April 12, 2016

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poetry Friday: End of Summer

It's the last weekend of summer at our house. My daughter starts school Monday. My son has spent the last two weeks at his school's band camp -- a summer rite of passage for many teens.

Last year's marching band setting up for their show. They were state champs!
I was looking for a marching band poem and came across this piece about another teen summer rite of passage. It's a loose sort of prose poem/haibun about a local summer fair.

The marching band (and pig's feet, rides, tickets) snakes through the poem, but so does something else: a hint of the town's collective racism.

It's important that this theme isn't front and center in the poem, but woven into its fabric more subtly. The poem is anchored in the voice of a child or teen who doesn't quite see beyond the fair's attractions. Instead of stamping the fair with an opinion, the poet allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.


By Atsuro Riley
  The Blue Hole Summer Fair, set up and spread out like a butterfly pinned down on paper. Twin bright-lit wings, identically shaped (and fenced) and sized.

    This side holds the waffled-tin (and oven-hot) huts of the Home Arts Booths and Contests, the hay-sweet display-cages for the 4-H livestock, the streamer-hung display-stages where girl-beauties twirl and try for queen. There's rosette-luster (and -lusting), and the marching band wearing a hole in Sousa. And (pursed) gaggles and clutches of feather-white neighbor-women, eyeballing us like we're pig's feet in a jar. 
                    I wonder does her boy talk Chinese?

                                      You ever seen that kind of black-headed?

                                                        Blue shine all in it like a crow. 
This other wing (the one I'm back-sneaking, side-slipping, turnstiling into) dips and slopes down to low-lying marsh-mire: whiffs of pluff-mud stink and live gnat-pack poison, carnie-cots and -trailers camped on ooze. They've got (rickety) rides, and tent-shows with stains, and rackety bare-bulbed stalls of Hoop-La Game (RING-A-COKE!) and Rebel Yell and Shoot the Gook Down. Stand here, on this smutch-spot: don't these mirrors show you strange?
If you are teaching this poem, I'd recommend high school or advanced middle schoolers. There is a lot to dig into in "Diorama," including the meaning of the title. 
It might also be an interesting piece to pair with a novel like Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree or one of Ray Bradbury's pieces set at a small town fair (like Something Wicked this Way Comes.)
When I taught HS, this was one of my favorite novels in our 9th grade curriculum.
We have a great summer fair in Howard County, Maryland, but I haven't gone in many years. There's plenty of color and excitement at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which happens each May. 
Enjoy your last days of summer! Be sure to stop by Dori's blog, Dori Reads for more end of summer and back to school poetry. 

Before I sign off, today is our 21st anniversary. Sending gratitude and love to my husband, Rob.


Irene Latham said...

Happy anniversary and thanks for the fair poem! I've posted your "Dear Sister, Unborn" today with some other sister-poems. Thank you, and hope the new school year gets off to a great start! (this was our first week - tgif!)

Author Amok said...

Hi, Irene. Thanks for sharing my poem. Congrats on making it through your first week back to school!

jama said...

Wow, what an amazing poem. Such language and texture and vivid detail. Really begs reading aloud just to feel all those words in your mouth.

Love your comment about the subtle racism -- definitely has more of an impact the way the poet keeps it backlit. Who's the real spectacle?

Happy Anniversary!!

Robyn Hood Black said...

What Jama said. Very powerful, and the subtletly makes it even moreso. Thank you for sharing.

Happy anniversary to you and your hubby, and best wishes to everyone starting the new school year!

Renee LaTulippe said...

Had fun reading this aloud - so many rises and falls to play with. This would make a good performance piece, though a challenge to get that observational distance you mention. Thanks for sharing!

Michael Ratcliffe said...


Hope you don't mind, but your post led me to think of this poem I wrote at the end of a summer many years ago. It's really more fitting for next week, but thought I'd share it now.

Mike Ratcliffe


This odd last week of August:
of schoolwork days and firefly nights,
disciplined days of re-learned rules
and humid nights that sound
with the last hurrahs of summer
children playing flashlight tag
before September’s labors start
and grownups fret indoors
about homework, baths, and bedtime.

Author Amok said...

Thanks for sharing the poem, Mike. I think a lot of people are feeling that way right now. I know my teen still has summer reading hanging over his head -- fret, yep, that's what I'm doing.

Michael Ratcliffe said...

Yes, lots of fretting. My son, Dylan, starts his freshman year at Towson next week. He's majoring in English, with a minor in Creative Writing. My wife and I are moving him into his dorm tomorrow. First child to leave home. I think his brothers are now fretting about the additional attention they'll receive-- our oldest (21), still at home, but working; and the youngest (15), now the sole recipient of the dreaded question: "what did you do in school today?"

Mary Lee said...

I immediately thought of Something Wicked This Way Comes!!

LOVE that marching band "wearing a hole in Sousa"!!

Linda B said...

I can almost hear the music. I haven't been to this kind of fair in a long while, & my mother used to share about the fights & the sadness of those who were on display at her fairs when she was young (pre-WWII). It reminds me of that. It would be good to share with students, to see how they would see it, or not. It isn't like a Worlds of Fun at those little carnivals, is it? Happy Anniversary & best to your son in his band. My son too was in marching band, college too. Good memories there.

Doraine said...

I thought of Taking Lottie Home, written by Georgia author, Terry Kay, a few years back. Thanks for sharing this wonderfully textured poem.

Katya said...

Happy Anniversary!
It's the end of summer here, too. Kids go back to school on Wednesday. Wishing y'all luck for the new school year!