Since last week’s column focused on form, I want to point out that this week’s poem, “Anchor” by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, is also a form: free verse. Many people assume that free verse is formless, but that is not the case. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics defines modern free verse as “lines of varying length without any metrical constraints, distinguished .   .   .   by rhyme, and occasionally by assonance” (1993 ed., p. 428). The only thing free verse is strictly free of is meter, and in the sense that it necessarily cannot have meter, it is not truly free at all.

This poem organizes its lines into three-line stanzas (tercets) followed in some cases by a single, indented line. But—hang on—the fourth stanza breaks the pattern by offering four instead of three lines. Why? One reason might be that this is the point in the poem where we learn that the speaker feels somewhat tethered and weighted by marriage and motherhood.

We normally associate being tethered and weighted as a bad thing, but here the images evoking marriage and motherhood (“my son’s feet pushing into the warm space behind my knees”) are tender and lovely and lead to an image of an unmoored raft and a boat that is steering itself. Some part of the speaker admires those dangling modifiers and longs to break and swing free. And in a way she does, abandoning the formal constraints that bind the first three stanzas of the poem and indenting first instead of last lines of stanzas in a way that feels almost random. We get a glimpse into what the speaker’s life was like when she was 20: joyous, but also with the fear of getting loose and lost. Remembering all that confers perspective and the realization that the anchor is not marriage and motherhood but “the self,” and that being anchored can be a positive thing.

The poem below makes use of a technique we have seen before in this column: anaphora, or repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of line. Here the repeated phrase is initially “And if I put down,” then switches to just the word “and.” Let’s look more closely at that first stanza to see how the anaphora modulates and evolves. First what is put down is “my book,” then it is “the book,” then it is “the mail.” In the second stanza the action changes from putting things down to picking things up: making pancakes, measuring flour, and holding the flour up to the light. You could also describe the change in action as going from acts of renunciation to acts of creation. In the third stanza we learn that none of the actions described have actually happened, except in the speaker’s head: she “still in actuality / trying to get myself out of bed.” But in the process of imagining her way through these actions, the speaker evolves from a feeling of being trapped and weighed down to a feeling of being rooted and nourished by a family that is itself as free as an unmoored skiff. The self as “flame and snow” is wonderful, of course. But so is a vision of the self as a boat that “drifts off down a tributary and we go sailing on, / three of us in our big bed. It thinks it’s steering / but it’s not.”

 —Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

 

ANCHOR

And if I put down my book to read him a book
and if I put down that book to check the mail
and if I put down the mail to get up and brush my hair

and make pancakes (because it is Saturday
and I have promised pancakes) and if, in measuring the flour,
I hold it up to the light to check the level
……………………………………………….(because I want

to be more accurate) and if all this happens entirely
in my head because I am still in actuality
trying to get myself out of bed, and

……………………………………………oh I am so sick of the self:

hauling it around everywhere, dragging it along even as my brain
chases the tail of another dangling modifier in a sentence
without a subject, that is
……………………………..without an anchor, even as everything here

is an anchor: the shell of the brush, the scarred griddle,
my son’s feet pushing into the warm space behind my knees,
my husband’s arm behind my head, tangled ballast
nudging our raft out into the day.

…………………………………………..I used to worry I’d float straight up
off the earth, snap my tether, fear and relief, I was 20, it was all meaningful
weather: flame & snow.

……………………………..Now the self is a turtle
on a rope, prehistoric pull-toy heavy as a station wagon
with compartments for water and sunglasses.
…………………………………………………….Sometimes I forget myself

and leave it in the garage. Sometimes I ride it around so it doesn’t get lonely.
Sometimes it drifts off down a tributary and we go sailing on,
three of us in our big bed. It thinks it’s steering
………………………………………………………but it’s not.

 

 

“Anchor” appeared in Cream City Review (Winter 2013-14 issue), and in The Greenhouse (Bull City Press, 2014).


Gluskin-Stonestreet_4-19Lisa
 Gluskin Stonestreet’s The Greenhouse, winner of the Frost Place Prize, was published by Bull City Press in 2014; Tulips, Water, Ash, was awarded the 2009 Morse Poetry Prize. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Rhino, Zyzzyva, Blackbird, and Kenyon Review. She writes, edits, and teaches in Oakland, California. (www.lisagluskinstonestreet.com)

Join the conversation

  • Ginger Murchison August 9, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Wow! So much to appreciate here. Thank you, Lisa for the ride, and Thank you, Rebecca for being tour guide.

    Reply
  • Karen Paul Holmes August 9, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Very interesting poem. I was pulled in and pulled through and enjoyed every bit of it.

    Reply
  • Leslie in Oregon August 9, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Such a beautiful, moving poem. And I appreciate the guidance in fully appreciating it from Poetry Editor Foust!

    Reply