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Stepping Up to the Plate, Part 6

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.

"Bats" by Greg Schwartz

I am not really a fan of poets who write about poetry or being a poet. I understand that many poets do it, and I'm as guilty of it myself as anyone else, but there just seems something myopic about it. The central image--ideas=bats--in this piece is interesting, though I'm not sure it's as unique as I'd possibly want. However, once that image is presented, and explored, I'm not sure what else there is in this poem. The rest of the language seems stale--thoughts always swirl (do bats swirl? Maybe there's something there.), lifeblood is always squeezed, etc. I'm just not getting anything from this poem beyond the surface simile.

"Dear Giant Squid" by Peter Sears

There is something here about the nature of man, and how science treats their subjects. Though the image of the whale battling the squid isn't new, Sears does use it as a fresh metaphor. However, I'm not sure the form fits the content. I don't see a discernible form in this piece (iambic pentameter, septameter, etc.) around which the author is organizing his language, nor do I read an organic line break; Lines 3, 8, and 14 especially seem to be broken oddly. For me, the long lines take longer to read through, which lessens the tension of this piece. For me, shorter lines would've added more energy to the piece. As it stands, I'm lost in the lines, and lose the poem at points, so that, by the end, I'm not sure if the poem has been as effective as it could be.

"The Astronaut's Return" by Marge Simon

For me, what's happening in this piece is a man returns from a criminal stint in space, be it exiled or forcibly removed, but appears much younger because of light speed travel, and so no one knows him, and his world has drastically changed, to the point that it's on the brink of death. He is speaking to his sister, who answers him; there is a debate between the two. It seems he wants to save his people, but they don't want to leave, and would rather face their extinction, comfortable with their connection to the planet and their lives, than travel with the exile through the stars. I am intrigued by this debate, and it's connections to modern life and the prolonging of life, even the connections to debates like euthanasia; however, I'm not sure the language of the poem is working for me. There are too few details that I'm left questioning. Some of them are more curiosity--why was he exiled? How was he mythologized? What is happening to the world? etc.--but I'm not sure these are important; however, I just feel like I a bit too distanced from the speakers in this piece to really grasp what's happening, especially why the sister and her people want to stay. We're given "all that's come and gone/in this infinitely small space/is just for me" but I'm not sure that's enough. In the previous stanza, she speaks of the history in connection to the landscape, but again, the details are just a bit too vague for me to sympathize with this character. As an observer, I am intrigued by the debate, and curious, but I just don't feel I'm close enough for this poem to be successful.

"Lunaticus (in D Minor)" by J.E. Stanley

Go here to see why I nominated this poem.

"Autopoiesis" by Sonya Taaffe

I don't know that I see this as speculative. I'm trying to figure it out. I like the language play, despite the "poem about poetry" (because there is a sense that it's deeper than that), and the close observations of the world. The rhythm gets lost at points, but it's still present and fairly tight. There is a sense of Basho, here--"Go to the pine," sort of thing. However, I'm not getting a clear speculative element, and so while I read the poem as successful, I'm not sure I get it as a Rhysling nomination.

"Cherries in Winter" by Sonya Taaffe

I get the sense that the speculative here is the use of folktale as metaphor for the relationship being explored. That might be enough, but I'm not sure. My jury is still out on this point, but I do see the folkloric or mythic imagery in the piece. The rhythm loses me at points, dancing between four and five. I feel that Taafe had a sense of iambic pentameter, but abandoned it when it didn't suit the purposes of the poem. There is something to be said for allowing a poem to grow organically, and letting it lead the author where it will, so I'm not sure I'm completely disappointed or irked by the uneven rhythm; however, there were lines where it was clearly noticeable, and that might be an issue. I like the list of photographs, which allows the images and the connotations of the language explore their full potential. There is a sense of loss here, as well as the allusion to riddlesong exploring loss, so there's a lot working in this piece. Still, the speculative element, while certainly present, is tenuous, and I'm not sure if this stands up against the competition as well as other pieces.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
"Autopoiesis" was my nomination, and it reads as strongly speculative if you take the concept as literal, a world made of poetry. I literalize a lot, for various reasons, and it's led to this sort of disconnect before.
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
Okay, sure. I can see that as speculative--a world made of words. For me, that read as less literal and more figurative, but yes, if you take it as literal, it's speculative. Dig that.
Apr. 10th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
From Marge Simon
Here are my 2 percents:

It's been said before that I leave out stuff/details in my work. I do that, yes. So did many of the poets and writers/artists I admire such as Sturgeon, Daumier (art), Stephen Crane. They craft a piece that allows you to fill in the details. Perhaps it's because I'm also an artist. Why should I tell you what that little dollop of purple or that lack of detail means? Wouldn't it be more interesting to look at and think about if you didn't know for sure?

Hey, Dylan says," (my songs/poems) mean whatever you want them to mean" (in reference to his stuff) which we know is kind of a put on. Suspense!

I understand what you're saying, but you're young. Maybe you will change your perspective when you get a bit older. I don't know. But whatever, as I say, it's okay by me.

Go right ahead on!

Apr. 10th, 2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
Re: From Marge Simon
The other thing that might fall into this discussion from visual art is the idea of Impressionism, where exact details were abandoned for the play of light and shadow on the subject and the artist's immediate response and impression.
Apr. 10th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
Josh - thanks for the honest critique of my poem. i agree with you, i usually don't like poems about poems either, and i definitely don't think this is one of my stronger poems, but i certainly appreciate it being nominated!
Apr. 11th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
Bats & Belfries
Yes, bats do swirl. Two summers ago, one somehow managed to get into my house and just circled around the room until I managed to get him out (which took some time).

I liked this poem because lines 21-24 made me feel very uncomfortable and squeamish. That's almost impossible to do. I'm normally immune to horror stories and movies and such. Plus, even though it was a figurative bat rather than a literal one, I like the notion that the violence against the bat could become the potential raw material for a poem (which may or may not, in fact, emerge - the result may have been nothing more than a mess to clean up).

I've also noticed many of the nominated poems aren't the ones the author would chose if s/he had his/her choice. But, I think that's to be expected.

Apr. 12th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
Re: Bats & Belfries
J.E. -- thanks, glad you liked it. And glad it made you squeamish!
Apr. 15th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comments on "Autopoiesis" and "Cherries in Winter." I should point out that the latter is not formal poetry: it was neither conceived nor begun with any meter in mind, so the iambs are more or less the side effect of rhythms that feel like intonation units or discrete images to me. I do write occasional verse forms—my most recent publication, "Letters for Nereis," is a very slant sonnet—but none of my three Rhysling nominations this year belong to that group. I am glad you liked elements of them all, however.
Apr. 15th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
For some poets, the meter or rhythm is completely unintentional, or is simply part of their natural writing pattern so that, for the reader, it seems to be there, even if the poet had no intention of it. I certainly understand that, and might even argue that said poet should be praised for having such a natural rhythm in their craft. Thanks for jumping in and explaining.

On a related note, and just to get a discussion going, let me ask you this: How important is rhythm, natural or otherwise, for you as a poet? What do you look for in a poem, either one you're reading or writing, in terms of rhythm?
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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