Dorianne Laux’s “What Would You Give Up?”

What Would You Give Up?

The title of Dorianne Laux’s poem is an electric switch. It takes a minute (or a couple of listens and reads), however, for the lines to light the understanding. “Not the brain, but the drain . . .” OH! All the while of the poem’s unfolding anatomy, the words flow rhythmically, often in clipped staccato.

Is there any better implicit advice for writers and poets?

The mix: piano, guitar, and bass figures are all derived from the voice DNA. The 100 beats per minute also suggested by the original audio recording. The synth pads are comprised of DNA notes, stretched.

Not the music, but the loop, the riff? Hopefully the DNA mix avoids musical clichés.

What Would You Give Up?

Not the nose on my face, but the spite, the grindstone.
Not an arm or a leg, but the money.
Not the length of the arm, but the lie, the shot, the list, the twist.
Not the ear, but the lending, the boxing, the out on.
Not the eye, but the naked, the catching, in the blink of,
the keeping it peeled, the turning a blind.
Not the elbow but the grease, the room.
Not the leg, but the pulling.
Not the back, but the shirt on, the breaking of, the scratch, the
the turning, the water off a duck’s.
Not the neck, but the sticking it out, the in-shit-up-to.
Not the throat, but the jump down, the frog in.
Not the feet, but the ground, the dragging, the cold.
Not the heel, but the down at, the under.
Not the fingers, but the light, the butter.
Not the thumb, but the green, the sore, the twiddle.
Not the tongue, but the slip.
Not the tooth, but the nail, the long in, the sweet.
Not the brain, but the drain, the picking of, the all brawn and no.
Not the breast, but the beating.
Not the body, but the temple.
The bird in the hand, the foot in the grave.

–Dorianne Laux

Used by permission of the author.

Listen to the original audio of the poem here.
For more Dorianne Laux, visit her website.
Teachers and students, check out Laux’s The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry written with Kim Addonizio.

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