In this post I’ll talk about a creepy poem I wrote called ‘first date’. This poem was published in The Literary Hatchet, issue #18. The Literary Hatchet is available as pdf for free, so I recommend downloading a copy and/or buying a paperback issue for $14.00.
Anyway, I’ll show you the poem first, and then say some things about what I was trying to do when I wrote it:
by David F. Shultz
always an adventure
I can see
you’re a tad cold.
I’ve got shivers
in the spine
it’s a fine thing
that I’ve got
now where to begin
(that calls for analysis)
heart on your sleeve?
(or in the vicinity)
can I pick your brain?
(a little prodding will suffice)
there’s the meat
take the knife
I’ll find out all
I always do
on first dates
it just takes
This poem is disguised as a “first date”. Or rather, it is a “first date” in the mind of the demented speaker, who is performing on autopsy, an activity that he finds particularly thrilling.
The first stanza is meant to create a subtle awkward note. It’s supposed to give the impression of an overeager person on a date, perhaps off-putting, repeating and stumbling over their words, making awkward and cliche comments, variously either too probing or too self-centered.
You might notice already by this point the body-metaphors piling up, “thick skin” and “cold feet” and “shivers in the spine”. These body metaphors continue in the next stanza with “empty stomach” and so on. The speaker really has bodies on his mind.
The second stanza, besides piling on the body metaphors, is also meant to introduce a more clinical tone. It’s phrased as a procedural question-and-response, like checking items off a list. We also see the introduction of polysyllabic words capping off every second line -“analysis”, “vicinity”, “suffice”- in a poem that has mostly consisted of monosyllables. Each of those words contains an ‘s’ sound, which I hoped would create an insidious, snake-like edge.
In the final stanza the “meat/slab” arrives, which is really the body about to be autopsied. Humans being compared to meat is always unsettling (and maybe especially when there is a demented human standing over them with a knife).
I want to focus in particular on what I was trying to do with the final word of the poem: “precision”. The entire poem was building up to this word, and this moment in the poem. This is the moment that our demented speaker has been waiting for. I tried to do several things to make this word “pop”.
- content: “precision” is a strange word to cap off the speaker’s thought about what it takes to learn about someone, and this odd word choice might signal that something interesting is happening
- rhyme: the previous four lines established a rhyming structure that is broken “you/do” and “dates/takes”
- number of words per line: 2 or 3 words in the previous 4 lines, down to 1
- length of words: 1 or 2 syllable words in the previous 4 lines, up to 3
- echoing second stanza: “precision” echoes the clinical words used in the second stanza -“analysis”, “vicinity”, “suffice”- including the ‘s’ sound
The reason I tried so hard to make this word pop was because it is the central moment that the poem -and the speaker- has been building to: this is the scalpel making an incision. I hoped to convey this incision without mentioning it directly, by way of resemblance with “precision”, by drawing attention to the final line (in the various ways itemized above), and by talking about a knife and meat and carving carefully.
As to whether any of those techniques worked, that judgment has to be left to the reader, of course. But either way, I thought some people might be interested in what was going through my mind as I was building this poem.
I hope you liked the poem and that you found my thoughts on it interesting!
Also, please support the publisher of the poem, The Literary Hatchet, by checking out the website and downloading (free!) and/or purchasing a copy of issue #18, in which this poem appears.