I thought this poem appropriate as it builds on the topics of my previous post. Carver is a master minimalist and greatly economical with his use of detail and description.
This poem allows the reader to build the image and history of its speaker, solely through external observations.
SUNDAY NIGHT – by Raymond Carver
Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
Outside the window, for one.
This cigarette between my fingers,
These feet on the couch.
The faint sound of rock-and-roll,
The red Ferrari in my head.
The woman bumping
Drunkenly around in the kitchen…
Put it all in,
52 words. Notice his restraint when applying adjectives, adverbs, and even verbs in this case. The poem, in essence, is an exercise in combining the disparate elements of a single moment to form the image, interiority, and even history of a character.
Notice how we are given no information about the poem’s subject other than “The red Ferrari in [his or her] head.” Yet, there is a richness and fullness in the composition that arises from the selective, purposeful details. What can we gather from the evidence given?
- He or she is looking out the window at the falling rain. This, in itself provokes a certain emotion. Furthermore, it reveals to the reader about themselves. I, for instance, imagine it is nighttime, misty, and glum. Although, the opposite of each can be true.
- He or she is a smoker.
- He or she is relaxing with their feet on the couch. I imagine they are tired.
- There is music playing, low volume. From outside of the house perhaps. Or from the other room.
- He or she is probably intoxicated. “The woman bumping drunkenly around in the kitchen,” can be a girlfriend or wife or friend. I imagine she is the subject’s mother.
Do you see how Carver provides specific details that lend themselves to analysis? In a sense, there is a restraint practiced here even in regard to his specificity. With the exception of the red Ferrari, the lack of adjectives broadens the possible interpretations of each line. This open-endedness engages the reader and invites the reader to further invest in the text.
Lastly, engage as many senses as possible. Sight, touch, and sound are obviously invoked here. However, Carver also indirectly involves taste and smell by way of the cigarette. Furthermore, the selectivity of his line breaks in themselves evoke a sensation:
The woman bumping
drunkenly around in the kitchen…
“The woman bumping” precisely does its job by conjuring the provocative image of a woman running her body into things. We don’t know why, or where, until the succeeding line “drunkenly around in the kitchen…” which gives the sense–by way of the ellipsis–that this event is in a cycle of perpetuation.
- Details. Be selective and juxtapose details that may ordinarily seem disparate. It is our job as writers to make connections and realizations about our world that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
- Restraint when using adverbs and adjectives can greatly add texture and depth to your work by allowing the reader to do the heavy lifting of conjuring an image inside their head.
- Carver’s only adverb here was “drunkenly”. This indicates to the reader that this word is important and should be considered; a message that would be lost at the hands of a worser author, among the muck of descriptors.
- If you properly build the world around your character, then your character will emerge from the details.
This concludes our analysis of character and world building through Raymond Carver’s poem “Sunday Night”.
Did you learn with me today? Please leave a comment below.