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Using Poetry To Evaluate the Connection Between Geography and Identity

Illustration by Katie Michael, a former Literary Illustrator Intern

Art is a manifestation of identity. This is understood in the themes and styles that writers express and readers recognize. Race, culture, gender, desires, ability, geography, and language are all aspects of identity that people gravitate towards when analyzing the communication between writer and reader through the text. This post will analyze four poems in the 365 Collection, and highlight themes that are common among poets living in the South and the Midwest. These poems were randomly selected by looking at the commonplaces in the poets’ biographies before reading the poems. 

Midwest: 

  1. Train Town” by Michael Hill

“Train Town” shares the narrator’s delight in listening to the sounds of the trains traveling because they produce a sense of home. A major theme in this poem is movement; this is expressed through imagery of a train moving through a town and the sounds that it makes. This is interesting because the poem seems to describe the 19th-century movement of westward expansion—an expansion that allowed technological advancements in transportation. It was once important for goods but was later essential for community-building, another theme in this poem. Community is expressed through the description of the people in the town and people who traveled through it. The images of community solidify the interpretation of the Midwest that emphasizes togetherness in order to reach progress. 

  1. Where the Next Meal is” by M. Nasorri Pavone

The narrator in this poem recalls their encounter with an insect that fascinates and frightens them. An important theme of this work dissects humanity and connections to nature. The insect invades the narrator’s space, creating a unity between the human and their environment. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss would view that unity as an expression of the human being both a biological being and a cultural being. This connection of identities delineates the ecology of the world including the human even if the human creates spaces to separate themselves from the outside world. The bug that entered the narrator’s space, subsequently touching the narrator’s belongings, bridges this gap between humans and their environment. Another principal theme, similar to the one in “Train Town,” is movement. The bug’s movement through the narrator’s space mirrors the same westward expansion that was evident in the Hill’s poem. 

After observingwork written by authors in the Midwest, common themes of exploration and movement in mid-western poetry are even clearer. Movement may be an influence for these writers because of the historical context behind it or perhaps there is another motivator for writing about movement that has not been explored. 

South: 

  1. Battlefield” by C.L. Butler

The narrator in “Battlefield” uses nature and a critical lens of community to convey their feelings in a war. Nature was addressed in the description of the temperature and the landscape. What this does for the reader is it shows us what a narrator draws attention to in their observations. Their descriptions of the climate seem to oppose the climate of a southern climate. These observations also connect with the secondary theme of community because it affected the way that the narrator viewed community. Their view seems to be empathetic and sorrowful because the members of their community and extended community are in despair. That expression of emotion mirrors the description of the climate. 

  1. This Way or That” by Dan Mallette 

“This Way or That” focuses on a chilling character outside of the narrator who starts a fire. The fire not only sets the scene, but it also used to convey the theme of curiosity. The character outside of the narrator is curious about the movement of the fire, but the narrator is curious of the intentions and actions of the character. This connects to “Battlefield” because it also touches on empathy as the narrator places themselves in a position to share a curiosity with the figure they are not connected to.

What the reader could gather from these poems is that there is a common theme of empathy. That empathy supports the positive stereotypes of people in the south as being hospitable

 It is important to consider the multitude of identities that writers bring to art. The consideration of identities helps define what motivates writers to choose themes because their decisions affect the understanding and affectability of art. While the exploration of themes in this post were limited in the number of poems that were analyzed, it is a starting point in understanding the author perspective and its impact on art. 

Morgan McGlone-Smith
Morgan McGlone-Smith

Morgan McGlone-Smith is a Rhetoric and Composition master’s student at Salisbury University. As a lover of all things writing, Morgan tutors writing in her university’s writing center.
When she is not teaching, learning, or writing, Morgan likes to go down research rabbit holes, dance in her kitchen, and care for her plants.

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