What are the poetic devices (tone, imagery etcetera) used in this poem and how do they contribute to the poem's overall theme? I would appreciate an answer based on a close reading of the text.

Stepping around bales
Of fencing wires and a clutter
Of machine parts on my way
To class

I stopped to watch two men
On top of the building next door to mine
Tossing rectangles
Of old or damaged asphalt

Sheets off the roof and
Into the bed
Of a red pickup parked
For floors below on the grass.

I stopped out of habit to give
Odds on a miss - one out of ten
Seemed right - but these two

Never missed. They had
A rhythm going. Their bandannas
Fastened over nose
And mouth, clipped

And swung up as their arms did,
The whole torso
Curving then straightening
Over their braced legs,

And one gold earring,
The taller man’s, flashing out
As if it were itself charged
With movement

And music there might have been
Music - a Walkman, perhaps - but I
Couldn’t hear it.
There must certainly have been

Carcinogens and bitumen scruff
floating up from the titles
But I couldn’t see it.
From the ground, it was purely

Beautiful. Two men
In silhouette against a noon-blazed
Blue lifting and releasing like blue work

Shirted angels
Clearing the sky of decades of dust, so the day’s
Work might begin again

The poem was off an image. it's by Lynne McMahon. I can't seem to find any resources online.

  • 1
    Are you really asking for someone to analyze all of the "theme, tone, imagery, etc" for this poem? Could you focus your post into one specific question?
    – bobble
    Dec 16, 2020 at 5:24
  • @bobble I believe we have had questions asking for a close reading in the past, so I have reworded it in that way.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 16, 2020 at 8:38
  • It seems to be found in Faith.
    – SQB
    Dec 16, 2020 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


“Unbuilding” by Lynne McMahon

The title of this poem is “Unbuilding.” If you were to look at the original structure of the poem, you could see that visually, its form is “disjointed” or “disheveled”--that is to say the lines of the poem are NOT typeset justified left… the poem’s structure looks like what it represents—unbuilding (or deconstruction or unbuilding). So, there is one “poetic device” being used in terms of “form” or “structure”—but you would have to find an original copy of the poem to actually appreciate this. The only copy I was able to find is here on Google Books.

Another device is the author’s use of present participles such as: stepping, fencing, building, curving, straightening, flashing, lifting. One simple effect these present participles have is to provide kinetic (movement) imagery (in addition to other kinetic imagery used in the poem). The kinetic imagery adds to the “rhythm” of the workers and of the poem itself. While the narrator cannot hear the rhythm, admitting “but I Couldn’t hear it”, she can see the “rhythm” of the workers as they move with regular, systematic “lifting and releasing” motions.

McMahon makes good use of enjambment (a continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line) in this poem from stanza to stanza such as “To class / I stopped to watch two men” and “Of old or damaged asphalt / Sheets off the roof”, etc. Every subsequent stanza bleeds into the next . . . this complements the disjointed structure of the poem—as if the poem itself is being “unbuilt” in some way.

The author also employs alliteration with lines such as “sTopped to waTch Two men / on Top … next door to min / Tossing recTangles / … asphalT” (emphasis mine) (Stanza 2); and “pickup parked / four floors” (Stanza 3); more repeated ‘T’ sounds in stanza 4; “music… might / …Walkman / must (Stanza 8); “floating up from the titles” (Stanza 9); noon-blazed / Blue lifting and releasing like blue work” (Stanza 10); Clearing the sky of decades of dust / … begin again” (Stanza 11).

One theme of the poem seems to be rhythms of life as supported by the rich kinetic imagery, the reference to music and all the alliteration (creating its own rhythmic, sonic imagery). As the narrator (persona) of the poem stops to watch something as banal as roofers (I am assuming) tossing old asphalt tiles off a roof into a bin, speaks to an ending and discarding of the old to make way for the new “Work [that] might begin again.” While the rhythms are taking place in the plot of the poem, they can be also be heard in the poem itself—drawing attention to the poems own construction inviting the reader to “deconstruct” or “unbuild” and thereby appreciate the accoutrements employed in making poetry—or seeing the poetry in everyday life. The fact that the narrator is looking up (presumably) while "watch[ing] two men / On top of a building" who are later described as "shirted angels" is visual imagery adding to the a sanguine tone of the poem.

These are some very basic observations, but I hope they are helpful.

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