Terrible Poem Breakdown: “There in the Valley of Elah”

The Terrible Poem Breakdown series takes a look at heartfelt poems that somehow have gone off the rails. The only two criteria are a) the poems cannot be willfully bad, and 2) the poet must be completely on board with criticism. My analysis focuses only on the effects the poems have on me, the casual but informed reader.


I stand facing the giant, a ridiculous weapon
Dangling at my side. I am a boy, a bumbler. Nobody’s choice.
In legend he will grow to monstrous size
But that’s not true. Actually he’s six-two
In sandals. Big enough: I’m only five-five.
And what’s worse, he’s a street fighter, experienced
In battle, a lifelong vandal, an epic jackanapes.
What do I have to compare? Faith in the Lord?
Please. I’d rather have a few more scrapes under my belt.
I wait for him to thunder near,
Eyes a swirl of yellow and red. I swallow hard.
A whispered prayer (for show),
I raise my arm,
And twirl my hand,
And throw.

Jacke’s Analysis:

Okay, problem number one: Elah??? What the hell is Elah??? I had to Google it. I don’t like titles you need to Google! What is this, The Wasteland? Do we need footnotes for this?

Ranting aside, I think I see what’s happening here. David and Goliath (thank you, Internet for shoring up that Elah reference). Not a terrible idea for a poem. Just terrible in the execution. By “epic jackanapes… scrapes” I was laughing out loud.

I don’t know enough about poems to know whether these rhymes or half-rhymes or pseudo-rhymes are intentional. There’s a sort of musicality to it that gives it a kind of momentum. The ending speeds up (like a slingshot??? maybe!!!).

Here’s the problem: who cares? If you’re going to read about David and Goliath, you can do a couple of things: 1) read the Bible (I hear it’s a popular book), 2) read some modern-day take on it like Malcolm Gladwell’s, 3) think about being an underdog yourself. You know what these emotions are! There’s nothing in this poem that you wouldn’t just think about yourself, knowing the story. Why update a classic story if you have nothing new to provide? Because of the musicality of the words? The idea that the whispered prayer is “for show”? That the faith in God is all a big con. That’s poetry?

Somewhere there’s a big con going on. Maybe it’s on the part of the “poet”!

As always, my thanks etc. for being a good sport and agreeing to submit to etc. etc. etc.

Other Poems in the Terrible Poem Breakdown Series:


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