Poem of the Month for October 2021

The poem for this month is “Instructions for Use of This Toy,” by Howard Nemerov; it was undoubtedly generated by his World War II training experiences, when he (like all military trainees) had to disassemble a rifle and re-assemble it blindfolded. Unlike Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts” (1942), which contrasts the detailed gun disassembly instructions which are being given inside a military training building with the spring-like seasonal signs that appear outside the building, this poem is all about the gun (or something like a gun). Howard Nemerov flew for the Royal Air Force during World War II.

“Instructions for Use of This Toy”

. . . is worked this way. Release the striking arm
(marked A on diagram) by means of the
End ratchet on the cylinder marked B.
Slight humming noises should not cause alarm,
But if explosions, or loud coughing sounds,
Seem to be coming from the diaphragm,
It might be well to disengage the cam
Before examining the guard for grounds.
So far so good. The automatic trail
Guide bracket post should be secured against
Vibration of the flange, but do not fail
At any time to keep the wire tensed
That in the event of fire throws the switch
(marked Jettison) that breaks the circuit which . . .

What at first glance appears to be a random collection of disconnected phrases from a wartime technical manual turns out to be, under closer examination, a carefully crafted sonnet.
From Howard Nemerov, Collected Poems (University of Chicago, 1977), p. 123.

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