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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 11:10 am

People's poetry

Presented by Jacqueline Jackson

Untitled Document shimmypoem #1
the letters to my dad at
college exhorted study
frugality morality on this
subject grama sent clippings
a madison pastor saying no
sin among those that over-
whelmed ancient civilizations
is not rampant now this she
underlined and a chicago
proprietor of the midwest’s
largest public dancehall said
he would urge all dancehall
operators to ban the shimmy
woddle toddle drag-waltz
shuffle-step tango and cheek-
to-cheek dancing must become
sane again my friend rosie
roach when three she and
her twin sister who now
lives in decatur used to tap
dance on bars didn’t tell mom
they were quite a hit daddy
owned a dance studio I bet
they knew the woddle the
toddle the cheek-to-cheek

© Jacqueline Jackson 2008

I’ve mentioned how important close observation is in composing a vivid poem. In this scene by Arizona poet, Steve Orlen, the details not only help us to see the girls clearly, but the last detail is loaded with suggestion. The poem closes with the car door shutting, and we readers are shut out of what will happen, though we can guess.
Three Teenage Girls: 1956
Three teenage girls in tight red sleeveless blouses and black Capri pants And colorful headscarves secured in a knot to  
their chins Are walking down the hill, chatting, laughing, Cupping their cigarettes against the light rain, The closest to the road with her left thumb stuck out Not looking at the cars going past.
Every Friday night to the dance, and wet or dry They get where they’re going, walk two miles or get a ride, And now the two-door 1950 Dodge, dark green Darkening as evening falls, stops, they nudge Each other, peer in, shrug, two scramble into the back seat, And the third, the boldest, famous For twice running away from home, slides in front with the man Who reaches across her body and pulls the door shut.
Poem copyright © 2006 by Steve Orlen. Reprinted from The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005, by Steve Orlen (Ausable Press, 2006). American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Ted Kooser served as the U.S. poet laureate 2004-2006. For more information, go to www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.
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