SxS: Iambic Soundtrack


Sometimes the poetry stops me. I can be wary of hearing poetic elements at play — the rhyme or alliteration in a sentence of a short story or novel that directs my attention away from the imagined dramatic moment and to the black marks on the page.

But here’s a short sentence from Birds in Fall*, by Brad Kessler, whose iambic pentameter works in concert (so to speak — one character is a cellist flying to a performance, in Amsterdam) with what it offers to the seeing mind. The line is the second in a three-sentence paragraph. The narrator and his neighbor on the flight have ordered from the drink cart:

Our pygmy bottles arrived with roasted nuts.

Aren’t the deliveries flight attendants set down on our trays this tidy and small? Aiming to please in perfect, miniature fashion? Here, the bottles and the nuts seem animated — they’ve arrived on their own — and the momentary cartoonish portrait feels true to the experience. The iambic soundtrack nails it.

*The Kenyon Review offered an excerpt in the Spring 2006 issue.