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Passions in Poetry

Here is a Free Verse exercise to try out:

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Bob K
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25 posted 04-13-2009 08:55 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K


Dear Moonbeam,

          I've had a look at your poem for the exercise.  Sometimes it's useful, for the sake of feedback to look at how the argument of the poem is structured.  Nobody here is writing L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, which I wouldn't be very good at helping you with, so for most poetry that isn't that sort of poetry, you can generally look for and find an argument in the most abstract of modern poetry.  I've taken the various pieces of what I suspect to be the argument and broken then down into lines and presented them below.

Mary Ann

I believe that light just under the horizon
is your demise.  

  
                             Your joy: the money,
the Ferrari, the money, wrung
out of you by the brand of his signet ring
on your cheek.  


                            All our 20 years
redeemed.  

              
                     All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind.  

     That first line and a half, the first section, is terrific writing.  The word "just," I don't believe, has earned it's place here.  Take it out.  The presence or absence of the word doesn't move the poem one way or another, and it seldom does.  Other than that, absolutely first rate.

     Then you give use this:

                            Your joy: the money,
the Ferrari, the money, wrung
out of you by the brand of his signet ring
on your cheek.  

     This is a sentence fragment.  I have nothing against sentence fragments as long as they don't get in the way of the furthering of the argument or development of the poem.  Without a functioning verb here to indicate what all this initial matter is to be used for, what you have created is a huge road block in the middle of your poem, a clot of images that goes no place, then stops.  This is something that is very hard to get away with.  Elizabeth Libbey, who's a pretty good poet, tends to use a lot of sentence fragments and gets away with them, if you want to have a look.  I'm not stating an iron clad rule.  Most folks can't do it, and you haven't done it here.

     The "it" in this case is the transfer of the momentum from that initial section to the third section in a seamless fashion.  If you'd wanted to show off, you might have done so tricks for us with that momentum, but nobody said you had to.  Just get that energy, that momentum from section one to section three.

     A fix?  I dunno.  

     You might try to put some experimental predication on your fragment and see what happens with that.  You'll know that you have one when there's no sense of the jump between sections two and three being jammed.  I don't know if you have a feeling for that at this point, or whether this is simply my personal imagination, but I'm pretty sure it's there.  Read it out loud and see if you miss that predication that directs you toward the next section, or whether you actually feel a blockage there yourself.  I may be wrong, you know?  If you feel it yourself, then you  and I will be on the same page at least.  If you don't feel it, maybe it's not there, maybe something else is happening.  

     You need to work on your own language and feel for the way the energy and momentum move through your poems and the poems of other people.  You probably know this already, so I'm sorry if I'm talking to somebody who knows this.  Maybe somebody else will benefit.

     Do you in fact feel some sort of block there?

     Another solution would be to take section two out or find some way to shift its order in the poem.  I like the attempt to add some predication first and to see what else that predication brings into the poem.  There may be another direction that predication may bring that will suggest further directions for revision, it may be that it will simply get the energy flowing cleanly between the parts.

                            All our 20 years
redeemed.  

     Now here's an interesting thought.  how you get here will have a lot to say about what this section actually says, of course, and the way the energy leads to the last part.  I would put it to you again that you have another sentence fragment.  Verbs are important.  The mediate action and motion for the character and activities in the poem, yes, but just as importantly — perhaps even more importantly — they can serve as channels or gates to direct the momentum of energy within the structure of the poem itself.   You need verbs not only to keep the cinema of the poem in motion, but also to keep the reader moving through the poem.  They're what keeps him going.  No verb, no motion, and the reader falls out of the poem, thud, crash, bang.  Ouch!

     Verbs not only keep the action going, they keep the reader's mind going, moving through the text.

                     All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind.

     This last section is another fragment.  "All;" then a series of parenthetical expressions; and then. . . WHAT?

     As a result there is no or little sense of closure at the end of what could be a very fine poem indeed.  The last verse should go : "somewhere under my mind[. . .]" is an intrusion from someplace without events or images or even thoughts.  It's a space-filler, and is begging to go.  Let it go.  

     Why not try a redraft of this thing?  Pay attention to the movement of momentum from section.  Try to put verbs in, so that the reader doesn't drop out of the poem, and dare to finish those sentences as wonderfully as you've started them.

     I'm hoping that my feedback is concrete enough to be useful to you, and that you can see exactly what I'm talking about in these comments.  If you see things differently or disagree, let me know, or if other people have things to say, I'd be happy to hear.  rwood, gave some excellent feedback to one of my poems in another thread; if she's had a look here or has been following at all, she may have comment for Moonbeam or for me or for anybody working here.  As long as the comment tries to be constructive, it's more than welcome.

Sincerely, Bob Kaven
    
moonbeam
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26 posted 04-14-2009 05:01 PM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

Great stuff there Bob.  Thanks ever so much.

I've been out most of the day though, so my apologies.  I'll do my best to get back to you tomorrow.

Rob
Bob K
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27 posted 04-15-2009 04:46 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



     It'd be good if somebody would take some time with Jennifer's poem draft before I do.  I want to have a go at it, but if I have a go at it first, it might push the thinking in one direction or another, and my preference is to go last.  J.M.'s done a nice job here of coming up with a fine piece of work, and maybe we can help her out.  Remember, if we work it right, the work we do on one poem, somebody else's or our own, ends up being work that we can bring back to writing and revising our own in the long run.
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28 posted 04-15-2009 05:05 PM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

Bob

I've been trying to finish my comments in response to your helpful review all day, still only about two thirds through, and I've been promising Jennifer I'll post my thoughts on her poem for te last two days.  My schedule both on and off line has taken a turn for the busier, but I'm hopeful I'll at least finish my response to you tomorrow, and if no-one else posts on Jenn's poem something on that too.

Regards.

Rob
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29 posted 04-16-2009 09:49 AM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

Bob

For the sake of clarity I'll try and work through your comments seriatim using bold to denote my replies:

Dear Moonbeam,

          I've had a look at your poem for the exercise.  Sometimes it's useful, for the sake of feedback to look at how the argument of the poem is structured.  Nobody here is writing L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, which I wouldn't be very good at helping you with, so for most poetry that isn't that sort of poetry, you can generally look for and find an argument in the most abstract of modern poetry.  I've taken the various pieces of what I suspect to be the argument and broken then down into lines and presented them below.

I agree with that Bob.  Sometimes it's a mite hard to discover the argument, and other times the central argument is masked by diversions and sub-plots, but I often manage to find, or imagine I find, some sort of progression of logical thinking.  It has to be said though, sometimes all I find is beauty (that word again!) and puzzlement.  Those are often the poems that haunt me.


Mary Ann

I believe that light just under the horizon
is your demise.  

  
                             Your joy: the money,
the Ferrari, the money, wrung
out of you by the brand of his signet ring
on your cheek.  


                            All our 20 years
redeemed.  

              
                     All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind.  

     That first line and a half, the first section, is terrific writing.  The word "just," I don't believe, has earned it's place here.  Take it out.  The presence or absence of the word doesn't move the poem one way or another, and it seldom does.  Other than that, absolutely first rate.

Yes, "just" is a weak word.  There are a lot of weaknesses in this poem which I've decided must stem from the inadequate time I spent on it in my rush to post something.  On the other hand "just" was there for a reason.  It may not be the right word but it does fulfil a function imv, and one that will have to be filled by something else if "just" goes.  The poem was intended to revolve around that word "optimism" or "optimist".  The idea is that an optimist sees something desirable in potentially unpromising situations.  Without the word "just" the line reads: "I believe that light under the horizon/is your demise."  In other words, the light could be any distance under the horizon, an inch a mile a hundred miles.  The optimist believes that justice is near, very near.  Perhaps he is wrong, as he was about Mary Ann's character all their married life, but nevertheless being an (forlorn) optimist, that's what he believes.  "Just" places the event in the category of "imminent" instead of "will happen sometime".  But I agree it's a boring word, an uninspired choice.


     Then you give use this:

                            Your joy: the money,
the Ferrari, the money, wrung
out of you by the brand of his signet ring
on your cheek.  

     This is a sentence fragment.  I have nothing against sentence fragments as long as they don't get in the way of the furthering of the argument or development of the poem.  Without a functioning verb here to indicate what all this initial matter is to be used for, what you have created is a huge road block in the middle of your poem, a clot of images that goes no place, then stops.  This is something that is very hard to get away with.  Elizabeth Libbey, who's a pretty good poet, tends to use a lot of sentence fragments and gets away with them, if you want to have a look.  I'm not stating an iron clad rule.  Most folks can't do it, and you haven't done it here.

I must admit I read this, and your next comment with mixed feelings.  One the one hand I see precisely what you mean about the loss of momentum between this and the third section.  It's very weak writing indeed.  But I thought that your analysis of the reasons for the problem were a bit perplexing, especially your point about the sentence fragment.   It's apposite that you should raise this issue of fragments right now, as I recently had a conversation with someone who's opinion I respect, about the proliferation of fragments in contemporary poetry generally, and my writing in particular.  I picked up my latest copy of the Rialto and randomly selected 4 poems.  All but one had blatant fragments.  I tried to be concerned about this, but failed.  The reason I failed I think was that unless I actively went out to analyse grammar of the writing I found that the context of the fragments, that is the way they sat within the rhythm and pace of the poetry, made them blend quite naturally.  I admit this takes skill, and I probably don't have that skill.  I guess it's one of the hazards of exposing yourself to a quantity of contemporary poetry and then subconsciously emulating it without having the necessary technical expertise.

Anyway coming back to this particular section of the poem,  I'm no grammarian but the verb "wrung" is there functioning as a verb is it not?  Would it be clearer if I wrote it as: "Your joy is wrung out of you by him".  Perhaps it's the passive nature of the sentence that bothers you?  Maybe "he wrings out your joy" would be preferable.  Sorry to make a mountain of this, but you caught me on a point of interest for me right now, and I'm struggling to see why this is a fragment, and even if it is, how it impacts of the main issue which for me, and I think for you, is the blockage at the transition form section 2 to section 3.



     The "it" in this case is the transfer of the momentum from that initial section to the third section in a seamless fashion.  If you'd wanted to show off, you might have done so tricks for us with that momentum, but nobody said you had to.  Just get that energy, that momentum from section one to section three.

     A fix?  I dunno.  

     You might try to put some experimental predication on your fragment and see what happens with that.  You'll know that you have one when there's no sense of the jump between sections two and three being jammed.  I don't know if you have a feeling for that at this point, or whether this is simply my personal imagination, but I'm pretty sure it's there.  Read it out loud and see if you miss that predication that directs you toward the next section, or whether you actually feel a blockage there yourself.  I may be wrong, you know?  If you feel it yourself, then you  and I will be on the same page at least.  If you don't feel it, maybe it's not there, maybe something else is happening.  

     You need to work on your own language and feel for the way the energy and momentum move through your poems and the poems of other people.  You probably know this already, so I'm sorry if I'm talking to somebody who knows this.  Maybe somebody else will benefit.

     Do you in fact feel some sort of block there?

     Another solution would be to take section two out or find some way to shift its order in the poem.  I like the attempt to add some predication first and to see what else that predication brings into the poem.  There may be another direction that predication may bring that will suggest further directions for revision, it may be that it will simply get the energy flowing cleanly between the parts.

Your comments here naturally spring from your continuing problem with the chasm between the two sections.  Now both you and Jennifer have clearly expressed your reservations it's fairly obvious to me that I've succumbed to a weakness that regularly seems to plague me: that of constructing a story in my head and then failing to mirror the strength of the links in my head with the words on the paper.  Whether formal predication is "right" here I am not sure, but something is surely needed; if not a actual chain link, then at least a hook that the reader can grasp at and hang on to before the trapeze swings away into the next section leaving the poor reader either marooned or worse, heading for the safety net.

                            All our 20 years
redeemed.  

     Now here's an interesting thought.  how you get here will have a lot to say about what this section actually says, of course, and the way the energy leads to the last part.  I would put it to you again that you have another sentence fragment.  Verbs are important.  The mediate action and motion for the character and activities in the poem, yes, but just as importantly — perhaps even more importantly — they can serve as channels or gates to direct the momentum of energy within the structure of the poem itself.   You need verbs not only to keep the cinema of the poem in motion, but also to keep the reader moving through the poem.  They're what keeps him going.  No verb, no motion, and the reader falls out of the poem, thud, crash, bang.  Ouch!

     Verbs not only keep the action going, they keep the reader's mind going, moving through the text.

Yep, I'm really struggling with this section Bob.  Again, while I totally concur with the sense of what you're saying, viz, that there is a failure of continuity and momentum, I am unclear about whether the failure can be pinned to the grammatical construction, and more specifically to the absence of verbal energy.  I've just opened the Rialto again and read: "Our own shoulders too." This is undoubtedly verbless.  In the context of the poem it works, but it's verbless.  Am I away with the fairies or does the phrase "All our 20 years redeemed." not contain the verb "redeem"?  Certainly it could be expressed as: "All our 20 years are redeemed."  Does the addition of the verb "be" help?  Is it the passive nature of the verb that causes the problem?

                     All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind.

     This last section is another fragment.  "All;" then a series of parenthetical expressions; and then. . . WHAT?

     As a result there is no or little sense of closure at the end of what could be a very fine poem indeed.  The last verse should go : "somewhere under my mind[. . .]" is an intrusion from someplace without events or images or even thoughts.  It's a space-filler, and is begging to go.  Let it go.  

     Why not try a redraft of this thing?  Pay attention to the movement of momentum from section.  Try to put verbs in, so that the reader doesn't drop out of the poem, and dare to finish those sentences as wonderfully as you've started them.

     I'm hoping that my feedback is concrete enough to be useful to you, and that you can see exactly what I'm talking about in these comments.  If you see things differently or disagree, let me know, or if other people have things to say, I'd be happy to hear.  rwood, gave some excellent feedback to one of my poems in another thread; if she's had a look here or has been following at all, she may have comment for Moonbeam or for me or for anybody working here.  As long as the comment tries to be constructive, it's more than welcome.

Once again I'm experiencing the sensation that we are, if not exactly speaking a different language, at lease a different dialect.  Again I don't see the fragment thing very easily, and I see even less the open ended nature of the close.  I am sure you are right mind you, and that there is something amiss.  Perhaps it would help if I tried a prose summary of the last two sections:

                           "All our 20 years
redeemed.   All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind."

"All of our 20 years together would be redeemed, except for that first moment, which I can never forgive, the one in the schoolroom when you laughed at me, with a hint of how you might exploit my innocence already in your eyes, simply because I couldn't quite dredge the meaning of the word optimist from my brain."

Perhaps you didn't read it like that?


You've given me a lot to think about here Bob, and it may be that what you've said holds the key to explaining the difficulty that some people have with my phrasing.  My bad no doubt.

With many thanks.

Rob
Bob K
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30 posted 04-16-2009 10:01 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



     Okay, Moonbeam, (and anyone who’s interested and thinks they might have some thoughts to contribute here.  Got it.),

     You are doing an interesting thing here, in your response.  

     There is absolutely nothing wrong with your poem.  I am talking about problems that I have in my reading of your poem.  You could send the poem out, as is, and you might eventually get it published, as is.  I don’t know that.  You might take all my suggestions and have it turned down now and forever.  What I can offer you is not a correction, because there is no correct version of this poem.  “Poems,”: to quote some French guy, “are never finished, only abandoned.”
Any defense you offer is much more valid than any comment I might make, and you should feel free immediately to laugh at anything I say for being wrong or inapplicable to you.  

     I’ll go further.  I’ll say that if it doesn’t make sense to you on the spot, then it’s probably wrong and you should ignore it as being wrong-headed and evidence of bias.  This is art.  It’s more important than politics.

     I say to take “just” out because I think the word is a wasted syllable. Don’t take my word for it, leave the word “just” in for a while, forever, if you wish.  Simply watch what it does to the energy and momentum of the line and draw your own conclusions.  Your comment about the conventions of modern poetry may be perfectly correct.  This still leaves the question of how the momentum and energy is passed from the end of one sentence or sentence fragment to the beginning of the next.  I’d be interested to know how these folks who write in fragments maintain that momentum as a matter of technical curiosity.  I’ve had trouble doing so, though I’ve been reading Linda Gregg recently, and she’s managed fairly well in some of her work, so I can’t say that I’m onto an undying principle here.

     In this poem, I get jammed up.

     When you say the poem was “intended” to do this or that — in this case to work around the notion of “optimism” —  I think you may be at least potentially blinding yourself to the possibilities that the language itself opens up.  That is, you are writing to follow an idea, rather than writing to follow the language and the associational patterns, at least at first, and to allow the words and themes to emerge from that.  You have cut down on the element of surprise that you allow to emerge from your emerging text in the interest of control, which — for me, mind you; for me — is something that may be better to allow to emerge later on in the process.

     As you point out, “Without the word "just" the line reads: ‘I believe that light under the horizon/is your demise.’”  

     You take that as something perhaps too simple or off-key to fit with your pre-conception of what the poem ought to be about.  I’d suggest to you that the poem is pushing your concept of what it ought to be about from the very beginning, and rather than listening to the poem; you have become seduced by the voice of rationality that seeks to tame the wildness and the startle inherent to the poetic process.  You want an emotional and rude poem to become polite.  

     If you really need the poem to be polite, revise it that way after you’ve allowed it to show itself in its native form.  That way you retain more options.  Again, in my opinion, which you may do well to ignore; and in a sentence fragment, right?  There is a place for them.

     That the speaker and Mary Ann had been married had not been clear to me from the text; I had thought that Mary Ann and the guy with the signet ring (who seemed to me other than the speaker) had been married, and that Mary Ann and the Rich guy with the signet ring had broken up after 20 unhappy years of marriage.

     The structure of the sentence fragment in the second part of the poem  read this way for me:

The nature of [Your joy],  the things he gave you, such as [the money, the Ferrari], compromised by being beaten [the brand of his signet ring on you cheek] . . . .  stops cold here, frustrating this particular reader  by offering no understandable predication and which might have (led you to think, feel or do something which would bridge to the next section.).  The absence of this second part stopped me.

     I admire the jump to “our” in this next section, but I am unclear who the “I” in “our” might be in relation to the speaker, and what the twenty years meant.  I land in a confused place, essentially because of the ambiguity about the speaker, whose identity should be clear as a generality throughout a poem.  If you confuse a reader about this, they tend to fall out of the poem.  Confuse a reader, lose a reader on matters of time, place and person.  

     “To Redeem” is a verb.  I believe in this situation it requires some form of the copula to function as one, otherwise it functions a some sort of dependent clause, though I’m not sure of the machinations.  I can think of some awkward but grammatically complete (to my ear) sounding alternatives, if that’s the issue for you.  I don’t know it need be so much as the energy and stoppage of momentum is.  Now are all our 20/ years redeemed.  That would be one example.  It seems to present a sense of closure for that section at least.  

     I’d suggest to you that we may be operating on something of the same channel here when you say “I've succumbed to a weakness that regularly seems to plague me: that of constructing a story in my head and then failing to mirror the strength of the links in my head with the words on the paper.”  That is:  You have it in your head and try to duplicate it on paper.  I suggest that you put it on paper an work with it on paper entirely to take advantage of what the words themselves contribute to the poem, and that you try to get away from the thoughts that you’re trying to translate onto the paper.  You will always fall short if you’re translating.  What’s that Italian proverb about translators and traitors?  (And isn’t is ironic to find it quoted by Ezra Pound?)  Try working with the words themselves.    

     I’m going to repeat a paragraph here, because I think it’s important, not to erase doubt in your mind, which both of us should welcome:

     “Verbs are important.  They mediate action and motion for the character and activities in the poem, yes, but just as importantly — perhaps even more importantly — they can serve as channels or gates to direct the momentum of energy within the structure of the poem itself.   You need verbs not only to keep the cinema of the poem in motion, but also to keep the reader moving through the poem.  They're what keeps him going.  No verb, no motion, and the reader falls out of the poem, thud, crash, bang.  Ouch!

     Verbs not only keep the action going, they keep the reader's mind going, moving through the text.”

quote:

Yep, I'm really struggling with this section Bob.  Again, while I totally concur with the sense of what you're saying, viz., that there is a failure of continuity and momentum, I am unclear about whether the failure can be pinned to the grammatical construction, and more specifically to the absence of verbal energy.



  I've just opened the Rialto again and read: "Our own shoulders too." This is undoubtedly verbless.  In the context of the poem it works, but it's verbless.  Am I away with the fairies or does the phrase "All our 20 years redeemed." not contain the verb "redeem"?  Certainly it could be expressed as: "All our 20 years are redeemed."  Does the addition of the verb "be" help?  Is it the passive nature of the verb that causes the problem?


Mr. Bob responds:
     It certainly does contain the verb “to redeem.”  I offered a section above with the addition of the verb “to be,” the copula, inserted in one of the possible ways it might be used, and it does seem to turn the clause into a sentence,  Without the copula, it seems to remain a dependent clause.  Try some variations yourself and see what happens to the energy and moment of the poem. Do not take my word; this is something where you need to develop your own experience and style.  

     While you and J.M. and I may be the only folks following this thread right now, we may not be, and there may be others who are willing to express thoughts about the matter.  This is a situation where they would be very helpful indeed.

     Yes, Ron, even you.

     The idea isn’t to tell you how to write, it’s to give you solid feedback and to encourage you to experiment with different ways of trying to solve poetry problems.  You may come up with something that I haven’t thought about.  I encourage you to think about things in terms of energy flow for now, because that’s an interesting and useful thing to try, but you shouldn’t even feel constrained by that.


quote:

                           "All our 20 years
redeemed.   All, except that first
schoolroom moment when you laughed
at me, an O of anticipation in your eyes,
and the word optimist like a sun,
somewhere under my mind."

"All of our 20 years together would be redeemed, except for that first moment, which I can never forgive, the one in the schoolroom when you laughed at me, with a hint of how you might exploit my innocence already in your eyes, simply because I couldn't quite dredge the meaning of the word optimist from my brain."




     I think the last line needs to be cut.  It is too vague.  Even with the last line, it too is a sentence fragment..  It’s not that it’s impossible to have a sentence fragment work as a fine line ending.  Have a look at some of Linda Gregg’s stuff, she’s marvelous.  It’s that you don’t have the momentum to do it here, and there’s not particular sense of closure, which really is one of the things that you ought to be looking for, in my somewhat limited point of view.

     Even though my reading did not follow yours — I mentioned this above — I don’t think that’s as important as the static nature of the verse itself.  Even if the sentence you used to describe the plotting of the last two parts of the poem was somewhat on the long side, you should notice, it functioned as a complete sentence.  In order to get across the story of it all, you had to give it some energy and momentum.  

     I suggest that you try, simply as an exercise, a couple of things to get a sense of what happens with this stuff when you take conscious control over it.  You already have two versions of this plot, one with whole sentences, one without (except for that wow of a first sentence).

     Try writing a third version where you consciously vary the length of the sentences.  Make whatever changes in the plot that you need to make to accommodate the varying sentence lengths.  Then try a fourth version with sentences where the subject comes first, then the verb in one sentence, and in another sentence you first slip in a clause before getting to the subject — Thinking of the original optimism flattened in the back of her eyes like a retina,/ I welcomed the feeling of . . . .  You get the picture?  so you get the sense of what different structure does to the story and the details you’re apt to select, and how you can change the text by shaking up you choice of structure.

     The point is, you don’t have to be a prisoner of the sentence fragment, or be unconscious of a choice to use them.  This can become a fun and interesting part of the writing that can help influence what the final product becomes.

     I hope this is useful in some fashion, and not a simple pain in the Labanza, whatever a Labanza happens to be.

All my best, Mr. Bob

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31 posted 04-17-2009 04:26 AM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

Hi Bob or Mr Bob (always reminds me of Mr Pip from Great Expectations)

Another terrific response, which it's going to take me a day or two to digest and revert on.  I think Jennifer's poem comes first, but I'm really grateful for your generosity in spending time on this.

Regards

R
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32 posted 04-17-2009 08:46 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



     I renew my invitation for those with some interest in revision to have a look at this discussion and make a comment or two with an eye toward the constructive.  This need not be complimentary to me or to others, but it should work at making a clear and useful point about the verse under discussion or the nature of the feedback being offered.  

     Different feedback, especially if it is concrete, is especially useful.
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33 posted 04-18-2009 05:01 PM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

What a great opening strophe Jennifer.  How can I not be immediately interested in a poem that has a couple of opening lines as intriguing as these.  It reads beautifully too: the internal sounds of daddy, boy, bumble bee - came camp - summer shorts shirt - all working together to produce something easy on the ear - free verse sure, but as musical as any formal poem.

There's just a hint of the darkness to come too, which I also like a lot.  The suspicion that there is something not altogether wholesome in the sex change, something self-serving maybe on the part of the father, and  the unnerving contrast of this suspicion with the symbols of childhood and play are unsettling.

After that it's one image afer another in an increasingly disturbing chain of metaphor.  And I mean increasing.  You've managed an series of pictures that escalate the tension like a good Hitchcock movie:

The model aeroplane that made the sister?  (of the speaker) leave

The mysterious bugs in the mother's sheets

The turtle that jumps and also leaves (a lot of leaving going on here)

The ghastly end of the puppy.

The rowboat with blue eels and no oars and yet another departure

The drifting around a headstone?

And the final stunning and positively horrific image on the beach with salt, smoke and Lady Macbeth's crows (I love that collective for crows don't you), pinned back to the childish images in S1/S2 with the wonderful closing words, and the ghoulish effect of the contrast.  

You've been reading too much Murakami.

There's nothing complex or confusing about the structure of this.  You simply hit us with the images and leave us to make of them what we will.  I think the poem stands or falls on whether anything can be made of them.  It took me a while and a good number of reads before I got beyond the obvious theme of departures, by letting the feel of the writing guide me rather than the words themselves.   And what I feel is madness, irrationality, insanity, coupled perhaps with cruelty and some kind of multiple desertion.

The father who wants a son and gets something else, driving her away with inappropriate behaviour.  The daughter who tries to draw attention to a mother's plight shaking out the infestation of mental illness?  in front of a man who doesn't want to know.    

The escalation of insanity?  the effect on and demise of the animals, such that one way or another they depart the bad place.
The speaker (daughter) saddled with a paralysing confusion of images and experiences she cannot handle and shoved into the world where she drifts, all the time tied to that forlorn hope, a mother lost.  

A "lollipop moon", the story of a traumatic childhood, chillingly told.  

Well that's what I took from it.  That's what made it work for me.  And for once, I'm lost for ideas to alter this in any way at all.  Not one single word or phrase jumps out at me as wrong or out of place.  I'm not saying it's the greatest poem I've ever read, perhaps, apart from S1 a little lacking in music, but then why would I want music in a poem so desolate.

These days I rarely forget your poems easily Jennifer.  This is no exception.

Thanks for posting.

M
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34 posted 04-19-2009 01:18 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Ms. Jennifer,


                 This is a very fine draft indeed, J.M., and I congratulate you on it.  I am especially happy with the flow if imagery that seems to me to be very powerful and not confusing at all.  We will have to do some waiting on that, however, to tell for sure, because I think that there is a problem that needs to be worked out to shake the poem out into a more unified piece of work.  I think once that’s done, a lot of the other stuff will fall into place much more directly.  This has to do with the business of the identity of the speaker and the nature of the “you” and the “I” in the poem, which here has become quite important indeed.

     There may in fact be three primary characters in the poem:  the Father; the Speaker, who identifies as “I;” and an Other, who is identified as “you.”  There is a “Mother” as well, but she is kept off-stage through use of a different sort of arrangement of tense (“would” in this case.  My poor grammar tells me this is conditional, but perhaps somebody with clearer grammatical skills can confirm or disconfirm my characterization).  Her reality is kept off to one side.

     There are a number of questions this sort of situation raises.

     In a lot of contemporary verse, there is a use of “You” as a means of addressing the self in a somewhat more stand-off-ish fashion.  The “You” and the “I” in this situation frequently fuse.  They are the same. and they are different ways of addressing the self.

“You might come here someday on a whim.  Say your life/ broke down.  The last good kiss you had was years ago.. . .”  or something like that.  The “You” Hugo is addressing here is both himself and reader.  A lot of contemporary poetry follows the same conventions.  This is neither bad nor good, it simply is.

     There is no question in my mind, then, as I read your first few lines, that what you’re saying here is something pretty startling and interesting, both.  That is, when daddy came home, the Speaker (who was apparently not a boy) turned into a boy in a particular sort of preppy camp costume.  I happen to enjoy this image.  I think it’s very inventive.  Whatever the Speaker’s original name was (Sue? Luellen?), this somewhat sinister father guy now began to call her “Ralph.”  There a whacky creativity going on here that I really enjoy.  The Father builds on his own fantasy, and preceded to confuse himself and the Speaker now named Ralph by trying harder and harder to make “Ralph” something that Ralph just isn’t.  “Aeroplane” is not an American spelling, but an English spelling, by the way.  You may want to think about the run on construction in stanza two.  It becomes a touch awkward with the last line, “I shook out of mother’s sheets.”

     There are two reasons for this.  One is that there are a couple of concepts and actions jammed together in that second stanza, and some clarification might be available if they were expressed in separate grammatical structures.  The other is that the notion that I have been operating under thus far in the poem, that is that “you” is another way of addressing the self or the “I” in the poem has just been casually blown right out of the water.  Poof.  There is now  not only a mother in the poem — well, fine, mothers happen, don’t they? —  but the self I though I was dealing with has cloned.

     If you really are trying to suggest two kids here, then the introduction of the “I” has to be stage managed a bit differently, so as not to confuse this reader, who may have reactions close to those of some other readers, who may also be derailed here.  You may also consider taking the “I” character out.

     “[T]he bugs on the floor/ that tumbled from mother’s sheets[,]” might work as a way around the problem, if indeed you see it as a problem and if, indeed, you believe it requires any fix at all.

     In the next stanza, some minor tightening might be useful.  Take out the word “that” from “He foretold that the turtle” in the first line.  “That” does fill the line out a bit, but the line reads perfectly well without it.  In the third line, I’d suggest taking out “the” from the phrase “the open sea.”  I’d suggest in the last three lines of that stanza the text read “the puppy she’d drown/ like a kitten in a pail/ full of bleach.”  You might want to play with the lineation of my crude approximation.  It may not give you the effect you want or need.

     You might consider as well, “he filled my rowboat” and “with blue electric eels.”  Instead of  “out past the town coral reef/ and I had no paddle or oars,”  you might give some thought to “past (the name of a landmark, a lighthouse or some such.  “The town coral reef” is sort of a generic, and takes energy away from a highly energetic flow of sound.)  See if you can maintain this sound energy when you try something else, if you can, and if you decide to do so.  You’ve got a lot of sound and imagery going very strongly here. You might consider using the last line of this stanza as a single line sentence, to keep the variation of sentence length moving in the poem.  In free verse, it helps to keep the sentence length varied because it’s one of the ways we can show rhythmic variation and some control.  It helps to stay conscious of this when we work on our revisions.

     Again, in the last stanza, the issue of “I” and “you” comes up, and it needs to be addressed.  Exactly how you do it will be up to you, but it does need to be done in order to minimize confusion about identity and speaker, and to unify the movement of the poem.  If you can do some work on this and burnish it up a bit, you should be able to send it out in a few more drafts, the good Lord willing and the Creek don’t Rise.

     Hope there’s something useful here for you, J.M.  It’s always a great pleasure to have a look at your stuff.  Anybody else with a comment or question about any of this stuff should feel free to toss in a comment.  I’m sorry that I commented before other people had much of a chance here, but I felt that J.M. had been waiting for quite a while and that she deserved so fairly timely feedback.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t toss yours in.  It only means that I was a warthog, and tossed mine in first.  


does it mean that we’re done looking at either of these two poems, should either Moonbeam or J.M. want more and be willing to offer more.  

     Other people should be free to toss in a shot at this exercise or the Jim Simmerman exercise, and we’ll see where we can go with it.  I’ve got a poem I’ve been working on for about a year that I may toss in if people are willing to give me feedback.

     I hope that folks are getting something useful and concrete out of this stuff, and not just the people who are putting their stuff in for feedback, but others who are interested in having a look at how other people are working at writing their stuff and revising it.  Perfection is highly discouraged.
      
     Fun is greatly encouraged.

Best to everybody,  Mr. Bob


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35 posted 04-21-2009 04:14 AM       View Profile for JenniferMaxwell   Email JenniferMaxwell   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for JenniferMaxwell

Thanks very much moonbeam and Bob. Your observations are really very helpful. Right on target with the synopsis, moonbeam, except for the sister part, as you were, Bob, with the fusing of “you” and “I”. Can see now that needs to be clarified and the consequence of the resulting “we” left unmentioned, expressed. Thanks again, you’ve pointed out the direction I need to take on revisions.

So, what’s next, Bob? Time for others to post a poem?

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36 posted 04-21-2009 11:36 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Jenn,

         So far, it's been the four of us posting.  I include Grinch here.  I believe that's a fair number.  If more folks want to toss their hats in the ring, that'd be nice.  I'd also be nice if either you or Rob wanted to bring back another version of the poem that you first brought in to see what you've been able to do with it.  That is, whether the feedback that we've given have been useful to the direction the poems been going or not.

     This is not an imperative.

     I brought in a poem here about a year ago called at that time "14 Lines."  I'm not sure how far back I've kept drafts of that poem.  I'll see if I can find one of the early drafts, and I'll try showing one of the drafts I was working on this week.  The poem is changing, but it still doesn't feel right to me.  I thought I'd bring it in here and let anybody who wants to try giving feedback offer some.

     If anybody wants an exercise to try, think about this one.  I know that both of you read the alley on occasion, and that both of you respond with occasional notes, so that you both have active current political energy.  I suggest you go to a newspaper and choose an article or two.  You could find them on the web if you wanted to, and lift as many concrete details from that article as that article offers.  Addresses are good, names are good, colors are good, objects are good, cities are good, crimes are good.  Get as many concrete details out of those articles as you can, pull out twenty of them, alter any that would seem libelous, and use them to write a poem that the details suggest to you when you mix them up somewhat.  Go for a boffo ending if you can.  Let the theme of the poem emerge from your own store of unconscious material and concern itself with your own natural themes.  Have fun with this and allow your sense of linguistic play and chatter emerge in the process.

     Feel free to change any of the directions anywhere along the way if they get in the way of a poem that wants to emerge in some other fashion.

Sincerely, Bob Kaven
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37 posted 04-21-2009 12:10 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K


Dear Folks,

     This version comes from the early part of 2008, perhaps  as late as May, perhaps as early as February.  I have set myself a  bit of a free verse game to structure a poem, and it’s been to see what I can do with the story of the bridge of birds legend from Chinese mythology, and to keep the whole thing on the compact side, in this case fourteen lines.


14 Lines

You,  breathing light through your skin,
Step across a bridge of birds

Between walls of a canyon.

Though it’s the separation
That’s the illusion, the light
Even pressure is still best,
Pulling silk from a cocoon.
The slightest tension is heard

A feathering of unrest
I need to confide in you
But I am breathing in gasps,
The air
             periwinckle blue,
And your pace deft and even.
In the sky, no blackbird rasps.
     As you can see, not very good.  I try several more times  which don’t get beyond my notebooks and let the whole thing sink below the level of consciousness for about six months or a year.

     I decide that I’ll look at it again and see where the poem wants to go and try following it there.  The bridge of birds evaporates.  The blackbird, which must have flown in fleeing from a Walace Steven poem flew away, and this is what showed up in its place.  It’s still now right, but it feels somewhat better.

     This is the most recent version.  Any comments are welcome of course, the more concrete the better.  As with the first version, I’m trying to work with seven syllable lines here, though I’m not wedded to them.  If a line is bad or padded, it still needs to be cut, in other words.  Everything needs to justify being there.

Meditating All Night on A Verse From The Tao te Ching

The lights are off.  It is night
and I’m working at sleeping
without amazing success.
Without opening my eyes,

in the red light of closed lids,
I can read the labels from
pill bottles on the dresser.
I own all these translations

of The Tao te Ching:  Puffing
like bellows on the bookshelves,
they exhale actual flames.
It may be wisdom burns bright.

It could be that darkness is,
by any comparison,
so abysmal, any bright
comment — something like the truth —

might be mistaken for flame.
Sometime before morning comes,
sleepwalking the living room
around tables and armchairs,

I’ll gaze through closed drapery.
Loyal ministers rise from
their troubled beds before dawn
to pursue desperate business.


Sincerely, Bob Kaven

moonbeam
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38 posted 04-21-2009 05:16 PM       View Profile for moonbeam   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for moonbeam

Bob

Just to say I really appreciate what you're doing here.  Schedule is once again restricting the time I can give.  But I'll be right back I promise, and of course I'm reading everything.

Rob
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39 posted 04-24-2009 02:06 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Folks,

         Feel free to contribute any of your own free verse stuff if you don't want to comment on mine.  Comment on some of the comments that other folks have made on other people's stuff.  The idea is that our writing skills not only improve when we write poems, but when we try to talk about what we think needs to be done with other people's poems.  This sort of comment helps us develop our own values about what sort of writing we do and how we expect to go about writing and rewriting it.  It also is work we do on giving to the other people here who are on the same sort of path that we are on.  It's not all about what we get, though that's very important indeed, but it's about what we give that helps define the sort of writer that we are and the sort of writer that we are trying to become.

     Redrafts of poems others have given us feedback on are welcome.  New things are welcome.  Comments on how others see poems are welcome.  It's all right to stick your necks out here, folks.  You actually need to understand what people read when they read your poems.

     They usually do not read the words that you think you're writing.  It takes a fair amount of practice before what other people read is anything approaching what you think you are saying.  It's important to learn what the difference is between those two things, and simply being passive about this stuff is not going to help you understand this difference.  Your readers and your friends are going to need to be able to tell you, and you're going to need to be able to hear what they say with reasonable clarity.

     Come one, come all!  There are several exercises available, and the last one offered is only a few days back on offer.  At no time do my fingers visibly leave my hands, which will remain fixed flexibly at the end of my wrists during all attempts at conversation.  Get your fresh attempts and your dusty old poems here!  Mr. Bob's efforts are occasionally on display for comment of concrete criticism, he does not hold himself aloof!  His foolishness is openly on display.  Some is bad some is good, the same as anybody's!  No special treatment requested, he learns the same as everybody else.  

     The same techniques that may be used in free verse are often available for use in formal verse!  many of the principles are the same.  

     Performances will be scheduled whenever people feel like showing up and when they are not asleep, preferably at times when both occur together.  Come one, come all.

     Actually, those who feel they want to take part in the give and get of the thing and those who are interested in watching.  Comments are preferred before posting of poems, since the commentary is an important part of the learning process.

Sincerely, Bob Kaven
 
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