I’m intrigued by this poem’s subject matter but annoyed by the poet’s incessant use of fragments. This eight-stanza poem begins with its briefest verse paragraph, a single sentence about the speaker’s father. The repetition of monosyllabic words in the second line, coupled with author’s use of alliteration, creates a sing-song rhythm that establishes a happy tone which the rest of the poem adheres to. Though the poem is framed by a somewhat negative image—that of the childhood Shihab failing in a spelling bee and apparently obsessing over it for the rest of her life—this work is decidedly celebratory. One can imagine the poet given her father credit for her ability as a writer, as “star[ing],” or close examination, is a requisite skill for any good scribe. Also, most of her work is inspired by the natural world, represented here by the “field.”
The repetition of “look” is puzzling to me; most of her work encourages us to take the time examine things more closely and significantly, so I understand to emphasis for thematic purposes. I just don’t think it works on a literal or aesthetic level. It seems forced, as there’s really no pre-established narrative scene to fit with the direct command. The movement from general to specific is too abrupt, and maybe even a little contrived. I can see in other poems, as well as this one, that the speaker does indeed like to “skirt the edges” and examine the borders between ideologies and countries and the like. The content of this poem, however, doesn’t corroborate her claim, so we’ll just have to take her word for it.
This poem, at least in places, seems to be directed at the speaker’s spouse, who doesn’t “know . . . about” the speaker that s/he incessantly cleans when the spouse is “not home.”
The poem is more charming than it is profound, which I guess is okay for poem. The seventh stanza cleverly blends the images of spelling and crosswords and the speaker’s mother. The phrase “return to beginning” is...