Editor’s Note: In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re opening this month’s patron-exclusive book club to the public. We hope you enjoy The Great Gatsby and poetry!
Meet The Great Gastby Characters
Happy National Poetry Month, and Happy Public Domain Year for The Great Gatsby! I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the Roaring Twenties 2.0 with my favorite novel, a jazzy band of enthusiastic readers, and a poetry notebook waiting to be filled. Let’s dive right in with the first two chapters of the book, which I hope piqued your interest and gave you a flavor of Fitzgerald’s scrumptious language.
There’s a lot of stuff in the first two chapters of The Great Gatsby, and I mean actual stuff. Things abound—houses, couches, curtains, candles, dresses, more couches and dresses (it’s a whole thing), photographs, cigarettes, and a number of trinkets and do-dads. Marie Kondo wouldn’t like it.
Fitzgerald’s focus on objects is no coincidence, of course. Money, class, and materialism are major themes in The Great Gatsby. In fact, the myth of the American Dream, along with its darker obsessions with accumulating more stuff at the expense of healthy relationships, is the driving force behind much of the behavior in the novel.
We meet most of the main characters in these first two chapters: Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, the Wilsons, and, in sort of an oblique way, Gatsby “standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars” and “determin[ing] what share was his of our local heavens.” (Oh yes, and Gatsby also stretches his hand out toward a distant green light at the end of chapter 2, which will become super important later. Is it okay for me to say that?)
Along with these human characters, we also meet the settings of West Egg, East Egg, and the Valley of Ashes, locations that operate like characters in themselves with their distinct descriptions, personalities, and reputations. We meet the old-money grandeur of East Egg at the Buchanan’s House, the struggle and desperation of the Valley of Ashes (with its looming eyes of T.J. Eckleberg—also important) at the Wilson garage and extending somewhat to Myrtle’s New York apartment, and the “less fashionable” West Egg, where Nick and Gatsby live. We’ll learn much more about West Egg in chapter 3. Buckle up.
It probably didn’t take you very long to figure some basics about the people, too. Nick, the narrator, is some nice Midwestern combination of wise and confused and curious; Tom, rich, racist, and mean; Daisy, rich and ditzy (or is she?) and alluring; Jordan snobby (that balancing chin!); and Myrtle Wilson, full of life and wanting more of it.
But as I said, stuff prevails, and in the first two chapters, it is primarily through objects, houses, clothes, and money that we start to get to know these characters. And it is through writing about these items that we can form an even deeper connection to the text.
For every installment of The Great Gatsby book club throughout this beautiful National Poetry Month, I will be offering two poetry prompts—one free verse and one using form—as a way to engage more personally with the book. I’ll be writing along with you, choosing mostly the form option, as T.S. Poetry Press just released How to Write a Form Poem, and forms are close to my heart these days!
Great Gatsby Poetry Challenge: Chapters 1 & 2
Free verse: Write a poem in which you imagine yourself in one of the three settings covered in these chapters: the Buchanan mansion, the Valley of Ashes, or Myrtle’s apartment. Focus on objects in the text as your “way in” to the scene. Interact with these items, speak to or about them, even sit on a couch or two. It’s also okay to talk about the characters, but for this prompt we’re exploring mainly how the “stuff” of the book speaks.
Form: Write a sestina in which the teleutons (end words) are mostly objects from one of the settings in chapters 1 or 2. Discover how those objects become larger than life as you return to them stanza after stanza.
Here’s my sestina, dedicated to the poor little puppy forgotten during the rambunctious party at Myrtle’s (Tom-Buchanan-supplied) apartment.
Sestina for Myrtle’s Dog
Even your sale was a scandal,
ten dollars for a dirty wash rag of a coat
blurring the line between soil and smoke.
Mrs. Wilson giggled and screamed, shoved
you with her bag of lipstick and biscuits
under her arm, your toenails clicking
her cocktail rings. It didn’t click
for you, guileless puppy, the scandal
of your unrequited love dissolving like a biscuit
in a bowl, every hope of a petting hand blurring
toward another flask of whiskey. They shove
their hungers on one another in the smoke.
They cavort, stumble, gulp, and smoke
over tapestried ladies of Versailles clicking
their heels in a spurious spring. I shove
the Myrtle in my head toward your scandalous
whimper, the rustling chiffon blur
of dress number two (three?) skimming biscuit
crumbs. This is how it should be: biscuits
and blankets and atta girls, not smoke-
blowing strangers shouting in a drunken blur.
In fact, I would summon my entire clique
of dog-moms to descend on that scandal
of a flat, kick down the door and shove
aside all the Ashes and Eggs, shove
our love in your sweet-as-a-biscuit
face worth more than all those scandal
mags, jangling bracelets, and fancy smokes
thrown together. Or maybe I’d give you to Nick
before he succumbs fully to the toxic blur
of broken noses and phony laughter blurring
any sense he has left. I can’t shove
aside the thought that he, too, just needs to click
with another pure heart. If he held out a biscuit
and waited for you to wriggle out of the smoke,
the two of you would become best friends—scandal-
free, a blur of walks and cuddles and biscuits.
He would shove aside all that gossip and smoke,
click, here baby, and romp away from the scandal.
The Great Gatsby Reading Schedule
April 7: Chapters 1-2
April 14: Chapters 3-4
April 21: Chapters 5-6
April 28: Chapters 7-9
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