An Economy of Words, a Bounty of Emotion

kid picture
Naomi Nye’s poem “The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter” begins with a quote from the Dallas Morning News: “Alicia didn’t like sadness.” The poem is about the murder of a child on her way to the store a block away from her house. The poem is powerful and haunting, vivid in its description of this child. Her death becomes painful to us, the reader, because we know her, and we can never forget her again.

And yet, Nye’s poem uses very ordinary words, nothing more difficult than a fourth-grader could understand. The word choice may not be lavish, but the emotions evoked through the simple language are raw and convincing.

In her letter to her daughter’s murderer, the narrator writes,

“You don’t have her drawings taped to your refrigerator
blue circuses, red farms
You don’t know she cried once in a field of cows
saying they were too beautiful to eat.”

Another line, which gets to me every time I read it, is,

“You don’t know where she hid her buttons.”

Whenever I struggle to come up with words that drip with emotion, I remember this poem and realize that lush language can sometimes get in the way of having my readers see what I want them to see and feel what I want them to feel. Sometimes, the simpler, the better.


Susan Okaty moved to Virginia Beach from San Antonio, Texas, where she was an academic dean for the North East Independent School District. She is co-secretary for HRW’s board of directors.

Read her blog.

2 thoughts on “An Economy of Words, a Bounty of Emotion

Add yours

  1. You’re so right. The simpler language bypasses intellectualizing. It touches us immediately. And her choices of tiny, simple, but so very real recollections of her daughter’s life cause us to understand her loss more deeply.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: