On "Thesis Statements"

Gerry LaFemina

For the most part, I tend to write a long poem. But as a challenge to myself about two years ago I began writing in this made up form–what I call the five-and-dime because it’s composed of ten lines in five couplets. I wanted to see how much compression I could get into a poem, and how the couplets could control the movement down the page. I don’t write these exclusively, but rather I go back to them from time to time, to remind myself to tighten the springs.

I also, as it turns out, write a lot of love poems. Always have. Or at least, poems that try to meditate on what is love.


I wrote “Thesis Statements” at a time when I was beginning to realize my feelings for someone were deeper than I could imagine, and that, maybe, my next big relationship loomed. Such moments are freighted with trepidation. I had been married, divorced, involved with people who were bad for me, and I was enjoying the relative calm of being single. But here it was: intimacy. It came with none of the rush of what I had experienced before; it was different sort of relationship, a different sort of love, and I liked it.

Uh oh, I thought, the heart better put on its crash helmet.

That’s the start of the poem.

The heart, no doubt, is a hard phrase to use in a poem. Any poem. But something about the crash helmet made me keep the phrase around–it seemed silly to me but right. The heart is the ultimate stuntman, after all. It comes out of the wreckage on fire and a few weeks later it’s raring to get back to work, ready for the leap, motorcycle tuned up, engine rumbling, hand on the throttle.

Such an image is only the first step. Next was juxtaposition: the other side of the daredevil is the academic writing his thesis. Of course, this is just the head-heart dialectic embodied in the poem, embodied in the self. The heart’s ready for the risky jump while the brain is looking for the right way to say what the heart feels.

The rest is play: the rain like typing, each drop on the roof a keystroke. I write “another/
phrase written, another sentence served, one more/ love letter ending with an ellipsis.” This embodies the dilemma and it’s as much about poetry as anything (remember, I write a lot of love poems, particularly, these last few years, for the woman in question). Phrasing refers to that–the musical phrase of the poem. Playing off the prison sentence, I wanted to acknowledge the hurt of past relationships for both of us–those sentences served, and then the hope: a love letter that ends in an ellipsis is unending.

The couplets also emphasize the couple as well as the dialectic in the poem. The hope and the fear. But in the end, the heart does what it does, goes speeding toward the ramp, its cape trailing behind, soaring over the chasm, while some of us look away and some of us can’t help but watch, cheering.

Gerry LaFemina

Gerry LaFemina is the author of a novel, a book of short stories, three books of prose poems and seven books of poetry, including this year's Little Heretic (Stephen F. Austin U P).  His collection of essays about poetry, Palpable Magic, is coming out later this year, also on SFAUP. He is acting executive director of Poets at Work, and the director of the Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University where he is an Associate Professor of English. He divides his time between Maryland and New York. His poem Thesis Statement will be featured in issue 299.4 of the North American Review. 

Illustration by Eric Piatkowski. Eric was raised in Arizona, and after a few years of working in theater he switched gears and studied illustration at the Pratt Institute. Now in Des Moines, he splits his time between drawing, drawing, and more drawing. Give him a call, he just might be the perfect man for the job. Prints of artwork featured here and elsewhere are available through Etsy at Eric Piatkowski Art. Eric was featured in Spring Issue 299.2 of the North American Review.