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Stepping Up to the Plate, Part 4

A few more while I've got a quick break...

Go here to see what I'm doing and why. All readers are invited, encouraged, and begged to respond. The purpose of this experiment is to engage in discussion.

"Odysseus on the War Train" by Rose Lemberg

My immediate reaction is absolute admiration for the lyric qualities of this piece--the sound and rhythm are tight. Some things catch me, though, in the reading. I'm not sure "grain-stalks" should be hyphenated, and I thought it was an emdash at first, which caused a misread the first time through. Not a major point, but something that struck me as off. Also, there's a bit that's left unknown at the end--why Penelope is reacting this way to Odysseus. Now, a lot is implied by the carefully chosen images--Odysseus wanted to leave, wanted to slaughter, wanted a life based on death, and Penelope doesn't want that returning. The images, especially in lines 3-5 and 10-12, are really fresh and unique, but I'm not sure what this adds to the Odyssey. Maybe another layer to Penelope? The change of the shroud of the original to a tapestry that tells Odysseus's and Penelope's story is interesting, and that might be an aspect of focus. I'm still left a bit too unsure by this piece, though. It really resonated with me, I found a depth to it, but there are moments when I feel it might be too dependent on the original, and then there are moments when it seems fresh and new and innovative. This is certainly one to reconsider upon voting.

"The Midwife's Progress" by Joy Marchand

I read this as a great look at patriarchy, and a really interesting discussion on religious history. The story, while not exactly unique, is presented freshly enough for me to enjoy it. However, I find myself occasionally lost in the diction. There are times where the the language choice seems a bit too much--at times, too scientific, too casual, or too academic--for the narrative of the piece. It is as though the author is sympathizing or protagonizing the midwife in the language of the antagonist. There is something to be said for that, and ways in which that only furthers the theme presented by the piece, but there is also something to be said about accessable language. I'm sort of caught on the fence with this one. I see the piece as successful, but I'm wondering if the language chosen doesn't take something away from the piece.

"Pavlov's Best Friend" by Kristine Ong Muslim

This is quite a sympathetic poem, and I like how Muslim has personified the dog to question the nature of science and the scientific process, as well as discussed the treatment of animals in experimental situations. One doesn't need go far back as Pavlov to see absolutely cruel conditions and animal abuse in the scientific community, but Muslim's approach really gets into the mindset of a subject. However, there's a point at which this mindset is lost in the telling of the story. The last five to seven lines seem to lose the neurosis and become too distant, for me. Up through that point of the poem, I was participating with the dog and it's thoughts, but I lose it at the end. The images are there, and clear, but the presentation doesn't work for me. The use of questions seems too complete and analytical for a neurotic mindset, and  use and repetition of "Must" in the end seems too obvious for me. I see where this piece is working, but it loses something at the climax for me, and I'm not sure it recovers for me. As a reader, I want to go deeper into the madness, and the poem just doesn't take me there.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
rose_lemberg
Apr. 5th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
Hah! Thanks. Odysseus is not my favorite poem of '08 and I am forever baffled as to why it was chosen (and have no idea who chose it). You are of course right about grain-stalks. I wish there was a way to change that.
hooks_and_books
Apr. 5th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
Perhaps ask Drew to revise it in the anthology, or the editors at Abyss & Apex to change it?
saycestsay
Apr. 7th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
Let me know what needs to be changed. abyssandapex@gmail.com I truly enjoyed this poem :).

Jude-Marie Green, Associate Editor
Abyss&Apex

(VERY pleased to see poetry reviewed, for once. Thank you!)
hooks_and_books
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
I don't know if, as an editor, you'd be willing, but can you explain why you like this piece?
samhenderson
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
I nominated it. And I do wish you wouldn't change "grain-stalks." : )
hooks_and_books
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
Ooooh...here's an opportunity! Why do you like "grain-stalks" and why did you nominate this poem?

samhenderson
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
Oo, I love it when you beg. ; )

It's two different issues (I was going to addresses your questioning of several instances of hyphen-use, so I will post when I can gather coherent thought.
samhenderson
Apr. 14th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
Whew…that was a busy Easter.

Re: hyphen use –

A couple times in your analysis of Rhysling nominees (a worthy and brave undertaking) you’ve questioned the use of hyphens – not only in “Odysseus on the War Train” but in Kolodji’s “Animal Rescue,” where you wondered if “terraform” was hyphenated.

While the question of whether a hyphenate is proper grammatically is legitimate in fiction (and the domain of a copyeditor) I question whether it is in poetry, where word selection and placement is by the nature of the form is deliberate and often unconsciously non-grammatical. One wouldn’t (well, one could, I suppose, but it would be kind of silly) say that it’s improper to break sentences and phrases into different lines in poetry, the way one would (most of the time) in fiction. I feel that in a poem the author has (or should have) considered words, word placement, and word construction and that if they use a hyphenate it’s intentional, even if ungrammatical.

Whether it works or not is a different beast, and that may be legitimately questioned (as may the arrangement of lines on the page).

Re: “Odysseus” –

For me, the reason Lemberg’s use of “grain-stalks” as a hyphenate worked is that it recalled – deliberately, I thought, but if not no matter – a convention in certain translations of the Iliad and Odyssey of using hyphenates that might not be used in modern English – what might be interpreted as a deliberate, artificial attempt to make the text read as archaic. In “Odysseus on the War Train” I thought it worked as being both evocative of and slightly mocking of the accepted text/translations.
hooks_and_books
Apr. 14th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
My only response is that yes, an author "should have considered words, word placement, and word construction" but often they don't, and that's part of what I'm trying to explore in these discussions; sometimes it really is just a grammatical error that calls attention to itself, and that needs to be questioned or addressed in analysis.

For me, the incorrectly hyphenated words stood out, and didn't work, but I can see "grain-stalks" as a reference to certain translations and a commentary on those translations. If that was the intention, though, I'd like to have seen more of it. That might be part of my interpretation--if I see it once, it reads as sloppiness or a mistake. If it's repeated, or I actually see it speaking to the theme, then I might see it as an artistic choice. So it doesn't work for me, but thank you for pointing out a way in which it could be intentional and could work for certain readers. Focusing on the language choice in a poem, or the importance that a word or punctuation mark makes, is something that is often over looked, and I think it's important to bring these sort of discussions to speculative literature.
rose_lemberg
Apr. 7th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
Ooooh. Thank you!! *blush*

Errr, now I am torn. But I will honor your wish and leave it as is :)
(Deleted comment)
dkolodji
Apr. 7th, 2009 05:17 am (UTC)
Hi Josh....

I've been a bit out of touch lately but wanted to drop in and thank you for this series.

It's been a great discussion so far and I'm looking forward to reading more posts, and hopefully finding some time to comment myself.

Debbie
hooks_and_books
Apr. 7th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
I'm glad this is working for a lot of readers, and that people understand what I'm trying to do.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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