The Great Gatsby Poetry
The Great Gatsby is fiction, not a collection of poems, but it might as well be poetry.”
In April, Tweetspeak Poetry held The Great Gatsby Book Club, led by Tania Runyan, using the new edition with her introduction. I’d read the book many times, each time hoping to like it. Each time I didn’t, finding no character I particularly enjoy. But this time, with Runyan’s emphasis on the poetry of Fitzgerald’s words along with poetry prompts for each post, I read it more generously. I was able to appreciate the economy of language and the beautiful turns of phrase. I stopped reading it as true crime (it isn’t — it just feels that way) and let the text breathe. Or in this case, I let the text drive.
Oh, my there are such a lot of cars in this story! Cars as symbols and cars as weapons. This story is often heralded as the Great American Novel. And what do Americans love? Cars. The open road. Road trips.
In Gatsby, no one drives far, just from Long Island to New York City and back. But they get in their blue coupés and gorgeous yellow cars and spend afternoons driving into town for drinks and then driving home. As someone who thinks nothing of driving 170 miles one way to meet someone for lunch, I sympathize with Gatsby & Co. Sometimes half the fun of a day trips is choosing which vehicle to drive.
So with this renewed appreciation for the automotive side of the story and a digital edition of the book, I searched the word “car.” What emerged was a treasure trove — not only the poetic potential of the word, but also words with “car” tucked inside them.
Like our narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick Carr-Away. At the end of the story he sells his car and goes far away, back West (meaning Midwest). The word car is also tucked into careful and careless and Gatsby’s caramel-colored suit and Daisy’s incarnation and even the “the whole caravansary” that fell in “like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.”
In her final Gatsby book club post, Runyan invited us to write a cento. She writes, “Your poem may not be a cento in the strict sense of the word, since Gatsby is a novel, not a poem (but wow, does it come close), but it will operate in much the same way.” Drawing from the four pages of car references I found and typed out, I put together this cento.
The Hard Brown Beetles
kept thudding against the dull light, and it sounded to him like the car that hadn’t stopped
under dripping bare lilac-trees a large open car was coming up the drive
the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath
on the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold
I crossed deliberately to the other side of the car
wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond
I heard a car stop
two cars, one comin’, one goin’, see?
Son-of-a-bitch didn’t even stopus car
I know what kind of car it was!
so we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight
Repairs. George B. Wilson. Cars bought and sold.
Picture Books and Early Readers
Life on Mars, by Jon Agee
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee
A New Day, by Brad Meltzer, illus. by Dan Santat
Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems (Join us for Children’s Book Club next Friday, May 14!)
All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot
Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America, by Kate Washington (wrote a cento from this one’s literary references)
The Great Gatsby: with an invitation from poet Tania Runyan, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Macbeth (abridged audio version), by William Shakespeare
Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight, by Julia Sweig
1. What is your experience with The Great Gatsby?
2. Which car that you’ve owned best describes you?
3. Share your April pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro