Phillip Levine’s “Coming Home, Detroit, 1968” and e.e. cummings’ “she being Brand” are two poems that use a car to help illustrate their messages. In Levine’s poem, he uses the names and colors of cars to paint a picture for us “Ford Rouge sulfurs the sun, Cadillac, Lincoln,
Chevy gray.” Being that Detroit is nicknamed the Motor City as it is “recognized as the historic heart of the American automotive industry,” it is fitting that Levine used one of the very things that made the city popular to show the contrast between that positivity and the negativity that came with the race riots in that time. The voice of the poem comes from someone who has to deal with the harsh reality and literal burning of their city every day but also has to continue living life as you can see with the line that reads “One brown child stares and stares into your frozen eyes until the lights change and you go forward to work.” The cars in this poem show the feeling of the time through their colors and also show that you have to keep driving regardless of what’s happening around you. The metaphor of the car in cummings’ poem is just as fiery as he details a new sexual encounter with a woman. The poem explains that he started off way too quickly and when she didn’t react well to what he was doing, he realized he needed to be gentle just as you would be with a real car.

i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch (and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell) next
minute i was back in neutral…

The way in which the poem is written speaks to the awkward reality of the situation. Sometimes cars need to be attended to with utmost care and respect.

Seeing that the two poems are so different but both use cars, it’s a bit hard to know how exactly to illustrate the feeling of what could be seen as hopelessness as well as one of passion. My car is a black 1950s Cadillac which I think is sleek enough to illustrate “she being Brand” and simple enough to illustrate “Coming Home, Detroit, 1968.” I think that even lighting and making the car seem small and far away could work well for Levine’s poem. And for cummings’ poem, possibly lighting from the back to create a silhouette or from a 45 degree angle to emphasize the contrast would work well to give it a sensual feeling.

1 thought on “Poetry

  1. rmichals

    Your summary of hopelessness and passion as single words to characterize the differences between the two poems works well. The cars are so different in these two poems. In Coming Home, Detroit 1968, the cars in the first few lines are the source of pollution. Later the car is the hiding place for the indifferent. In she being Brand, the car offers privacy, intimacy, adventure.


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