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Ode to American English
Transcript of Ode to American English
Ode to American English
Written by Barbara Hamby
Barbara Hamby’s poem, “Ode to American English”, is a unique ode written in free verse which means “poetry that does not rhyme and does not have a regular rhythm” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Because of the use of such deliberate diction and shifts between formal and informal speech, "With their elegant Oxfordian/accents how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod/hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U.S. of A," (8-10) the speaker can be identified as an appreciative person of not only American English, but American history too. She exudes a nostalgic mood to the reader of all the places she has traveled, though she currently resides in France.
• Diction: Informal diction conveys theme because it shows that the speaker has a sort of ‘right’ to miss English because she not only speaks it ‘professionally’ but also casually, “Yeah, I miss ‘em all, sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping champagne…” meaning that she’s known it for quite some time, this long time knowledge of English shows the reader that the speaker missing English is normal because she’s been so used to it.
• Figures of speech (metaphors): The speaker makes use of metaphors to compare English to things like Hungarian goulash. “Missing English, American, really, with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything…” goulash is a stew that has a variety of ingredients, so when she compares it to the English language and American culture the reader can see that she truly feels a connection to the various aspects of American English even when she isn’t around it and is instead surrounded by these foreign aspects of life like Hungarian goulash. This shows that no matter where she is, she thinks of American English.
Throughout this ode, there is a variety of literary devices used by the speaker in order to highlight her feelings for American English. The “urgent utter of unhappiness” is an example of alliteration while “the nouns zipping” is an example of onomatopoeia and these devices help create a poem that can be pictured as well as heard, along with all of the hyphenated words such as “ smart-talking, gum-snapping…finger-popping x-rated street talk.” She uses concrete imagery such as “Cheetoes, Cheerios, chili dog diatribes” which appeals
to one or more of the senses and it also serves as what the speaker
believes America’s culture is based upon: simplicity.
The speaker begins with “I was sitting in Paris one day missing English, American, really, with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything from Anglo-Saxon to Zulu…” (Line 1) The use of a series of commas indicate that the speakers thoughts are not quite finish and from noticing this early on and in the first line of this poem, the reader could expect the whole poem to ramble and almost read it with really no pauses when read aloud.
Everyone has a home and if/when they leave they’re going to miss aspects of it at some point and that that’s okay.
As a traveler, the speaker makes a point to imply the places she has been through alternating uses of the phrase, “Yeah, I miss ‘em all” (line 39), and conveys her nostalgia to an audience of anyone that has traveled similarly. By incorporating different countries, the readers are able to embody the poem almost as an ode to wherever they may originate.
In a sense the speaker’s written continuity develops a flow almost similar to raps in American culture, which also evokes a fondness that Americans can appreciate because her “verses lined up like hearses, metaphors juking, nouns zipping” (41)- just as American rappers utilize a rhythmic flow that fills verses with metaphors.
• seen in her “yearning” words toward the American English (line 9).
• repetition of the words “I miss,” which blatantly state that she feels a sense of nostalgia toward American English (1-55).
• use of the past tense throughout the poem
• Using very critical words to explain British English in comparison to American English.
• Use of elaborate American English descriptions “I miss the mongrel plentitude ... shopaholic rant” (23-29)
• short quips about British English as “know[ing] their dahlias,” and “The King James” bible there is a clear contrast in the appreciation (7, 19)
• For an American reader, the use of American slang and figures of speech, “Dick Tracy, Tricky Dick,” “The Bible Belt,” help create an association between the text and the reader as they are important sayings in American History(8,18).
• Shows evolving nature of American English the speaker also creates a mood of appreciation and nostalgia amongst the changing eras using words like “Doowop” to “Cheetoes” which are symbols that relate to the changed eras in American English (7, 51).