The Great Gatsby Fashion Meets Poetry
Does any other classic work of American Literature feature fashion as deliciously as The Great Gatsby? The 1920s summons up pictures of fringed flapper dresses with sequins and beads; spiffy hats, vests and suspenders; and all the shimmer and shine you can imagine.
One of my favorite scenes from the novel is Gatsby tossing his kaleidoscope of shirts onto his bed. Daisy buries her face in those colorful fabrics and cries. Why do the shirts make her cry? Well, that’s a question that could easily take up an entire class discussion! (Students and teachers, take note.)
Clothes are a big deal in our house, at least to our oldest daughter. One of her life’s passions is to put together beautiful and funky outfits, some of them worthy of a Gatsby party, from second-hand stores. We’ve spent quite a bit of time at Goodwill over the years. What would Gatsby have thought about shopping at our local Goodwill? He would have thought about Daisy the whole time, of course, and probably let Nick in on the event, too.
Here’s my imagined letter to Nick from Gatsby—in poem form, of course. I’ll be writing more poems inspired by high-school classics throughout the year. Stay tuned, ol’ sports!
Jay Gatsby Goes to Goodwill
You wouldn’t believe the shirts,
ol’ sport, more than enough
to make Daisy tear up—
and not just because
of the hot summer cocktail
of sweat, disinfectant, and dust.
What beautiful shirts!
Paisleys, dachshunds, lilac stripes.
Some of these were once
in their Saks Fifth Avenue boxes
or flaccid Wal-Mart Rollback buys.
Someone like her
wouldn’t know the difference,
right? Gold-veined goddess
imported from East Egg,
West Egg lemon peels still stuck
to her feet. If I could get her
to cross the threshold
at the perfect moment,
the sun angling off the corner
of a cracked Black & Decker toaster,
my pomaded hair in slick relief
against those old pool noodles
swaying like cattails,
she would smile again.
Possibly transfigure me.
Or at least, Nick—I beg you, don’t leave me—
help me dream it again.
Try Your Own Great Gatsby Fashion Poem
Want to try your own Great Gatsby fashion poem? We’d love to read your shimmer and shine—from flapper dresses to suspenders and hats. Set your poem in an unexpected place like the Goodwill store or the Galapagos Islands. Or place it squarely in a Gatsby setting. Then just drop your poem in the comment box below.
Photos of George Barbier Art Deco Illustrations by Rawpixel, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
How to Write a Poem contains 3 essential elements I’ve yet to find in one poetry-writing text: generous and informed instruction, dozens of compelling example poems, and rich and plentiful exercises that avoid tricks and gimmicks.
Any poetry-writing teacher would do well to assign this text. Any writer would do well to draft and revise poems based upon these prompts.”
—Nathaniel L. Hansen; Assistant Professor of English & Creative Writing, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; Director, Windhover Writers’ Festival