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Stepping Up To The Plate, Part 18

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 Devourer" by Sonya Taaffe

When Taaffe is on, she's really, really on. This poem explores various mythic consumers, from the more contemporary wolf of Red Riding Hood fame to the Biblical whale that swallowed Jonah to even older mythologies, possibly Egyptian or Sumerian. All of this is in Taaffe's signature density of language and rhythm: "the whale yawns wide its ribs/to ferry the prophet reluctantly/through the engulfing depths"--a fairly steady three foot line that seems short, possibly clipped, and thus adds tension to the piece. Taaffe then juxtaposes these eaters against  the speaker of the poem, who "eats monsters,/the peach-pulp of their brains,/their punctured grape-black eyes". The last few lines are ominous. Occasionally, Taaffe's line's seemed overly dense, laying the adjectives and descriptive clauses on quite thickly without giving the rest of the language room to breathe, but the rhythm and the imagery of the poem was enough to carry the reader through such waters without rocking their boat too much. Of the four Taaffe pieces in this anthology, this was not only the most speculative (a key point when considering the Rhyslings) but also the strongest in terms of clarity and tone. Certainly one to have considered for a finalist this year.

"In the World" by Sandy Walejko

If  I had to pinpoint this poem to one speculative genre, I might argue it as magical realism, unless one defines "fantasy" as "dealing with the fantastic," in which case magical realism might be a subset of "fantasy" as a whole. Don't tell Marquez I said that, okay? What I enjoyed about this piece was the way that it shifted from one point of view (the angel) to another (the farmer) almost seamlessly, to the point that the angel is all but forgotten before she's brought back in. Walejko uses the stanzas in this poem to successfully distance the reader from the initial subject, surprising them at the end when it is brought back to the forefront. However, the lines got tedious after a while, and where too focused on clauses to the point that the poem lost fluidity by the thrd stanza, a constant danger with free verse and/or breath lines.

"Screams" by Ian Watson

Watson's poem is based loosely on a pun, "Anti-Wrinkle Scream" as opposed to "Anti-Wrinkles Cream," which he painfully explains in the third stanza. Humor is like sex: as soon as you go into details, it ceases to be as fascinating. Watson also suffers the "line as clause" syndrome, using longer lines that almost resemble, and occasionally are, sentences. As such, the poem suffers, resembling a clever piece of short prose diced into lines and presented as a poem. The lack of consistent imagery and focus on prose-like narrative leads the reader towards this impression. On the whole, while the plot of the piece is slightly clever, I read this as flash fiction diced into lines.

"Smells" by Jane Yolen

This is another poem that, for me, doesn't read as speculative, unless one considers any poem that graphically discusses death horrific. Yolen's descriptions are indeed eerie: "The dying man.../...smells of old urine/and unwashed teeth.../He smells of sweet decay." The way Yolen's speaker mourns her spouse is touching, and the juxtaposition of smell against smell works well in this piece. However, Yolen steers the poem away from the horrific to the melancholy and sentimental that, by the end of the poem, I'm left questioning the speculative nature of the piece. It's a decent poem, and one that bears rereading, but I don't see it as a Rhysling nominee, let alone a candidate for a winning finalist.

Okay, that's it: My take on the Short Category poems for the 2009 Rhyslings. I'd love to hear what you thought about any or all of these poems, specifically their craft techniques. Call me academic, but it seems that speculative poetry is suffering from a lack of craft discussion, and I'd love to hear other poets chime in on that discussion.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2009 05:55 am (UTC)
Certainly one to have considered for a finalist this year.

I'm honored!
Aug. 19th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
Okay, I have to ask, because my knowledge of ancient myths isn't what it should be. Were the lines "the god burns, fire-bellied/heresy in its mouth roasting/to ash. The jaws of darkness/close on the sun, flood the seas/of the moon with copper smoke" referring to a specific myth, and if so, which one?
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
referring to a specific myth, and if so, which one?

The first is a reference to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel, kind of fused with Biblical references to Moloch; the second is folklore surrounding eclipses of the sun and moon, that a dragon swallows and must be made to disgorge them: mostly the snake Rahu in Hindu myth and the Philippine Bakunawa.
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
Right, right...I should have seen the Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego reference. Missed Moloch, but nice fusion.

Will have to check up on Hindu myths.

Thanks for clarifying this. Nothing Egyptian then, huh? Sorry I misrepresented you in my critique.
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
Sorry I misrepresented you in my critique.

I'm not offended; Apep does swallow the sun during a solar eclipse. I just wasn't thinking of him as I wrote those lines.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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