In screenplays, characters are introduced with a 1-2 sentence description, something short but vivid enough to paint a picture. For instance, from the Out of Sight screenplay, “a guard, PUPKO (“PUP”), heavy-set, dumb as dirt.” Or from Pulp Fiction, ” LANCE, late 20s, is a young man with a wild and woolly appearance that goes hand-in-hand with his wild and woolly personality.”
Yusef Komunyakaa‘s poem “The Thorn Merchant” begins,
There are teeth marks
on everything he loves.
What a character intro! The poem is entirely a character description, slowly and beautifully building a portrait of a trafficker of harm. The language is a taut mix of straightforward images (“The ink on contracts disappears,” “Another stool pigeon leans/over a wrought-iron balcony,” “shadow of a crow over a lake”) and language that imparts more tone than explicable information. “There are teeth marks/on everything he loves” isn’t too (forgive me) thorny — things dogs have chewed, things rats have gnawed, or even a pencil that has been absentmindedly chewed. But what about “In the brain’s shooting gallery/he goes down real slow.” What does that mean? Continue reading