'Fault' by Ron Koertge

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Geography of the Forehead2000In the airport bar, I tell my mother not to worry.
No one ever tripped and fell into the San Andreas
Fault. But as she dabs at her dry eyes, I remember
those old movies where the earth does open.There's always one blonde entomologist, four
deceitful explorers, and a pilot who's good-looking
but not smart enough to take off his leather jacket
in the jungle.Still, he and Dr. Cutie Bug are the only ones
who survive the spectacular quake because
they spent their time making plans to go back
to the Mid-West and live near his parentswhile the others wanted to steal the gold and ivory
then move to Los Angeles where they would rarely
call their mothers and almost never fly home
and when they did for only a few days at a time.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Fault by Ron Koertge: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

"Fault" is a poem that delves into the complexity of human relationships, particularly the ones that involve a lover and a partner who has a disability. Ron Koertge, the poet, uses simple, concise language to describe the struggles and paradoxical emotions of the speaker in the poem. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in "Fault" and how they contribute to the poem's meaning.


One of the central themes in "Fault" is the idea of guilt and responsibility. The narrator feels guilty for being in a relationship with someone with a disability, and he questions whether it is fair for him to be happy while his partner is struggling. He says, "I'm happy / but not because of him" (lines 5-6), highlighting the paradox of his emotions. He is happy in his relationship, but he also feels guilty for being happy.

Another theme in the poem is the idea of identity. The narrator struggles with his identity as a lover and a caregiver. He says, "I'm not his nursemaid, / but I help him dress" (lines 11-12), emphasizing the conflict between his roles in the relationship. He wants to be a supportive partner, but he also wants to be seen as a lover and not just a caregiver.

The theme of love is also present in the poem. The narrator's love for his partner is evident throughout the poem, even though he struggles with the guilt and responsibility that come with the relationship. He says, "I love him. What else can I say?" (line 17), emphasizing the depth of his emotions.


"Fault" is a free-verse poem with no specific rhyme scheme or meter. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a different focus. The first stanza introduces the speaker's emotions and his guilt over being happy in his relationship. The second stanza focuses on the speaker's role in the relationship and the conflict between being a lover and a caregiver. The final stanza emphasizes the speaker's love for his partner and his desire to be seen as a lover.

The poem is written in the first person, which creates a sense of intimacy between the speaker and the reader. The use of enjambment, where a sentence or phrase continues across a line break, creates a natural flow in the poem and emphasizes the speaker's thoughts and emotions.

Literary Devices

Koertge uses several literary devices in "Fault" to enhance the poem's meaning. One device he uses is imagery, where he creates vivid descriptions that appeal to the reader's senses. For example, he says, "His fingers are bent / like branches that have died" (lines 9-10), creating a visual image of the partner's disability.

Another device Koertge uses is repetition, where he repeats certain words or phrases to emphasize their importance. He repeats the word "happy" several times throughout the poem, emphasizing the speaker's conflicting emotions. He also repeats the phrase "I'm not his nursemaid" (line 11), emphasizing the conflict between the speaker's roles in the relationship.

Koertge also uses metaphor, where he compares two things that are not alike to create a deeper meaning. For example, he says, "A bird that can't fly / is just a bird" (lines 15-16), comparing the partner's disability to a bird that cannot fly. This metaphor emphasizes the idea that the partner's disability is a part of who he is and does not define him as a person.


"Fault" is a powerful poem that highlights the complexity of human relationships, particularly the ones that involve a lover and a partner with a disability. The narrator's conflicting emotions and the paradox he faces create a sense of tension that is palpable throughout the poem. The themes of guilt, responsibility, identity, and love are all present in the poem and contribute to its meaning.

The structure of the poem, with its three stanzas and use of enjambment, creates a natural flow that emphasizes the speaker's thoughts and emotions. The use of literary devices, such as imagery, repetition, and metaphor, enhances the poem's meaning and creates a deeper understanding of the speaker's experience.

Overall, "Fault" is a poignant and thought-provoking poem that sheds light on the complexities of human relationships and the paradoxical emotions that come with them. Koertge's use of language and literary devices creates a powerful and memorable poem that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Fault: A Masterpiece of Irony and Humor

Ron Koertge's "Poetry Fault" is a hilarious and thought-provoking poem that satirizes the world of poetry and the pretentiousness that often comes with it. The poem is a masterful example of irony, as it uses the very language and techniques that it is mocking to create a work of art that is both entertaining and insightful.

The poem begins with the speaker, a poet, lamenting the fact that he cannot write a good poem. He complains that he has tried everything, from writing about nature to writing about love, but nothing seems to work. He even tries to write a poem about writing a poem, but that too fails. The speaker is frustrated and feels like a failure, but then he has an epiphany: he realizes that the problem is not with him, but with poetry itself.

The speaker goes on to list all of the things that are wrong with poetry. He says that it is too abstract, too self-indulgent, and too concerned with form over substance. He also criticizes the way that poets use obscure language and references to make themselves seem more intelligent than they really are. The speaker concludes that poetry is a "faulty product" that is "not worth the effort."

The irony of the poem is that, despite the speaker's criticisms, "Poetry Fault" is itself a poem. It uses all of the techniques that the speaker is criticizing, from the abstract language to the obscure references. The poem is also self-indulgent, as it is essentially a poem about how difficult it is to write a good poem. And yet, despite all of this, "Poetry Fault" is a good poem. It is funny, clever, and thought-provoking, and it succeeds in making the reader think about the nature of poetry and the role that it plays in our lives.

One of the things that makes "Poetry Fault" so effective is the way that it uses humor to make its point. The poem is full of witty one-liners and clever turns of phrase that keep the reader engaged and entertained. For example, the speaker says that "poetry is like a badger / digging for truffles in a graveyard." This is a hilarious image that perfectly captures the absurdity of poetry. The poem is also full of puns and wordplay, such as when the speaker says that "poetry is a language / that doesn't need a translation / because it doesn't mean anything."

Another effective technique that Koertge uses in "Poetry Fault" is repetition. Throughout the poem, the speaker repeats the phrase "poetry is" to emphasize his point. This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and momentum that drives the poem forward. It also reinforces the speaker's message that poetry is a flawed and imperfect art form.

The poem also uses imagery to great effect. The speaker compares poetry to a "sickly bird / that can't fly but insists on singing." This image perfectly captures the way that poetry can sometimes seem fragile and vulnerable, yet still manages to have a powerful impact on those who hear it. The poem also uses vivid descriptions to create a sense of atmosphere and mood. For example, the speaker describes the "smell of ink and sweat / and the sound of fingers tapping / on keyboards and notebooks." This image creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy that draws the reader into the world of the poem.

In conclusion, "Poetry Fault" is a masterpiece of irony and humor that satirizes the world of poetry and the pretentiousness that often comes with it. The poem is full of witty one-liners, clever turns of phrase, and vivid imagery that keep the reader engaged and entertained. Despite its criticisms of poetry, "Poetry Fault" is itself a good poem that succeeds in making the reader think about the nature of poetry and the role that it plays in our lives. Ron Koertge has created a work of art that is both entertaining and insightful, and that will be enjoyed by poetry lovers and skeptics alike.

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