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Stepping Up to the Plate, Part 12

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.

"The Girl with Two Skins" by Catherynne M. Valente

This is a great piece, and one that I remember reading when Goblin Fruit Spring '08 came out, and one that has always intrigued me. Valente's imagery is solid, as always. Also, the dramatic voice here really brings a more intense experience to the poem. On top of that, the tale, while not exactly unique, has enough twists and turns to seem fresh, to me. That being said, it still seems as though there is a hint of "prosiness" to some of these lines and stanzas, as though they were broken sentences and paragraphs; however, it is not as apparent as the "The Ballad of All the Things I Might Have Written", and as with that piece, I'm not sure if it's something that's worth discussing because the rest of the craft--imagery, metaphor and the like, are working so well. However, there are lines like:

Make your waist like this,
indicating curve.
Make your eyes like this,
indicating blue.
Make your face
make your skin
make your clever, clever hands,
make them this way,

indicating civilized,
indicating soft, your own,
your freckled breast linen-bound.

which completely break away from that sort of structure, for me. Also, the lyric repetition of some key images and lines is potent, and draws the reader into the piece. This one is working on many levels, and should be one to watch in the deathmatch that is Rhylsing Awards.

"How Wizards Duel" by Jessica Paige Wick

This is a fun piece, and one that I particularly enjoy because everything isn't explained. The plot, as it is, is implied by what's here and the images Wick specifically chose. However, there's a lot happening that isn't directly stated, and the connotations add layers of meaning to the poem. The minimal details are precise, and carefully selected, yet are original and rich. The use of various imagery--tactile, olfactory, etc.--is powerful, and carries the reader deeper into the magic of the poem. This, despite the antagonistic tone, is a very refreshing piece, and one that readers should consider when voting for Rhyslings.

"Aware for the Woman who Disappears in Silence" by Jeannine Hall Gailey

My thanks to time_shark who pointed out that I missed this piece in my first go around. I am digging the form of this piece, and I'm sure it has a name or tradition, but I enjoy that Gailey is able to use the form to her benefit, and doesn't make her poem the slave of the form. An excellent example of this is the third stanza:

He bows down. She asks him to watch the castle,
to sweep the floor. Don’t touch anything, don't go
exploring, she commands, and disappears. (She
is not what she seems.

which creates a double meaning of warning and longing at the end of the second line by breaking at "don't go", but eloquently does it within the bounds of the established form. Even the abstraction of the last line--"He feeds birds with hope."--seems poignant and natural at the end of this sorrowful narrative, and the abstraction itself grounded by the plot and imagery of the poem. This is a strong contender for the short poem category.

"Pandora's Box, Afterward" by F. J. Bergmann

This is a cynical piece, and quite a dark retelling of the Pandora myth. I know a critique probably shouldn't focus on theme, considering the absolute subjectivity of that discussion, but this was a major issue for me in this piece. I realize others may not be so biased, but I would certainly not want something this pessimistic to represent the SFPA in a "best of" anthology like the Nebula Showcase or something similar, so already I'm a bit against this poem.  I like the insect imagery used to describe the box--"hellgrammite claws" or "ugly/pupa enclosing a larva", hope as " damp, wrinkled imago"--this is an interesting take, or possible image rich investigation, on the original myth in which all the plagues of the box were, in fact, released as insects. Some things rubbed me the wrong way in this piece--"Hope unfurled/her transparent promises" rang as abstract, if not cliche, as does "she balances precariously". These are minor things that stuck out, but they did irk me a bit. The last stanza, as well, bothered me with it's weak line breaks. Bergmann obviously can craft a solid line, and uses the breaks quite effectively in the poem to create dual meanings and rich individual units which build upon each other. This skill seems abandoned in the last stanza with lines like: "Goodbye; I had a lovely/time. Thank you for having/me. The discarded box". I get a sense that Bergmann is trying to force a certain tension in the reading of these lines, a la Creeley, but it's not working for me, especially when the rest of the poem had much stronger line breaks, like "The box sat quietly/on its haunches; ugly/pupa enclosing a larva,/budding nymph, waiting", each of which works as an individual unit, but builds upon the previous lines. On top of this, the rhythm in some of the lines got a bit iffy for me, breaking away from the three strong stresses in each line to two or four, apparently for no reason. I know that a lot of poets will intentionally change the rhythm of a line to point something out, or to emphasize a certain image, but Bergmann's rhythmic changes don't seem to emphasize anything.  Because of these issues, I'm not sure this would be a Rhysling contendor for me, especially considering the cynical theme of the overall piece.

Okay, that's it! That's my take on all of the Rhysling nominated poems available on-line. I'm really, really excited that I was able to get through this, and extremely excited by all the discussion that it sparked! I hope folks keep posting their thoughts and comments and discussing these poems. As soon as the anthology itself is released, I'll scurry and get the rest of the poems responded to.

At this point, I'm wondering if, despite the fact that only so many are available on-line, anyone sees some blindingly strong contenders for the win? After the excitement of the Derby this weekend, I'm in a betting mood. I won't place my money down until I see the whole spread, but I've already got my eyes on a few poems that might wear the wreath. Let me know if you do, as well! 


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
One of the advantages of discussing the Rhysling nominations available online is, obviously, that you can link to the poem as part of your analysis. Discussing the print-only poems will limit response to those with copies of the Rhysling or the venues in which they were originally published. Of course, I imagine many if not most of those reading or participating in the discussion will have the Rhysling Anthology.

Anyway, congratulations for managing such a close analysis of all (all!) the online poems!
May. 6th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, which was exactly the point, so I hope folks whose poems I haven't discussed yet aren't upset; I wanted poems that everyone could access, so I deliberately ignored poems only available in print (so far), even if I had the magazine or journal at hand. I realize that some folks not in the SFPA who are following this discussion may be at a loss when it comes to the actual print anthology, but hopefully they'll be encouraged or inspired to join SFPA, and this discussion will be of some philanthropic benefit as well!
May. 6th, 2009 07:48 pm (UTC)
May I add you? I just discovered the Rhysling Awards (late bloomer), and between them and your discussion posts, I'm hooked. :)
May. 6th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
May. 7th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
Based on past experience, I wouldn't be surprised if you end up shocked when the winning poem is announced. The Will of the People is a mysterious thing.
May. 7th, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
How do you mean this?
May. 10th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
New Friend!
I saw that you added me to your Friends list -- thank you! -- so I added you to mine and dropped by here to browse.

You have some very thoughtful critiques here. I'm happy to see someone taking a good close look at speculative poetry. If you'd like to see some of mine, click the "poem" tag in my blog; I have dozens of them, and more are added every month from the Poetry Fishbowl.
Jan. 28th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
It sorrows me that u don't want the Dark or humor to win the Rhysling. Even more, that humor never DOES seem to win, though it's come close a number of times. Let the sfpa be represented by what it is, & let the chips fall! (Even if humor never wins.)
Jan. 28th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
I don't want humor to win because I see it as a one trick pony, and I think award winning pieces should have layers of meaning. I've yet to read a humorous piece that wasn't satire that contained more than one or two layers of depth, and that's just not enough for me to want it to represent me.

As far as dark, I LOVE dark. I champion dark poems and would love to see more dark poems win Rhysling awards. What I don't like is pessimism. To me, it reminds me of LeGuin's introduction to Left Hand of Darkness, where if you extend some modern phenomenon into the future so far it become cancerous. I read Bergmann's poem much in the same way. Also, the implied political criticism also irks me, though when critiquing I try to keep those thoughts out of play as best I can.
Jan. 28th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Well, I admit to a little humor in my comment. But seriously, I don't agree that humorous poems don't have more than two layers of meaning. Not to be self-centered, but just because it comes to mind, what about my "Clark the Ripper," nominated a few years back? As for pessimism, I do find it a bit too depressing (no joke intended). But I do not think the attitude renders poems automatically unfit. After all, the expected fate of ourselves, our species, & our universe makes pessimism realistic at a fundamental level. The best argument against pessimism, as a determinant of lifestyle, is obvious (e.g., "Whatcha gonna do, cry about it?" --Weird Al). But pessimism contains a lot of truth about us.
Jan. 28th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
I think my issue is one of representation. Now, I haven't read your "Clark the Ripper" poem, so feel free to send it to me or post it here and I'll take a look at it. That being said, the poems that were humorous in this years anthology all seemed to only have one, possibly two, layers to them, which isn't enough for me. I can see humor working, possibly with something like satire, and carrying multiple layers, but the ones in this year's anthology seemed merely to be clever at best, and that's not how I want SFPA represented. Others may disagree, and that's fine.

As for pessimism, I do see a purpose and place for it in poetry, and it certainly can be used as a tool to critique society. However, I don't see that happening in the Bergmann piece. Also, that wasn't my ONLY issue with the poem. Again, the line breaks in the last stanza were off, for me. So, while it was a factor in my rejection of the poem as a finalist, it wasn't the only factor.
Jan. 28th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
I found an audiofile


Maybe it wasn't seen as humor, but I did mean it that way, in part.

As for humor/pessimism vs these particular poems, I see what you're saying. I'd count pessimism against a poem too, as one factor to consider.
Feb. 4th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Clark the Ripper
I listened to it, and would probably have had the same sort of criticisms as I did with some of the others. I heard this as a series of puns that didn't amount to much more than that. The horror of the piece, if there was any, was missing for me because the puns took center stage. Furthermore, I'm not sure I see any depth in this piece beyond the topic (Superman is a serial killer) and the puns, so again, not enough layers for me to see this as Rhysling worthy.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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