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Stepping Up To The Plate, Part 16

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.

"In the Slipstream of the Levee's Overflow" by David C. Kopaska-Merkel & Kendall Evans:

Part of me wants to celebrate the inventive use of language and syntax here, but the other part of me (the one that teachers grammar as a means of survival, I think) wants to rail against it. The abandonment of grammar and standard is, at points, disconcerting, but plays into the time travel themes of the poem, so I would imagine that that disconcerting nature is quite intentional. Some of the line breaks did bother me beyond a sense of artistic license, though. L2, for example, is "I overshot my mark and," which for some may create a "cliffhanger" that draws the poet to the next line, or even a visual clue of the line itself being overshot, but for me, just seems a sloppy ending for a line. L16 is "Or they might throw white roses (better than" which again might create a cliffhanger, or might just dangle there as an incomplete thought. All of this, of course, comes back to the discussion of line breaks and their usage. However, considering that the Rhysling is based on line length, I think it strongly needs to be considered how and why a line break is being used. For me, this poem's sloppiness removes it from competition.

"Green Cotillions" by Sandra Lindow:

I don't see this poem as poetic, but as prose broken into lines. Now, there are some very poetic ideas here, but the format that this poem takes, almost like a manual, really detracts from that. Now, I realize that there are manuals written poetically (Lu Chi's Wen Fu, for example) and the mention of "kimonos" or "lotus" adds an asian undertone to this piece (ignoring, of course, the fact that one is Chinese and the other Japanese, as the Chinese writings of the Han and Tang Dynasties had great influence on Japanese literature), but there were certain lines that were too unpoetic for me, like "if timing and chemistry are fortuitous" or "dragons may become circumspect," that, though they fit within the lines of the piece, just aren't poetic for me. Overall, I got the feeling of very rhythmic prose chopped into lines, some of which retained the prose underpinnings too much for me to read this as a successful poem.

"The A.I.'s Table Prayer" by Sandra Lindow:

Hmmm...a prayer to Alan Turning. Interesting. Of course, my nitpick issue here is the confusion of a saint with a deity, which causes me to balk a bit at the piece; however, considering that Turning was, indeed, a person, it seems only logical that an AI would consider him a deity. However, many of the lines were just too abstract for me, like "our random access reverence enduring" or "pleasure of argument, proof of our sentience:" to make this a successful poem.

"No Word for Goodbye" by Pam McNew:

What I'm getting from this poem is that a ghost of some sort has left the speaker's residence, and didn't say goodbye because they couldn't or didn't know the word. However, there is the implication that the speaker had conversations (one sided, maybe?) with the apparition, so I'm wondering WHY, if the speaker assumed the spirit had language, they would assume that they didn't know this particular word? I might be missing something, but there seems to be a logical disconnect here. I like that the poet used very short lines, two accents a piece from my counting, at the beginning of the poem; however, the pattern is dropped about halfway, and I'm not sure why, because it added a lot of tension to the piece, and really drove the anxiety of the speaker home. The unevenness of the rhythm, combined with an iffy logic in terms of narrative, just make this too sticky of a poem for me to consider a Rhysling finalist.

"My Addiction" by Edward Morris

This is an interesting tribute poem, not necessarily speculative in nature, but certainly a tribute to speculative authors, so I see the connection, though that distinction certainly stands out as a questionable for me, in terms of winning a Rhysling. Morris seems to be playing with Beat and Black Mountain poetics, a la the long lines of Ginsberg (channeling Blake and inspired by Whitman) and the clipped lines of Creeley. The lines and the line breaks clearly echo the idea and madness of "addiction," so this unevenness and sloppiness certainly works. However, considering that this is a poem ABOUT speculative literature, and not speculative itself, I'm not sure I'd count it on my list of finalists.

"Lovers" by Rhonda Parrish

This is a great example of a scifaiku with all the elements that fails because of a perceived form. Parrish has all the elements of a great scifaiku--two clear images, a science fiction element, a moment in time--and even manages to incorporate Western haiku elements by bringing in an aspect of nature. Great! However, the adherence to a 5-7-5 syllable count ultimately ruins this poem because it becomes too wordy and clunky, and the poetic moment that is scifaiku is bogged down by the heaviness of unnecessary language.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
For me, this poem's sloppiness removes it from competition.

Before I begin, please do keep in mind that I haven't read this particular poem, as I have not yet gotten my hands on a copy of the anthology. However, it's not so much this particular poem I intend to comment on as a trend that it may represent, if I can take your description as good indication of something I've observed myself in other, (perceived) similar work.

I'd say there's definitely a trend towards this particular sloppiness in sci-fi poetry, and, although I think David is absolutely wonderful, I find traces of it exemplified in a lot of the work I've read from him. The most recent example I've come across was fairly recently published on Strange Horizons. A lot of it has to do with, as you say, the line-breaks. They nearly always feel stilted and awkward; I can never emotionally connect. I would turn to the language for some improvement, except that, too, tends to put me off - it usually seems flat and distant. In other words, the poem in most aspects will fail to hold my interest. And maybe that distance is part of the point that I'm missing about this vein of the genre, or that I simply don't prefer. I certainly mean no disrespect in furthering the example by citing more work from one of the above writers, but I'm curious about what others might have to say.

(Actually, I see traces of the phenomenon in the scifaiku genre at large, too. I've read very few scifaiku that strike me as, well, effective poetry - and the common denominators are, once again, awkward line-breaks and flat language. I know that line-breaks in haiku are often a creature unto themselves, but the same trend in word-choice is definitely present.)
Jul. 21st, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
On Lines
Strange Horizons has a certain reputation for sloppy poems in general. I've noticed this both in my readings, as well as in comments from others. Part of me wants to read this as rejection envy, but the other part of me sees a certain consistency that's a bit scary. (Of course, what can you expect from a magazine that spells Ginsberg's name incorrectly asks the Naropa graduate!)

As far as scifaiku go, I really think that, if folks continue to adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable count and don't research haiku or it's possibilities and current existence in English, the poems will continue to suffer.

Taking this conversation away from any particular magazine or poet, the question is, of course, how should a line break work.
Here's a few thoughts:

-The basic unit of a story is the sentence; the basic unit of a poem is the line.

-Kelly Link once said that, in a story, a sentence should mean three different things. Thus, a line in poetry should mean three different things.

-A line should be like a bead in a necklace, a single unit unto itself, but something that works together with other units to make a glorious whole.

-A line, like a brick in a wall, should be similar to the other lines of the piece, but should have its own unique variations that make it stand out, especially if those variations serve the piece as a whole.

These would be the things I look for...how about everyone else?
Jul. 21st, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Strange Horizons has a certain reputation for sloppy poems in general. I've noticed this both in my readings, as well as in comments from others.

I was beginning to think I was the only person sitting here thinking such things as I read! I've noticed that they prefer this style/tendency that we're discussing, and I'm on about my third or fourth submissions try with them. I mention this because it suggests that, yes, there's an active preference out there for what we're calling sloppiness. I don't know whether to call it worrying or to just accept it and move on.

(It's kind of hard to accept it and move on, though, when you're actively trying to break into the markets that prefer a style that seems to run diametrically opposed to what you yourself prefer to read and write. Irony abounds, I guess!)

I'm especially inclined to agree with your last two statements regarding lines. I'd also add that enjambment, the breaking of lines (particularly to some marked effect), is an art form in itself. One can achieve any number of effects with it, granted; I'm not about to suggest there are, say, only three types *g*
Jul. 22nd, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
Of course...these are simply the obvious ones or clear craft techniques.

One could probably mention the use of lines to increase or decrease tension in the poem based on their length, the connection between lines and the breath, etc. There are many, many uses for the lines, and many reasons why they can or should be ended. I'm curious to see what others think about lines, line lengths and line breaks.
Jan. 28th, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
When I read my poems aloud I commonly pause at places other than the ends of lines. And I wonder: is this a good reason to move line breaks? I use more intuition than analysis when writing, & have often been troubled by, & wish I better understood, line breaks.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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