By Douglas Kearney


“Patter” by Douglas Kearney is a riveting exploration of themes surrounding fertility, fatherhood, and the societal expectations of men and women. Douglas Kearney, known for his dynamic and performative style, pushes the boundaries of traditional poetry through his inventive use of layout and punctuation, which often reflects the complex rhythms of speech and music.

Kearney’s work in “Patter” not only challenges the reader’s expectations of poetic form but also delves deep into personal and communal narratives. The collection, often characterized as part of the broader contemporary American poetry genre, stands out for its unique blend of lyricism and graphic design, making it a distinctive example of visual poetry. Kearney’s integration of personal experiences with broader social commentary allows “Patter” to resonate on multiple levels, making it a compelling read for enthusiasts of innovative poetic forms. 📚🖋️

Meaning of Patter

Opening Section

In the opening section of “Patter,” Kearney sets the stage by directly confronting themes of reproduction and the anxieties associated with it. The language is visceral and immediate, thrusting the reader into a deeply personal narrative. For example, Kearney uses phrases like “a clinic’s sterile sting” and “test after test,” which ground the reader in the experience of medical scrutiny and the hope for parenthood.

Mid Section

As the poem progresses, Kearney shifts from the personal to the societal implications of fatherhood and identity. The mid-sections of “Patter” explore the intersection of race, masculinity, and societal expectations. Kearney’s use of fragmented lines and disruptive punctuation mimics the disjointed feelings of societal pressure and the struggle for personal identity within predefined roles.

Concluding Section

The concluding parts of “Patter” reflect a culmination of personal resolve and broader societal critique. Kearney often concludes with a reflective tone, questioning the norms he has explored throughout the poem. The ending lines, poignant and resonant, leave the reader with a sense of unresolved tension between the personal desires and societal expectations, reflecting the ongoing nature of these struggles.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1

  • Themes: Identity and expectation
  • Symbols: Medical imagery as a symbol of societal scrutiny
  • Literary Techniques: Use of enjambment to emphasize the disjointed nature of identity under external pressure.
  • Figurative Language: Metaphors relating to medical procedures represent invasive societal expectations.

Stanza 2

  • Bullet point analysis highlighting the use of:
    • Syntax: Short, clipped sentences to mirror abrupt societal judgments.
    • Diction: Clinical language juxtaposed with intimate subject matter, enhancing the emotional disconnect.

Stanza 3

  • Themes: The pressure of legacy and continuity.
  • Symbols: “Chains of DNA” symbolize both connection and burden.
  • Literary Techniques: Kearney’s use of repetition emphasizes the cyclical nature of generational expectations.
  • Figurative Language: “Chains” serve as a powerful metaphor for both biological inheritance and societal constraints.

Stanza 4

  • Bullet point analysis highlighting the use of:
    • Syntax: Complex, intertwined sentence structures to depict the complexity of human emotions and relationships.
    • Diction: The contrast between scientific and emotive language highlights the tension between personal feelings and clinical procedures.

Stanza 5

  • Themes: Resolution and defiance.
  • Symbols: The final imagery of breaking dawn as a symbol of new beginnings and breaking away from old constraints.
  • Literary Techniques: Climactic structure, where the crescendo builds through the stanza to a hopeful, yet ambiguous resolution.
  • Figurative Language: “Dawn breaks over the horizon” as a metaphor for new possibilities and changes.

This stanza-wise breakdown helps to unpack the dense layering of themes and techniques Kearney employs, making “Patter” a rich subject for study in both form and content.

Poetic Devices used in Patter

Device NameExample from Poem
Alliteration“Silent slips and stuttering syllables”
Assonance“Eerie echoes emanate”
Enjambment“A line ends abruptly/only to leap”
Metaphor“Life as a lab experiment”
Simile“Like needles threading uncertainty”
Personification“Hope whispers coldly”
Onomatopoeia“Buzzing, ringing, roaring”
Hyperbole“Infinite wait, eternal pause”
Irony“Fertility as barren”
Symbolism“Chains of DNA, links to the past”

Patter – FAQs

How does Kearney explore themes of identity in ‘Patter’? Kearney uses his personal experiences and societal observations to delve into complex discussions about identity, particularly around the roles and expectations placed on individuals regarding fertility and parenthood.

What poetic forms does Kearney employ in ‘Patter’? Kearney blends traditional poetic forms with visual poetry, using page layout and unconventional punctuation to enhance the thematic depth of his work, making the poem not only a textual but also a visual experience.

What is the significance of the layout and form in ‘Patter’? Kearney’s innovative use of layout, including spacing, punctuation, and page orientation, acts not just as a visual tool but as an integral part of the poem’s meaning, emphasizing disruptions, pauses, and continuities in narrative and thought.

How can ‘Patter’ be used to discuss contemporary social issues? “Patter” can be a springboard for discussions on modern family dynamics, the pressures and anxieties of parenting, and the intersections of race, identity, and societal expectations, making it relevant in discussions about contemporary social issues.

Patter Study Guide

Exercise: Identify all poetic devices used in the following verse from “Patter”: “Time ticks, a bomb’s steady heartbeat—waiting explodes into being.”


  • Alliteration: “Time ticks”
  • Metaphor: “a bomb’s steady heartbeat”
  • Personification: “waiting explodes into being”

Additional Exercise: Analyze how the use of visual space in “Patter” affects the reader’s understanding of the poem. Provide insights into how space can be ‘read’ as a poetic device.


  • Kearney’s strategic use of page space — including gaps, alignments, and the flow of text — can represent silence, isolation, or disconnection. These visual elements encourage the reader to engage with the text not just through words but through the physical act of navigating the space on the page, making the reading experience more interactive and reflective of the poem’s themes.