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2019 Post #26 -- Reading a Poem on Multiple Levels

by John Waite

I enjoy sharing the poem "white dove—found outside Don Teriyaki’s" by Juan Felipe Herrara with my students. It is the fifth of five of Herrera's poems published here by The Boston Review.

While this poem is very readable in terms of language and the basic story line, it offers several challenges for readers that make it an ideal text for students. It can be taken literally, about a man keeping a bird in a cage, or it could be read as symbolic of a parent-child relationship, which could be of interest to students. The form is also interesting. With its lack of punctuation and irregular line breaks it offers a chance to talk about the specific poetic techniques of form.

As a class, we look at this poem with an eye on analysis, theme, and writing craft.

Analytical Questions

1. How does the lack of punctuation affect the way you read the poem? Why might the author choose to do this?

2. Why do you think the author chooses to specify the gender of the birds?

3. Why do you think the author chooses such irregular line breaks? Is there any sort of pattern to them that you can detect?

Thematic Questions

1. How would you characterize the author’s relationship with the white dove?

2. Is the white dove better off with the speaker or in the wild?

3. How might this relationship mirror that of a parent and child?

Writing Prompts

1. Is it better to be safe or free? Why?

2. Pretend you are the white dove. What would you say to the speaker of the poem?

Further Reading:

John Waite is a teacher at Downers Grove North High School in Downers Grove, Il. He is a licensed Reading Specialist and National Board Certified Teacher. He also creates Trojan Poetry, a web series in which he and a colleague (Mike Melie) attempt to discuss poems on a weekly basis. Find it on YouTube and Twitter. Reach John at jwaite@csd99.org.


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