Daniel Robbins

among the streetlights and rain
under the canopy entrance to a hotel
I see a woman
her dress is tense
from it a leg extends
a bare foot toeing
at waterdrops
testing them for wet
the man behind her
holds an umbrella
she is too fast for it 
when she says lets
run and they do
into nothingness
the dark city
a doorman looking
my life is in
complete disarray.







This poem (and many following) was inspired by William Carlos Williams' "The Great Figure." Initially, I was merely fascinated by other people's fascination with the poem—for instance, what about the poem spurred artists such as Charles Demuth and Jasper Johns to create paintings after it? Eventually, I became obsessed with the poem myself, and it has since turned into a writing prompt of sorts: sometimes I want to emulate things Williams does (like spatial clarity and/or movement); other times, I want to do things he doesn't. Basically, thinking about that poem makes me write, so I don't question it too much.

In this case, I wanted to try "unpacking" the more prominent figurative aspects of a poem; in other words, I was attempting to separate "what I wanted to say" from the event/image that would normally deliver it. It was an interesting experiment in how a poem would work—or if it could at all—with little reliance on figurative language. It is something that I think about far too much, especially when I see so many young writers coming into workshops with the idea that poetry has to be this coded thing which needs to be deciphered.