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Explication of a Poem

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 878
  • Category: Poems

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Ted Kooser, the thirteenth Poet Laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner, is known for his honest and accessible writing. Kooser’s poem “A Spiral Notebook” was published in 2004, in the book Good Poems for Hard Times, depicting a spiral notebook as something that represents more than its appearance. Through the use of imagery, diction, and structure, Ted Kooser reveals the reality of a spiral notebook to be a canvas of possibilities and goes deeper to portray the increasing complexities in life as we age.

This poem opens with an extreme and vivid simile, “The bright wire rolls like a porpoise” (line 1). This beginning not only grasps the attention of the audience, but the image intensifying language that Kooser has chosen in order to describe the “bright” wire rolls creates a lasting image of a detail that would be overlooked. The author then goes on to compare “the bright wire rolls” to a porpoise going “in and out of the calm blue sea” (lines 1-2). This comparison creates a striking and vibrant image illustrating a porpoise exploring the deep blue sea as it chooses, as do the rolls which go through the blank pages waiting to be filled with unlimited potential. The next two lines contain another simile much like the last, “or perhaps like a sleeper / twisting in and out of his dreams” (lines 3-4).

This idea of dreams signifies the power of exploration that can be found in a spiral notebook. Kooser goes on to illustrate the literal features as well. In lines 8-10 he describes the notebook as “college ruled lines and its covers / that states in emphatic letters / 5 SUBJECT NOTEBOOK”. Within these lines, Kooser creates a complexity within the notebook, adding on to the image of the spiral notebook by describing the covers and the lines. The complexity of the notebook that has been created does not only intensify the minute details of a mundane item, but also portrays the idea that complexities increase with time, much like this notebook’s complexity. In this case he first describes the wire rolls and as the poem goes on he continues to add more depth to the spiral notebook.

In addition, the most crucial trait that leads to the conclusion that the spiral notebook is a symbol of endless possibilities and the complexities that grow in life is through the use of amplified diction. A prominent observation that can be made is the “5 SUBJECT NOTEBOOK”, placed in the center of the poem, indicating a detail that doesn’t appear on the surface of those capitalized letters. This technique of capitalization demonstrates an emphasis on the importance that has been placed on the trait that it is a notebook with five subjects. Through the use of capitalization Kooser adds to the description of the notebook, and furthermore adds on to the complexity of the notebook. Kooser concludes the poem by saying “as if it were some kind of wonder”, the word choice stresses an idea that cannot be dismissed (line 20). The word “wonder” not only depicts the meaning underlying this poem, but it also illustrates that this notebook is a fascination, an item that is to be admired for its limitless opportunities.

Although the imagery and the diction used portray the meaning of the poem, another major factor that plays into giving this poem meaning is the structure of the poem itself. An observation that can be made is that the poem is broken down into two mere sentences. The first sentence greatly contrasts with the second sentence, the first sentence goes on to describe the ability of a spiral notebook and what the spiral notebook is meant for, “though it seems to be meant / for more serious work” (lines 6-7). However, the second sentence happens to be portraying a different message, a message of life, saying “a part of growing old is no longer / to have five subjects” (lines 11-12). These lines continue to emphasize the ability of a notebook and how it has changed as we grow older, as kids a notebook is something that is to be used for school, always neat and organized. However, life is not as simple as we all have believed it to be as kids, each subject has a different value as time goes on, “demanding an equal share of attention” (line 13). The speaker concludes that aging means to no longer be able to neatly divide things and illustrates the increasing complexities of life. The second sentence grasps the true meaning of the poem, adding to the idea that a notebook is an everyday item, holding much more complexity and ability than it appears to contain.

Ted Kooser uses a commonly seen object, a spiral notebook, which is immediately envisioned as something ordinary and mundane and compares it to a profound idea that the spiral notebook is more than what it appears to be. “A Spiral Notebook” symbolizes a canvas that is to be filled with immeasurable possibilities, as well as the growing complexities we face in life. In final analysis, the speaker’s use of imagery, diction, and arrangement of the poem portrays a new and insightful idea about a generic notebook.

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