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Analysis of Essex Hemphill's "Commitments" poem

Choose one:
Lee, "My Father, in Heaven, Is Reading Aloud"
Hemphill, "Commitments"
Spiegelman, "Prisoner From Hell Planet" and images from Maus
Silko, "Yellow Woman"
O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"
Forche, "The Colonel"
Vonnegut, "Harrison Bergeron"
Szymborska, "On Death, Without Exaggeration" (1569)
Petry, "Like a Winding Sheet" (1619-1626)
1. Choose one of the works of art listed above.
2. If you chose a poem, read it at least four times. If you chose a story, read it at least twice.
4. Analyze how the writer effectively uses ONE element to convey one possible theme or main message.
5. Make sure your thesis statement regarding the element and the theme appears as the last sentence in the first paragraph.
6. Include specific evidence from the poem or story in each body paragraph.
7. Do not use any other outside sources; instead, let your voice and your analysis build the engaging voice of each paragraph.
8. Use MLA in-text citations within your essay and include an MLA Works Cited entry for the story or poem.


Solution Preview

Before his untimely death from AIDS- related complications, Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) explored through prose, poetry, and film what it meant to live as a black gay man. The following poem comes from his 1992 book ceremonies: Prose and poetry. His other book includes a collection he edited, Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991). Hemphill also appeared in the documentaries Looking for Langston and Tongues United.

I will always be there.
When the silence is exhumed.
When the photographs are examined.
I will be pictured smiling.
among siblings, parents,
nieces and nephews.

In the background of the photographs
the hazy smoke of barbecue,
a checkered red-and-white tablecloth
laden with blackened chicken,
glistening ribs, paper plates,
bottles of beer, and pop.

In the photos
the smallest children
are held by their parents.
My arms are empty, or around
The shoulders of unsuspecting aunts
expecting to throw rice at me someday.

Or picture tinsel, candles,
ornamented, imitation trees,
or another table, this one
Set for Thanksgiving,
a turkey steaming the lens.

My arms are empty
in those photos, too,
So empty they would break

around a lover.
I am always there
for critical emergencies,
the middle of the night.

I am the invisible son
In the family photos
nothing ...

Solution Summary

Analysis of Essex Hemphill's "Commitments" poem with commentary from the OTA regarding one metaphor used consistently throughout the poem to underscore meaning.