that largely consists of a catalogue of phrases, a tour de force of linked images depicting items ranging from brightly colored cotton candy to the gaudy wrappings of ice cream, from money fanned out in green spokes to dark earth hosed by groundskeepers. All these visual details climax in the vigorous exertions of the sweating soldiers motioning the obedient onlookers to rise from their seats.

Collier also combines this fast-moving sequence of cinematic images with traditional poetic devices, especially enjambment, a technique utilized to split up phrases. In enjambment, the last segment of a group of words spills over into the next line and sometimes even the next stanza, as in “palettes/ of cotton candy” and “two soldiers sitting next to me, who// have paced each other.” Breaking up grammatical units creates a sense of continual thrusting forward, a propulsion that powers the poem with dynamic progression toward a conclusion fittingly stated as the necessity for keeping movement going for as long as possible.

Collier also employs such devices as metaphors and...

(The entire section is 583 words.)