How does she do it? The sensual imagery and physicality of this poem don’t get any less intense with several re-readings. Although, “reading” doesn’t quite seem to be the right verb for it. This is not a poem you just read. You actually live it — the sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch it evokes are a physical experience.

4 thoughts on “Weekend Poem: The Shipfitter’s Wife by Dorianne Laux

  1. I am amazed how the 128 words of this poem speak volumes. I can see the whole scene, hear and smell it too; and I have a deep insight into the relationship. I can also see hear and smell his workplace. A few skillfully seeded words yields so much in the reader’s mind’s eye. Amazing.


    1. Thanks for the comments, Mark. Yes, it is a beautiful poem and a synaesthetic experience because of the musicality and the smell/taste descriptors. It’s one of Laux’ most popular ones, for various reasons, though, of course, she has several books.

      It does the 2 absolute things any poem should do: 1) Make the reader pay very close attention to the choice of words and the power of language and 2) Show us multiple meanings beyond the literal.

      And, then, it does so much more. 🙂


      1. I was initially struck by you writing four times as much about the poem than the length of it, before I had read either. Made me think for the first time about the effect of words in the brain. Some can funnel in and close down thought processes, while others seem to trigger a massive expansion. I have been very conscious of this in art but not literature before.


        1. There is a saying among poetry lovers: You read a poem and, then, the poem reads you. Sounds hokey but it simply means that, with a good poem, if you put in the effort to read it carefully, it will reveal you to yourself in how you respond to it.

          I call these “Weekend Poem” essays “poetry appreciations” and they are partially inspired by Carol Rumens, who has been doing them at The Guardian for a long time. But, she goes even deeper and brings her vast philosophy education and academic experiences to it.

          Besides, those 128 words took Laux days, possible weeks, to craft into such beautiful choreography. I invested a mere fraction of that time in crafting my appreciation of them. I’ve known people who’ve been inspired to write entire novels based on a17-syllable haiku. Now, that’s something.


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