The Art of Description

Option #1—

Read this poem by Brian Turner

The Baghdad Zoo

Is the world safer? No. It’s not safer in Iraq.
—Hans Blix

An Iraqi northern brown bear mauled a man
on a street corner, dragging him down an alley
as shocked onlookers shouted and threw stones.

Tanks rolled their heavy tracks
past the museum and up to the Ministry of Oil.
One gunner watched a lion chase down a horse.

Eaten down to their skeletons, the giraffes
looked prehistoric, unreal, their necks
too fragile, too graceful for the 21st Century.

Dalmatian pelicans and marbled teals
flew over, frightened by the rotorwash
of Blackhawk helicopters touching down.

One baboon escaped the city limits.
It was found wandering in the desert, confused
by the wind, the blowing sand of the barchan dunes.

Brian Turner served for seven years in the US Army and was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.  Before that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division.  In short, he clearly has the authority to write about the horrors of war.  But as we see in this poem, Brian Turner does not stray from an objective view; rather, he is a witness to the details of Baghdad in a time of war.

Please write 50-100 words about (1) how this poem and these descriptions make an argument about war, without him directly saying it.  (2) What do you think the argument is?  And finally, (3) what is the most compelling image of this poem to you and why?

Option #2—

Read this poem by James Wright:

Lying In A Hammock At William
Duffy’s Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Write a poem in the style of this poem.  You should use specific details to describe your location, as he does, and end with a declaration or THESIS.  Your title should be in the same style as this poem.  For example:

Sitting on My Balcony in Athens, Georgia

The poem needs not be longer than 8-15 lines.  But remember– be as detail specific as possible.  Make sure your reader can SEE what you are seeing.


If you take your poem home, work on it over the weekend, bring it back next week (Monday or Tuesday) and read it to the class, I will give you 5 points extra credit.


tell me a story


The art of storytelling is not just one to be perfected for summers around campfires or your future bestselling memoirs. The request that we all made as children, “Tell me a story,” is one that we must ask ourselves to do even now. Whether you’re writing a critical essay or a personal narrative, often times you can support your thesis by answering this request. Today, we will practice storytelling in the form of a simple personal narrative.

First, I want you to write a list of five things you would buy at the grocery store (this can be a grocery store that carries any food item from anywhere in the world) if you had an unlimited budget.

Then, I want you to write a 150 to 400 word narrative explaining your purchases. Please pay attention to sound and image in your writing, erring on the side of whimsy or sentiment rather than tedium (i.e—this because of that).

For example, on my list I would include fresh-picked Maryland blackberries. One of my favorite memories of childhood is going to the orchards outside of Rockville and scanning the bushes for the plumpest jewels just barely hanging on, which I knew my mother and aunt would later turn into pies. When I remember those days, there is a feeling of an unending early summer, longing, and a kind of joy that is difficult to duplicate outside of childhood.