Poor Speaker

I understand you.

I get what you’re trying to say.

What you’re trying to say is you want me to get it.


I get it. You want me

to understand. You want me to know

not the words, but what’s behind them. Got it.


You’re trying to tell me

what you want me to hear. What I

hear is all words, but that’s not all there is.


I totally comprehend.

There’s a comprehensive totality

beyond, or above, or within, or outside


whatever you just said.

Yes, yes. Your vocabulary can’t put the nuance

on the fine feeling you wish to express.


Not that you’re feeling fine, I know.

Rather, the feeling is fine like a fine point. Right.

That’s the point. I get it. If you could say so, you would.


You still want me to understand?

I told you from the beginning. I’m with you.

I got it. Why keep going on? It’s gotten. It’s all good.

Dive in
  1. Where is repetition used in this poem? Are the words repeated exactly every time or are slight changes made?
  2. Do you think the speaker has really “got it”? What leads you to think that?
  3. Who do you think the speaker is talking to? What kind of relationship do you think they have?
  4. The poet has used tercets (stanzas of three lines). How does this affect your reading of the poem? Think of how the poem would read differently if it were written mostly with quatrains (four-line stanzas) or as a prose poem (with paragraphs).
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, when would you speed up or slow down? Where would you pause and for how long?
  6. Imagine that you are the person the speaker is talking to. Write a poem in response (this will be a persona response poem). As a twist, copy the first line of each stanza of “Poor Speaker” and begin your own tercets with those lines.

Useful Links

Check out how Sonnet L’Abbé has colonized three of Shakespeare’s sonnets: http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2017/02/10/poems-sonnet-labbe/


Watch this three-minute film by Toronto-based filmmaker Mark Fiorillo that includes Sonnet L'Abbé reading her poem "Going Outside": http://www.nsi-canada.ca/2012/02/going-outside/

Dive In written by
Bibliographical info

Excerpted from Killarnoe by Sonnet L’Abbé. Copyright © 2007 by Sonnet L’Abbé. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited.

Start here: