World Town

Entirely windless, today’s sea; of these waters’ many names

the best seemed “field-of-pearl-leaves,” for it smelled like the air

in the house he built entirely of doors: pink school door,

gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned

bank’s steel doors singular and immovably wedged over

the family’s heads though as with everything corroding

the sense of themselves slipping away in the heat,

falling through the day’s brightness the way soldiers

once fell upon him walking home with a bucket of natural

water as he had been recalling the town square

before the tannery’s closing: he and his father shopping

on horseback in the noon Praça where they first saw

a man crouched under a black shroud, what his father called

a camera. His father forgot the incident immediately, but

for years the man asked whomever if they remembered

a camera, vegetable stalls, the butcher holding the cleaver,

a horseshoeing shop, purple berries, the long cassava valley haze,

fishnets, a few crab baskets and browning nets

drying by the ice cream shop, seven taverns,

a small, unused ferry terminal, a map on its wall outlining

the island in blue, the names Good Dispatch, Lover’s Bridge

pointed to by a mermaid of skin whiter than anyone

on the island of Angola’s descendants, her red hair.

Shane Book, “World Town” from Congotronic. Copyright © 2014 by Shane Book. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Source: Congotronic (House of Anansi Press, 2014)

Dive in: 
  1. This poem features a riotous sensory landscape. Which sights, sounds, and smells evoke strong memories for you?
  2. What does the house made of doors tell us about the man’s class? How does that shape your reading of the poem?
  3. There are several clues in the poem that point to where this town might be located, but the town is never named. What makes this town a “World Town”? How would your understanding of the poem change if you knew the town’s name?
  4. This poem jumps across time, from memory to memory. When the speaker encounters the a “man crouched under a black shroud,” the reader gets a sense that a cognitive or logical leap has occurred. What does this tell us about how the speaker experiences the passing of time?
  5. The playful repetitions and lists of nouns makes this poem particularly suitable for memorizing and reciting. What words and phrases would you stress during your recitation to make sure the town comes alive?
  6. Write a short poem about your school using only its sights and smells to reveal particular things about your relationship with the school. Remember, like Shane Book does in his poem, do not name your school but aim to accurately capture what it looks and sounds like.

Useful Link

Watch Shane Book read “World Town” at the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0eFBvkrRyI

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