Analysis of Jeffery Harrison’s “Our Other Sister”
Jeffery Harrison is one of the few poets who is alivein this twenty-first century and is studied in American Literature. His poetry is unique and more often than not he does not follow the norm of poetry; his poem “Our Other Sister,” is one of those poems, while most poems make a statement his tells a story.
Throughout literary history poetry is place in different periods and categories; Jeffery Harrison is a modern day poet who sometimes deviates from the custom of other poets; sometimes he writes without using capital letters at the beginning of his sentences of punctuation at the ends of sentences. However he writes, his poetry is welcomed in American Literature. I (the client) have never seen poetry written like “Our Other Sister” before. His poem is a story told in verse form; and it is also a confession of a childhood prank that went awry. The poem is also a memory that leaves inedible imprints in the narrator’s mind. Harrison was born in Cincinnati and received his education at Columbia University; among his awards are the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Harrison has published three collections of poetry and a fourth will be published in 2014.
The very first line of the poem grabs the readers’ attention; and in the second line the readers think that they are going to find the answer instead they encounter another mystery. In graphic details the audience finds out the second mystery and now it is more eager to know what the firstsecret is. Harrison went from one topic to the other with great ease; he finishes his first topic and switches to second topic without even completing the sentence. “The cruelest sisteranother, older sister who'd gone away” (lines 1-5). Everyone remember those childhood days when imagination was vivid so much so that neither the teller nor the listener could separate the fact from the fantasy. This is the position in which the narrator finds himself; carried away in a fantastic lie. In the beginning the narrator says that he does not know why he wanted to tell his sister a lie, but when he sees how she latches on to his story it feels good. However, that feeling is short lived because his sister believes him and he causes her much sadness. In the last five stanzas the narrator describes how his lie affects both he and his sister. He is remorseful andhe could feel “the blowdart of remorse stabbing me in the heart” (line 24). Harrison shows how one lie can become a run-away train and how a thoughtless joke can have serious consequences.
There are no set rules how one sees or interprets a poem; poetry is like the three blind men who felt different parts of the elephant and describe the elephant differently but correctly.Poetry can be understood differentlyby different people.There are several themes in this poem imagination, lying, gullibility and remorse. Reading the two first lines of the poem it is safe for one to say that the narrator has often plague his sister; he begins, “the cruelest thing” suggesting that there are other times when he has been his sister’s tormentor. It also espressos the fact that this little sister loves and believes in her brother and being aware of this, her brother did what boys have done for years, play a joke on his little sister. Clearly the narrator is not a protector of his little sister; shooting her with a dart is one of his onslaughts but the worst is the lie he told her. It “thrilled” him knowing that he would get an emotional reaction from is sister, however the joke went too far, to satisfy his sister’s curiosity, he kept adding to the lie. He says;; “But that first sentence was like a strand of DNA/ that replicated itself in coiling lies” (lines 9,10). Too late big brother realizes that toying with the emotions can have dire consequences.
The poem is written in a unique form; it is written in free verse and does not conform to any particular metric foot; one could safely say that the poem is the summary of a short story. The poet only uses three lines stanzas and he often complete a sentence in the next stanza and the length of his sentences from one line to the next. The poet keeps his audience engaged, the audience wants to go ahead and find the answer to the question what is“the cruelest thing?” but it dares not do so, its interest is peeked and it wants to know how he shot his sister with a blowdart. The audience is compelled to find out the next mystery,what other painful blow he had dealthis sister and so it must keep on reading. Harrison uses a poem with thirty lines to tell a whole story. The uncanny thing about this poem is its simplicity; it could be an entry in a journal.
The diction of this poem is straightforward, the poet hardly uses a word that is more than three syllables and he uses figurative language sparingly. “But that first sentence was like a strand of DNA/ that replicated itself in coiling lies” (lines 9, 10). This is the first time the poet speaks figuratively; he uses a simile to compare the multiplication of his lie. No matter what one does he or she cannot slow down or speed up DNA; it reproduces on its own and the body cannot constrain it. “This simile is used very effectively by Jeffrey Harrison because a stand of DNA copies itself millions of times and just like that one lie led into another one and he just couldn´t stop”(Our Other Sister, Jeffrey Harrison (Poetry 180, 174). Here is big brother having fun and the first time little sister asks a question, he could not admit that he is lying; he is having fun and suddenly the tides change and his prank is no longer funny. “I can still remember/how thrilled and horrified I was” (lines 21, 22). The poet interjects a paradox here, in the midst of his tale he discovers how wrong it is to take advantage of his sister’s naiveté. The same thing that makes him feel powerful turns into horror; his sister believes him and cries for the older sister she has never met. At this juncture he can only explain the pain he has dealt his sister is by using the imagery of a blowdart plunging into his heart. He feels the pain he has injected into his sister.Whether or not Harrison meant to teach a lesson with this poem, he has; do not practice lying because one lie needs another lie to cover the first lie.
When Byron wrote his poetry many people did not welcome them and now two centuries after his death he is hailed a legend of the Romantic Period. Even though Mr. Harrison’s poetry sometimes has its own exclusive style it is accepted in this twenty-first centurywith much enthusiasm and he has had the privilege of many awards, a century from now it would be interested to know what the literary world thinks of him.
“Our Other sister: Jeffery Harrison (Poetry 180-174).” (2009) . Web. Retrieved 11 Nov, 2013