Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry

Relax. This won’t last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there’s a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he’ll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you’re busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it’s sex you’ve always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party’s unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don’t know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it’s needed. For it’s apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I’ll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don’t give anything for this poem.
It doesn’t expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you’re not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here’s what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stephen Dunn's poem Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry


  1. Jennifer Bond says:

    I came across this poem, surfing the net for a specific extract from a book.
    Brilliant, humorous and something to read again and again. Thank-you.


  2. anna says:

    does anyone know the publication date of this poem? It would be really helpful if it were included along with the poem, so it would be easier to analyze with the context of what was going on during that period.

  3. yann rolland says:

    Laugh at yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry…seriously do it all…This poem should be read by a lot of people who think of themselves too seriously…I like it essentially for its content, his message…

  4. Terri says:

    Brilliant. Captivating. Heart-breaking in its aptness for me at a singular moment in my long long life. Read it from beginning to end, a rare achievement. I soon lose interest where brilliance doesn’t show its face… and I’m NEVER too busy to read wonderful poetry.

  5. Marvin says:

    Perhaps the fact that it seems so “non-poetic” to Tz has something to do with the audience to which its title tells us Dunn addressed it. But in my moderately humble opinion, it is a damn fine work. I have read this poem to audiences in several venues (with proper sttribution) and have never failed to get an extremely favorable response. I have given copies of this poem to people who are not only “too busy to read poetry,” but who actually think that they don’t like poetry. For many of them, it was a (pleasant) shock to discover “what poetry can do.” I first came upon this poem in the early 1980s, in a self-published anthology put out by a co-op of NJ poets; It has followed me around, and led me to many places ever since. It made me a fan of Stephen Dunn’s work instantly — more than 20 years before he was awarded his Pulitzer Prize.

  6. Kavita says:

    This is a captivating poem – it leads you on, with a tongue-in-cheek humour – to a brilliant end. Thanks!

  7. Jill says:

    This was perfect! I had an assignment to find a good poem. I must have read over 300 of them before I landed on this island. Thanks for the memories!

  8. shardy says:

    im not a huge fan of poetry, infact the only reason im in this site is for a stupid poem called memorium for homework but i cant freakin find it! but i do think this poem has changed my perspection on poetry slightly, good on ya stephan dunn! well done mate….

  9. Tz says:

    What the hell… That was quite possibly the most non-poetic poem I have ever read.

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