‘A Girl Who Reads’ by Mark Grist is an eight stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. Grist did not choose to make use of a single structured pattern of rhyme. Instead, there are a variety of patterns scattered throughout the stanzas.
A reader can look to the first stanza for an example of a fairly structured scheme. The first and last lines rhyme with the word “girl” used twice. Lines two, three, and four rhyme with the words “lips,” “sits“ and “tits.” Finally, lines four and six rhyme with the words “glass” and “ass.” There are also moments of internal rhyme, a few of these have been noted within the text of the analysis.
The poem begins with the speaker asking a question. His friend wants to know what he finds most attractive in a girl. After some hesitation, the speaker replies, reading. He finds a girl who reads to be more attractive than a girl with big “tits” or a big “ass.”
It is clear in the text that the speaker knows his answer is going to confuse his friends. The following lines are used to explain his preference. He goes through all the different reasons that he finds smart women attractive. The most important being, that they voracious consumers of information. Whether that be the back of a cereal box or books at Waterstones. He also adds towards the end of the poem that he’s not immune to flirting and raunchiness.
The speaker wants his friends to know that it’s not just the act of reading that attracts him, he actually believes that it makes women more beautiful and sexier. The poem ends with a repetition of some of the most important lines and a final emphasis on the fact that “a girl… With passion“ is the most important thing to the speaker.
You can read the full poem here.
Along with the moments of end rhyme and internal rhyme, alliteration also helps to create a rhythm for the text. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. Line two of the fourth stanza is a great example with the words “Who,” “written” and “word.”
One other important technique that Grist makes use of is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One is forced to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The first stanzas in particular are made all the more impactful due to this technique.
Analysis of A Girl Who Reads
“So, what do you go for in a girl?”
He crows, lifting a lager to his lips
I prefer ass.
What do you go for in a girl?”
In the first stanza of ‘A Girl Who Reads’ the speaker relays a question that was asked of him. If a reader is already aware of the title, then they are probably going to know what the eventual answer to this question is going to be. The speaker’s friend asks him, what he goes for in a girl. He assumes that the speaker is going to say something like “tits” or “ass” as these are the answers that he and another friend have already given.
In order to create the most contrast possible for his eventual answer, this scene is taking place in a bar. The group is drinking, and probably hitting on any women around them, or at least two members are. The stanza ends with the repetition of the question, “‘What do you go for in a girl?’”
Stanzas Two and Three
I don’t feel comfortable
The air left the room a long time ago
I’m not trying to call you a chauvinist
Cos I know you’re not alone in this
The second stanza is only four lines long. It details what’s going on inside the speaker’s mind. A reader will immediately notice that there is no difference between the words in his head and those he speaks out loud. This is an interesting choice and makes sense because he is about to admit to something he likely has only thought about.
These lines are also fairly short. They state the basic facts of the situation. He doesn’t “feel comfortable” and the “air left the room.” It is as if he is really quite nervous to admit his answer to his friends. This is a curious feature of the poem. It speaks to the general atmosphere within male friend groups and society’s expectations from those friend groups. He is worried that they’re going to make fun of his answer. Or, that his answer is going to make his friends uncomfortable.
Enjambment is very skillfully used between the two stanzas. A reader is forced to jump down to the third stanza in order to find out the speaker’s answer. The friends were definitely not expecting him to say that he wants is “a girl who reads.” The next line “Yeah. Reads.” alludes to the surprise on their faces.
The speaker feels as though he has to tell his friends that he doesn’t think less of them for liking “ass” or “tits.” He knows they are “not alone” in their preferences, he just has different ones. The fifth line of the stanza trails off, again making the reader move down to the next line.
I want a girl who reads
Who needs the written word
To hold lively conversation
In a range of social situations
At the beginning of the fourth stanza, the speaker repeats his answer, “I want a girl who reads.” It is clear that he is not going to change his mind, or hedge his bet. This is the one thing that he really cares about. There are some details associated with what he likes about girls who read. He wants to make sure that his friends understand him completely and in an effort to make himself clear, the next lines outline why reading is attractive to him.
He wants a girl who “needs the written word” and makes use of large vocabulary words she takes from “novels and poetry.” These things should come together in her mind to help her have “lively conversations.” Reading is something that he sees as making girls (or anyone) smarter. The information that she “gleans“ from the things that she reads makes her better.
I want a girl who reads
Whose heart bleeds at the words of Graham Greene
and goes cover to cover with each Waterstones three for two offer
but I want a girl who doesn’t stop there
In the fifth stanza, the speaker goes into even more detail. It doesn’t really matter to him what exactly she does read, as long as she reads. She could read “Graham Greene” or “Heat magazine.”
The details grow as he imagines his ideal girl tying back her hair while reading Jane Eyre. I reader should take note at this point of the many instances of internal rhyme within this text. Although the lines are not consistent with any kind of rhyme scheme, there are moments such as in line four of stanza five in which words do rhyme. “Hair” and “Eyre” are a perfect example.
He also imagines this girl going into the bookstore Waterstones and taking advantage of the “three for two offer.” Again, with another skillfully placed enjambed line, the speaker adds that there is more to his fantasy than this.
I want a girl who reads
Who feeds her addiction for fiction
Cos she’s interesting & unique
& her theories make me go weak at the knees
The sixth stanza is a little bit longer, at nine lines. Again, the refrain is used and the speaker states that he wants a girl who reads. What this means to him is that she “feeds her addiction for fiction.” Here again, is another great use of internal rhyme. This example in particular makes the line fun to read. The same can be said for the next line and the use of alliteration with the words “poems” and “place.” There is a great use of repetition in the fourth line of the stanza when the word “days” is used three times.
It is clear that by “a girl who reads” he wants a girl who is completely obsessed with reading. This imaginary person would spend all of their spare time “soaking up” the written word and all its forms. Not only would this make the girl smarter, he also sees the knowledge as making her sexier. She would become “a total fox.” The requirements for this are her having interesting and unique qualities. With these two things working together, the speaker would be made “weak at the knees.” The stanza ends with another repetition of the refrain.
I want a girl who reads
A girl whose eyes will analyse
The menu over dinner
So late at night she’d always have me in a stupor
As she paraphrases the raunchier moments from the works of Jilly Cooper
His ideal woman has a few other qualities. He sees her as spending time “analyzing” every menu she receives. This brings to mind images of dates in which the woman is absorbed by the text on the menu page as much as she is by the person she’s dating. This is positivity in his mind as it shows that she is learned enough to “kick [his] ass in arguments.”
The speaker is doing his best to balance his ideal girl’s interests with her physical beauty and traditionally female qualities. Although she’s smart, she’ll “still be sweet and she’ll still be flirty”. He feels it is necessary to emphasize the fact that these things can coexist. A woman does not need to be one or the other.
The fact that he feels like he needs to do this at all speaks to the same societal norms that were made evident in the first stanza. It also says something about what he presumes to be his friend’s opinion of women. By providing these extra pieces of information, he is alluding to the reader that his friends would not necessarily have thought the same way.
The last lines of the stanza are particularly interesting as the speaker relates “the classics” to “raunchy” activities. It is left unknown whether the speaker really thinks about these things as being connected, or he is only making these connections in order to help his more traditionally male friends understand why he’s attracted to this kind of woman.
The final stanza is an almost perfect repetition of lines that came before it. But, something he adds here is that he knows most guys prefer “asses“ or “tits”. He wants his friends to know that these things do matter to him, but “a girl… With passion” is much more important.