Katy Rose Price’s Final Exam Essay

Literary Analysis of “Apologies to my OB-GYN” by Rebecca Foust

Word Count: 1044

Most often, birth is seen as a transcendent experience, the creation of new life and that life coming into the world for the very first time. Poems concerning birth often focus on themes surrounding joy, creation, beginnings, nurturing, or innocence. However, Rebecca Foust confronts those themes to depict the harsh realities of navigating the fear, uncertainty, and of having a child that was born premature and with health problems. In her poem, “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” Foust challenges the medical industry and beliefs held about whose life is valued and worth saving to demonstrate the inherent worth in each life.

“Apologies to my OB-GYN” has four stanzas, each consisting of six lines. A stanza with six lines is known as a sexain and doesn’t necessarily rhyme, as is seen in this poem. Foust employs anaphora in this piece to emphasize and illustrate her point with the repetition of the word “sorry” at the beginning of the first three stanzas, as well as at the beginning of the last line of the third stanza. Anaphora is a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a word or sequence of words at the beginnings of nearby clauses, thus creating emphasis on a certain word or idea.

Her use of anaphora calls the reader back to the word “apologies” in the title, leading the reader to believe that this poem would be atoning or asking forgiveness for something. However, it accentuates the irony of the poem, as Foust is not asking for forgiveness or lenience, but is calling out her doctors, physicians, and the medical industry for their treatment of her and her son. For instance, in the first four lines, “Sorry that my boy birthed himself / too early, took up so much room / in your prenatal nursery / with his two pounds, two ounces,” she calls attention to the ridiculousness of placing the responsibility of her son’s premature birth on him when his birth was uncontrollable and not determined by any specific person. Furthermore, she highlights the absurdity of deciding whether or not to save his life based on space concerns when her son weighed as much as a pineapple.

The use of anaphora can further be seen in this poem through the juxtaposition of the first three stanzas and the fourth stanza. The first three stanzas contain the use of the word “sorry” and communicate much of the emotion and rage that the author is feeling towards the people and industry that debated on the value of her son’s life. By switching abruptly from that emotion to the image of her child saving “nymph moths / trapped in the porchlight,” the reader can get a sense of the beauty of the child and his selflessness in trying to save little creatures that most people wouldn’t give a second thought. Additionally, one could assume that his empathetic and giving nature stems from his struggle and determination to live, despite the “prognoses” and “predictions” that counted against him. The beauty and value that he has now, as a child whose fate isn’t being debated, is the same as the beauty and value he had as that two-pound premature infant. This can be exemplified through the last three lines of the poem, “…blue wingbeat / pulse fluttering his left temple—there, / there again. Just like it did then.” In these three lines, one of the main themes of the poem is communicated—his life, like every life, had inherent beauty and importance from the moment he was born.

The ironic tone of “Apologies to my OB-GYN” is evident throughout the piece. In the first and second stanzas, the speaker shows her anger, frustration, and rage with her doctor and the medical industry through the irrational image of her premature infant showing his gratefulness for the doctors deciding to save his life (rather than casting it aside) by cooperating with the nurses. She further develops the irony of the poem in the third stanza, in which she “apologizes” for her child, through him receiving adequate care and living, “skyrocketed premiums, weighted the costs / in your cost-benefit analyses, / skewed bell-curve predictions / into one long, straight line.” In this stanza, Foust is criticizing both her doctor and the medical industry that values money and profits above human life. Rather than being joyful and grateful that their patient lived, the doctors and administrators were only concerned with how his long-term, expensive care impacted their costs and profits. By apologizing for how “he took so much of your time / being so determined to live…” Foust is highlighting the rage she feels toward her doctor and the industry, as well as the way she was treated during such a scary, frightening, and nerve-wracking time in her life.

In Foust’s poem, she employs the primary technique of anaphora to emphasize the ironic nature of her poem. She communicates the rage she feels toward the disregard of her son’s life by doctors and the medical industry through the repetition of the word “sorry” and the idea that her son living was an inconvenience to her doctor. Through this poem, Foust offers other people who may be experiencing something similar a voice and empathy for their emotions and frustrations. By juxtaposing her rage with the beauty of her son, both at his birth and as a healthy child, she communicates the theme of the poem, that people have inherent worth, beauty, and significance. Furthermore, she critiques the medical industry and its role in deciding whose life is worth saving and whose life is worth discarding.

Thus, a connection can be made between her poem and disability, as disabled lives are often seen as less than or undervalued. In the medical industry, disability can be seen as something that needs to be “fixed” or “cured,” rather than as an aspect of a person that should be accepted and appreciated. By calling attention to the importance placed by doctors and the medical industry on costs and profits, Foust demonstrates that disabled people are seen as less worthy of life because they may require more care and medical assistance than a non-disabled person. This belief is dispelled in her poem, as she demonstrates that every person is worthy of respect and has inherent value.

“I hereby pledge upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” -Katy Rose Price

Tabitha Robinson’s Final Exam Essay

Abundance of Right: Literary Analysis of “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay

Tabitha Robinson

Dr. Foss

ENGL 384: Disability and Literature

7 December 2021

Word count: 1,046

Abundance of Right: Literary Analysis of “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay

              The wind blowing, birds fluttering, the stars turning with the earth—these are all aspects of nature that are universally beautiful. In poems, their awe is rarely compared to anything except the poetic speaker’s love interest, or the sublime feelings raised by romance. The lived experience of disability is not a typical comparison for a beautiful sunrise. However, in “Misfit” by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, he compares his life with autism to nature’s beauty. This poem questions what is “natural” by comparing the autistic experience to aspects of the organic world.

              “Misfit” uses the villanelle, a strict poetic form. The villanelle traditionally deals with pastoral or rustic themes, which is fitting for the subject of the poem. A step further than “natural,” “pastoral” refers to an idyllic life in nature full of beauty, peace and romance. The elements of nature described in “Misfit” have an idyllic quality and blissful tone; there is no speech, but at the end, the speaker references his “laughing lips” and finds right in everything. While the villanelle form has no set meter, it has a strict pattern of refrains and stanza lengths that give it rhythm.

              A villanelle consists of five tercets (or three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four-line stanza). “Misfit” follows this pattern exactly. There are five stanzas of three unrhymed lines each. The last stanza contains four unrhymed lines. The refrains of a villanelle are two lines which are repeated alternately in each stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated, alternatively, in the next five stanzas. The two-line refrain comes together in the quatrain and serves as the final two lines of the poem. In “Misfit,” the refrain lines are “turning and turning” and finding/found “no wrong with anything.” This structure is hard to find at first in the poem, but the repetition of these lines gives the poem a circling feeling, much like the turning of the earth in the first line. It may seem strange to discuss something as wild and free as nature in such a strict poetic form, but the pattern allows for great syntactical creativity while structuring the speaker’s thoughts.

              There are many areas of comparison in the poem. The speaker with autism flaps his hands like the birds, turns like the earth, and in what he calls an unseen “trick,” becomes the wind blowing. This sets up the idea that the disabled body, long seen as unnatural, may be closer to nature than the nondisabled body. Similarly to how the speaker breaks down the natural/unnatural binary and becomes the wind, the refrain comes together in a new way in the quatrain. Suddenly the line is blurred between the earth and the speaker. “Why stop turning and turning / When right can be found with everything?” it asks. It is unclear whether this refers to the earth’s turning or his own. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, “since right can be found with everything,” whether natural or unnatural.

              The speaker’s perspective does not even enter the poem until the third stanza; the first two stanzas instead emphasize the natural rhythm of the earth. The speaker slips in like one halfway through a dance. In the first stanza, the earth is “turning and turning”; the stars recede in dawn, “finding no wrong with anything.” In the second stanza, there is an early morning feeling. Birds fly “all morning.” The sky lights up “from the earth’s turning and turning” (emphasis mine). The repetitious movement of the earth is necessary for life, for light, for the sun to rise. Does that make the speaker’s repetitious movements unnatural? On the contrary, as the speaker enters in the third stanza, flapping his hands, “The birds knew I was Autistic; / They found no wrong with anything.” The birds, flying/flapping all morning as the earth turns and the sky lightens, see no wrong in the speaker’s autism.

              “Men and women” enter in the fourth stanza, seeming very out of place after the descriptions of the natural world. The speaker fits more into the natural world than they do. They never move or say anything. Their only action is to label the speaker “a misfit.” While the speaker flows along with the rhythms of the natural world, the (presumably non-autistic) men and women feel stiff and unnatural with their naturally nondisabled bodies and staring at the speaker’s movement.

              The speaker engages in several types of movement with several different responses. In the first stanza, the impersonal stars find “no wrong with anything”; In the third stanza, the birds find “no wrong” with the flapping of his hands. In the fifth stanza, the speaker himself finds “no wrong” with his blowing as the wind. It is only in the men and women in the fourth stanza who “stared at my nodding; / They labeled me a Misfit.” Still, as if to remind the reader that this is the action of the earth, approved by stars and birds, he adds, “(A Misfit turning and turning).” The sixth and last stanza poses the indirect question: Which is more natural, my movement or the labeling gaze of the men and women?

              “Why stop turning and turning / When right can be found with anything?” rings the final refrain. This final line comes closest to breaking the villanelle format. While the idea is the same, the word “right” has not yet been used in the poem. The refrain thus far was finding “no wrong with anything” (emphasis mine). Using “right” instead is a crucial word choice. The world goes from finding no wrong with these movements to finding an abundance of right. There is no reason to stop the natural rhythms of the earth. There is nothing but right in these movements, the speaker concludes with “laughing lips.”

              Like the blowing wind, fluttering birds, and rotating stars, the speaker’s autistic movements are a natural part of earth. Far from being a far-fetched comparison, this poem shows that our idea of what is natural may be the most unnatural way to think. “Misfit” compares aspects of nature to the speaker’s experience of autism, questioning what is “natural.” In the end, the reader is left to conclude that turning and hand flapping are just as natural, beautiful and even crucial as the spinning of the earth.

I hereby pledge upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. –Tabitha Robinson