Pacing and Imagery in “Dog Fight”
In Charles Bukowski’s “Dog Fight” (Kirszner & Mandell, pp. 790-791), we are treated to a first-person recounting of a street race through the southern parts of Los Angeles. While the story itself is interesting and (some would say) exhilarating, it is the structure and pacing of the poem’s wording that truly gives the story excitement.
Consider the very first lines of the poem: “he draws up against my rear bumper in the fast lane, I can see his head in the rear view mirror, his eyes are blue and he sucks on a dead cigar.” While the description itself is nothing special, several elements combine to make the reader’s heart beat a bit faster and the adrenaline flow. The first, and most obvious, is the universal feeling of “road rage” we as drivers all feel at one point or another, be it on the giving or the receiving end. The situation the speaker describes would be nothing worth getting excited about were it to take place at a stop light, but this happens while the two cars are cruising at a presumed high speed down an LA freeway – a dangerous place on a good day, and at normal highway speeds, to say nothing of being challenged to a race.
The speaker continues to set a high-energy pace, with phrases like “he ups it 5 mph, I do likewise, we are a team…”, signifying their mutual acceptance in this duel of wits and engines; “I hit the blinker and fire across 3 lanes of traffic, just make the off-ramp…”, an insanely dangerous move even in the best of circumstances; and “…then I see that the parking lane is open, and I flash by inside of him and the Mercedes…”, another ridiculously dangerous (and illegal) move that displays their wanton lack of consideration for safety. These phrases and the pacing of the words leave the reader breathless, feeling their own grip on the wheel, their own eyes skittering side to side looking for the imagines pedestrian or some old truck slowly backing out of a drive. Indeed, the speaker finds...
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