Glen Colquhoun's "A Set of Instructions to be Used When Reading a Poem". A Bucket List or A Bountiful Life?

Essay, 2014

3 Pages, Grade: A-


Blake Sullivan

1 October 2014

A Bucket List or A Bountiful Life?

Poetry, unfortunately, is often misunderstood as a collection of words splattered on a piece of paper forcing the reader to navigate through unfamiliar language landmarks such as stanzas, rhyming couplets and figurative language. However, Glen Colquhoun’s free verse poem, A Set of Instructions to be Used When Reading a Poem, effectively constructs a reader friendly poem with a hidden meaning on how to live life bountifully. More specifically, by analyzing Colquhoun’s use of structure and tropology it is evident that the poem’s underlying insight is to live life to its maximum disguised within its obvious list of instructions.

The poet’s use of unassuming structure ironically reveals the important thematic emphasis of living life to its fullest. At first glance, the free verse poem’s sequential numeric format is viewed as elementary. Numbered one through to twenty, the poem initially resembles a list or, as the poet modestly calls it, “a set of instructions”. In turn, the poem’s informal presentation of information is further made unassuming by the casual tone of the poet’s voice. At times, these instructions appear ordinary, similar to a recipe: “Squeeze”, “Shake”, “Place”, and “Mix”, or a morning bathroom routine: “Gargle” and “Spit.” Literally, this is an artless list of directions. However, on closer examination these familiar words, resembling a routine “to do” checklist, slowly transform into a poem encouraging its reader to celebrate life. Colquhoun’s format choice of a “set of instructions” seems familiar and ordinary, yet beneath these simple directives is a poem whose subtlety encourages every reader to maximize on one’s life. Furthermore, the poet divides the poem into distinct sensory experiences. Initially, the poet encourages the reader to “touch” life: “lift the poem”, “balance the poem in the palm of your hand”, “run your fingers around the outside of the poem”, “throw the poem.” These tactile experiences structurally shift to gustatory experiences: “Squeeze a small amount [of the poem] onto your tongue”, “enter the whole poem into your mouth”, “suck”, “chew.” These tasting experiences shifts to auditory experiences: “whisper the poem quietly”, “yell the poem loud”, “and recite the poem.” These ascending and descending sounds eventually lead the reader to visual experiences: “in daylight/in moonlight…lights on…lights off, “in the bathroom”, “in the garden”, “underneath a tree”. Structurally, Colquhoun’s introduction of each new sensory experience allows the reader to focus on one sense at a time. Colquhoun is cautious not to overwhelm the reader with too many distractions until he is certain the reader is familiar and appreciates each sense independently. For each reader these sensory experiences will be unique and individual. Colquhoun personalizes these experiences for each reader by ingeniously instructing the reader to “Remove the first word and the last word from the poem.” In doing so the words “To …you” becomes a personal address to each new reader to celebrate the many unique experiences life offers, even in the ordinary moments. Colquhoun’s use of free verse certainly invites the reader into a poem that is unassuming and ordinary, yet its underlying structure reinforces the complexity of life’s many experiences.


Excerpt out of 3 pages


Glen Colquhoun's "A Set of Instructions to be Used When Reading a Poem". A Bucket List or A Bountiful Life?
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Blake Sullivan (Author), 2014, Glen Colquhoun's "A Set of Instructions to be Used When Reading a Poem". A Bucket List or A Bountiful Life?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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