Poetry Classroom: Extra Towels

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor Marjorie Maddox. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Marjorie and each other, and write your own poems along the way.

Extra Towels

are what we want,
thick as the blisters
stacked beneath our sneakers.

And newspapers
sprawled provocatively across clean sheets.

Give us beer
for the can opener in the bathroom,
gossip for the in-room fax,
touch-tone fingers for the hundred-plus
channels of cable
deliciously at our command.

Let every tour
dine in castles without us,
dance the pre-paid waltz
beside the postcard Danube.

We are in love
with room service at midnight,
with miniature soaps, whirlpools,
eternal hot water, the overwhelming,
seductive allure of terry.

Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Poem by Marjorie Maddox, author of the upcoming poetry collection ‘Local News From Someplace Else’


Discussion Questions:

1. What do you notice about the title as related to the first line of the poem? Have you ever considered writing a poem in this way? What might make such a choice more or less successful?

2. Consider the impact of word choice. What if the newspapers had been “scattered” as opposed to “sprawled”?

3. This is a poem about towels. Or is it? One line break in particular is very telling. If you write poetry, have you ever considered how a single line break could affect the meaning of your poem? Will this affect your use of line breaks in the future?


  1. says

    The line break at “we are in love” tells me a great deal. There is an unmistakable sensuality about this. With word choices such as seductive, allure, sprawled, fingers, delicious, provocatively, midnight…
    And again, wonderful poem, Marjorie. Love the subtleness of the tucked away meaning here.

      • says

        I have now read this piece multiple times….the way a child can’t get enough of “Good Night Moon”…and now I have a question for the poet :) It occurred to me that Terry could be…oh well never mind. small t terry capitol T Terry? And I am still working through the phrasing and word choice of the “fax machine” line.

        • says

          Ah, I hadn’t thought about playing off of a woman’s name. Interesting.

          Perhaps the in-room “fax machine” line is one way this poem is showing its age. I’ll have to think about that. Thanks for the input. While I was reworking the book (Local News from Someplace Else), I did notice a few small references that I needed to change, VCR remote for one. In “Extra Towels,” I also increased the number of cable channels.

          Everyone, when do you think such references hinder the poem? Help the poem?

          • says

            In “the poem” in my question at the end, I mean in any poem, not just in “Extra Towels.” How can an historical reference help? Are there any instances where it can “date” the poem too much?

          • Richard says

            I don’t think we can fault a poem referencing obsolete clothing, customs, machinery that were not obsolete when the poem was written. What can hinder a poem’s references is if it reads, otherwise, like it is the present time. At the time it it was written it was current.

            References to objects or customs with the intention of using them to subtly define the poem’s time are more of a help.

  2. Donna says

    I’m with Elizabeth! Everything about HOW this poem is sensual makes it even moreso… There is a self referential quality to it. A tasty subtlety that I love. Giving me an idea that I need to make reservations!!!

    AND, as a mom, I just love extra towels that I can leave in a pile in the tub and not have to wash!!! I guess you could say that extra towels are my second favorite thing about get always.

    And the title…l have been playing with titles and appreciate this technique…. I have fallen into a habit of titling a poem with a word or two that summarize, but I’m trying to find new ways to add more poetry to my poems via the title… In the interst of coolness 😉 and efficiency with language. Thank you!

    • says

      You are most welcome.

      Here’s a challenge that I sometimes give my students: write about something ordinary as if it were extraordinary, or write about something mundane in a very sensual way.

      Give us a new way to think about shopping for groceries, or cooking that chicken, or doing the laundry, or mowing the grass

      Try it!

  3. says

    The photo certainly captures that “seductive allure of terry”. The title leads us right into the poem, which is a better option over having a contrived summary for a title. This poem also makes me more aware of the effective use of creative line breaks. Thanks for opening the classroom for us eager students of poetry to learn more.

    P.S. I’d like to edit out the gossip for the fax and let a married couple enjoy their retreat!

    • says

      Ha! Good point. For our 20th anniversary, my husband and I just went to our first ever resort spa. Even though I wrote this poem a while ago, I felt the same way all over again.

      I also love the photo! It really captures the essence of the poem.

      • Richard says

        For me the title included in the first sentence and the “blisters
        stacked beneath our sneakers” show what we want and why we want it; it say the towels are part of what follows.

        Enchanted love is difficult to maintain in the world at large and enchanted love, in spite of its critics, is such a marvelous thing. What provides us our cushion from the world can be fluffy towels, a park with trees, a picnic in a back yard patio etc. This is definitely a love poem that says touch base with enchantment, however you find it.

  4. says

    Delightful! The objects themselves seem animated, personified, full of life.

    I especially appreciate the sweet surprise of word use (“blisters/stacked” and “newspapers sprawled”), the inversion of “channels of cable”, and the playfulness of “beer / for the can opener in the bathroom” (no name need be mentioned) and “eternal hot water”.

  5. says

    On discussion question #1, yes I have! I think I first learned it from Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. One effect it has on me is — well, it feels like I was standing at the edge of the pool, toe-ing my way in the water, and then someone pushes me in. I got in sooner than I wanted to, but now I’m there, and I have to swim now, and it turned out to be kinda fun. Maybe it forces me to “dive in” to the poem. It has a wake-up effect like cold water does.

    I think the Kooser book also gave an example of a poem title being the last line of the poem instead of the first. I’ve tried that, too. When done that way, the effect is more like warm, inviting water. It makes me want to jump right in instead of entering the pool little by little.

    • says

      Ah, I love these examples from Kooser and your analogy above.

      Often, I use a line from a newspaper headline or a quote as a title to get me started. It has the same effect of pulling me in to write the poem. Though I may discard the “working title” later, it helps get the writing juices flowing.

      Everyone, have you used titles or first lines as prompts in this way? Or can you think of a way you might be able to do so?

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