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Cultural Context on A Collection of Minerals' - A Literary Essay Example

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1246 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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The poem A Collection of Minerals' was written by an accomplished American poet known as Mark Doty. The poem revolves around the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. It has seventeen stanzas with a varying number of lines in each stanza. All the first sixteen verses have five lines each, and it is only the last one that has four lines. The speaker in the poem is singular, and it is written in the first person point of view to achieve a personal connection with the audience and evoke sympathy. The poem collects the memories of the Cold War of 1945 to 1963 in the United States, at a time where there were competing ideas and visions. Specifically, it focuses on the Cuban Missile Crisis that happened in 1962 and that lasted for 13 days as the United States confronted the Soviet Union on the missile deployment in Cuba, Turkey, and Italy. The 13 days were filled with tension as the Soviet Union planned on launching their attack against the United States. This paper analyzes the cultural context of the poem from the poets perspective, with regards to the events that unfolded in the 13 days Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mark Doty was born 1953 in Maryville, Tennessee and has been hailed as one of the most elegant and accomplished poets in the United States. Most of his writings have taken on a variety of themes and ideas such as the gay urban life, brutal elegies, and memories of growing up in an unstable country. Mark Doty's father was an army engineer who raised him in different states such as Tennessee, South California, and Arizona. It is through his moving from place to place and interactions with various people that Doty developed better insight into poetry and the art of communicating his experiences through free verse.

In the event of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a serious political and military Cold War for 13 days in 1962. The war was about the installation of the nuclear weaponry in Cuba by the Soviet Union just a few miles away from the shores of the United States. George (159) mentioned that on October 22, 1962, the United States president John Kennedy alerted the Americans on the existence of the Soviet Union's missiles 90 miles away from the United States shore in Cuba. John Kennedy made it clear that the United States was willing to use military force if it was necessary to neutralize the imminent threat to national security. Consequently, this built tension among the Americans whose lives were under threat of the most prominent nuclear war to ever exist in human history.

Some of the prevailing themes evident during this time include social and emotional recovery from the World War II. The country was still suffering from the psychosocial strain caused by the expenses incurred in getting involved in the World War II. This is evident in the poem as the poet does not explicitly describe the social status of his family. Instead, he only offers hints of industrialization in his country through what his father does in the first stanza when he says, "Weekdays on the island my father engineered a road past the pink and blue empty summerhouses" (Doty 74). At the same time, this stanza highlights the nature of the situation in the country. As mentioned earlier, there was an imminent danger in the United States, and fear crippled many of the Americans. It is because of this that the author describes the summerhouses as uninhabited to show the idea that people evacuated their homes at the fear of being victims to the looming nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Mark Doty explains from lines 45 to 57 how the Americans lived in fear. The phrases used in these sections include "the teacher described the sirens" and "the face of my parent's alarm expecting its chilly radiance" (Doty 75). These phrases indicate worry and uncertainty about the immediate future.

The writer also highlights fishing as a symbol of desperation in their times. Mark Doty mentions in his poem from the second to the fourth stanza a yellowtail fish commonly known as the Japanese amberjack that he caught while he was with his father (Doty 74). However, he continues to refer to this as "glittering fool's gold, no good to eat" showing that even this could not sustain them as a meal. The fact that his engineer father turned to fishing for sustenance whereas his skill qualified him for more prestigious positions hints at an ailing economy incapable of sustaining the population. Fishing was a common practice at this time, and George (16) mentions it when she described that at the time of this event, Representative Hale Boggs was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The mentioned fish could also reveal the writer's attitude towards post World War II and the period of Cold war. One of the major events before the Cuban Missile Crisis was the attack on Pearl Harbor where the Japanese ambushed the United States' naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941 (George 97). The fact that he considered the Japanese amberjack as "glittering fool's gold" indicates his hatred towards the Japanese (Doty 74). During this time, the Japanese were under the governance of the United States after they conceded defeat (SparkNotes). Therefore, the relationship between the Americans and the Japanese was filled with hostility.

The economy during this time was a mess, and many Americans barely had enough money to support their families. In line 37 and 38, Mark Doty describes how their mothers used to pack food for them as they went to school, and by the description, they were mainly surviving on canned foods (Doty 75). Canned or tinned foods are common in areas devastated by a disaster, and since they do not go rancid quickly, people would stock them as their meals when there were no other means of getting food. George (81) explained that the postwar economy was fragmented since many areas were destroyed and thus not many locations were able to function well. This is evident in the life that the poet lived with his parents such as despite his father being an engineer, he turned to fishing, and inadequacy of food caused many people to live on canned food. In line 66, the writer mentions the condition "at home in the dark" (Doty 76). The phrase probably shows that they also lacked electricity and these are some of the consequences of a crippled economy in a country.

In conclusion, it is clear that the poem A Collection of Minerals' by Mark Doty explored the cultural context of the time that it was written. The poet took time to explore the various ideas that existed in the period of terror during the Cuban Missile Crisis both from his perspective and from a general view. The ideas presented in the poem connect to the literal texts that cover the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis hence proving that the poem does not exist in a vacuum but instead draws from real-life events. It is thus clear that the poem A Collection of Minerals' manages to reflect the cultural context of its period.


Work Cited

Doty, Mark. Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem In Broad Daylight: Two Volumes Of Poetry. Urbana, Ill, University Of Illinois Press, 2000,.George, Alice L. Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced The Cuban Missile Crisis. University Of North Carolina Press, 2014,.

SparkNotes. "Sparknotes: The Cold War (19451963): The Postwar World: 19451949." Sparknotes.Com, 2017,


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