Link to poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49568/the-trash-men
I am inspired by certain technical choices here.
TL/DR: The thing I loved most about this poem: it describes such a common sight, and an unglamorous one at that. But the poet chose to write artistically about it, showcasing the beauty we can see if we dig a little deeper, reflect a little harder.
For one, “here they come” is a very general way to start a piece. That leads me to notice the lack of capitalization, and general lack of conventional punctuation throughout the piece. Perhaps this also contributes to a belittling and generalizing motif… And then, I notice that “they” contributes a purposeful vagueness. And I question, who?
The speaker answers me: “these guys” “grey truck” “radio playing”
answering who (still somewhat vaguely), what to see, what to hear
The isolation of these facts in each line of the first stanza is artful. With every piece of essential information, I gain a picture of the subject of the poem. A good piece sets up the scene, right?
The characterization builds concomitantly with excitement. I am led to be excited alongside the speaker, with the second stanza emphasizing the fact that these men are in a hurry, the third adding to that buildup – “it’s quite exciting:” with a colon at the end serving a function I imagine like a cliffhanger:
The next characterizations of the men are revealing. “shirt open” and “bellies hanging out” paint the men rather sloppy, far from glamorous, when the initial buildup of excitement and hints of the men doing something so important that required busy work and our attention had led me to imagine something more glamorous.
Only in the fourth stanza do we get clarification that we’re talking about trash men (although, we did read the title). This stanza focuses on motion, with the repetition of “out,” ending the second line with “lift” (we’re moving! there’s changing movement!), ending the third line with “upward”
The ellipses are an important choice, because following it, we get a transition to the speaker’s more personal take on the scenario. Yes, we can infer that the speaker thought the scene exciting. But after this ellipses, we really hear their voice. “they had to fill out application forms / to get these jobs.” What are we to think about this interjection of thought? To me, the speaker sounds a bit surprised. Of course they had to apply for this; the obvious nature of this yet direct mentioning here reveals that surprise.
Here, readers might feel uneasy that the speaker sounds a little judgy. How does the speaker know, from this one scene that “they are paying for homes and / drive late model cars”?
But I personally admire judgment and negativity and brutal honesty in a poem. It’s not unimaginable that someone looking upon this situation thinks exactly this, imagines exactly this. When else can we be so honest?
“they get drunk on Saturday night” <- I enjoy that this is isolated as a one line stanza. the previous stanza emphasized daily work; this describes a literal break and is figuratively represented here as a break. How poetic!
The next few stanzas again emphasize movement, also camaraderie, continued excitement.
The last two lines – “none of them know / that I am alive” perhaps hints at a recognition of a separation of their lives. A common thought that we could relate to, I’d imagine…
© Kate Eunah Lee, 7/18/2018