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:: Tuesday, January 20, 2004 ::

Sean,

By the way, I would cut "then," and I think it's a good idea. I may have some bigger problems for a bit, though.
:: Paul 1/20/2004 10:52:00 AM [+] ::
...
Rob,

I like your poem a lot, and I have some few things to say about it, but let me say thanks to you guys first for the good comments on my poem. You put your collective critical finger on the problem(s) I thought I might have with that one. Rob, your biographical concerns are not anal (well, not in a bad way). And Sean, I think the poem is discombobulating to you in the same sense, that is, in the sense that the dramatic situation is not clear. This is my perpetual problem, especially with short poems, and why I want to say STAMOS! to you, Rob, for being lucid in your poem: I just can?t be clear. I wanted her sitting by a window, watching the late afternoon winter sun, not in church or watching tv. The organ is wrongheaded right now, but I want some kind of mixture of sight and sound (which that poem that the quote comes from suggests), so I need to de-literalize the organ so that the suggestion of ?cathedral tunes? comes across but doesn?t put her in church proper. Anyway, thanks again, fellas. Those were right helpful comments. And now on to your poem, Rob.

I can see why Sean says what he says about time: the first stanza could come off to some as suggesting that he was lighting the stove most nights now since the weather was generally getting cooler, but I?m pretty sure you mean just this one night. If you said ?would light the chapel?s boiler,? we?d know you meant a continual past, but the ?lit? pretty much signals the one night. Ok, enough about tenses.

Sean?s comment about rhythm seems a good place to start. Some lines feel forced into pentameter while others are spot-on. The first stanza is especially good, natural, loosely iambic in that way that Frost used to cheat with (more so the second and third lines, I guess, than the first, though the first and fourth are still good in their regularity). The first line of stanza 2 starts to ?shuffle? though the larger problem is not so much metrical as it is numerical: ?the pastor? seems to fill out the syllable count unnecessarily, especially since we?ve seen that word in line 2 of stanza 1. A digression: I really like ?high windows, let out the dark? (deliberate Larkin allusion?), but I don?t feel as convinced by ?false night,? which feels more ponderous. Of course it?s a nice touch that he?s ?lost? because he is, in more ways than three. To return: Notice that the last line of this stanza becomes more regular. The others (excepting line 1, again) are looser, but not sloppy. I think this last line slackens because of the ?fixed and cleaned? syndrome we sometimes use to fill out lines. There?s a bit of this in the first line of the poem, ?burned away and nights,? but there the motion doesn?t feel as redundant. You see the ?and? in line 3 of the last stanza with the compound predicate. The last two and a half lines of the poem (because ?rock bottom? seems less imaginative for you) are very fine. I don?t know why the shade detail sticks with me, but it does. Nice gesture.

So, narrative comments: This is very efficient, and the details are working in your favor. The boiler is a nice reminder of bottled up corruption, for instance. Here?s what I?m wondering. Are his trips to the track also a rumor? In other words, the gossip mill has him writing bad checks, but do the ladies know he?s also been betting on Santa?s Little Helper? If they know, does he know they know, or think they know? I?m guessing he does fear this, but it?s not quite clear if the p.o.v. in ?Since June, / He?d played the church?s cash on dogs and hit / rock bottom? is the narrator?s or sopranos/altos/contraltos?. If they all know this, his hanging feels coherently placed. If not, it comes a little abruptly.

I have one final comment, and you?re going to hate it. Could some more of the story be unpacked--enough, anyway, to characterize the pastor some more? I don?t mean that you have to turn this into a ?sequence? or ?suite? or sonnet crown about the persistence of church corruption into the 21st century, but I?m interested in the guy, and a little more about him would be nice, I think. You could still keep the excellent compression you?ve got, but unpacking some of the story might give you some breathing room. Just a thought.

:: Paul 1/20/2004 10:51:00 AM [+] ::
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Oh, yeah. Paul, how would you feel about cutting "then" off of line whatsis the line about "the minor key / then bumped" or something. Just a thought for this day.
:: Sean 1/20/2004 04:02:00 AM [+] ::
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:: Monday, January 19, 2004 ::
Rob, I like this poem as well. Is it based on real life? I think so. You could get away with an anapestic substitution with the line: "Rock bottom. Today, he hung himself in shade". Lovely ending and lovely start, but I can't be sure about all the time movement. It's sept and he's been betting since June and it's now October or so. I don't know if there's an elegant way to show this more clearly, or if it's just me who's confused. Let's listen for Paul's comments, shall we? Sometimes I'd fuck with the rhythm a bit to break out of the iambic shuffle. Let me know what you think.
:: Sean 1/19/2004 05:11:00 AM [+] ::
...
Paul, I too like this poem. I didn't have the reaction my crazy friend Rob had, but I wanted to suggest, and this is weird, but what about "What Light May Have"? I think that I don't see a line broken line used much, but I think it could be cool, and that line stayed with me all through the weekend, through cabs and bars. "What Light May Have" ahh, it's interesting, no? Let's see, I can't get comfortable with "fit to be tied" but I'm such a conservative when it comes down to it. I'll play dumb guy here. She's watching the organ, right, and there's a stove in there, now she pauses it for a rest, right, so is she watching the organ on TV in her house; does she have it on video? And that's why the room goes dark? No, I think it's in a church, so Rob is confusing me. I don't know. I love the language, and I love the sparseness, so don't add much--again, the title could add more if you don't use my idea. My very good idea. If a church, I don't see a stove, if at home, I don't see long-angled sunlight (I see cathedral windows for that). God, booming dome is great. I think the tone is too grand for "fit to be tied" but maybe that's just me. Anyway, I don't know how off I am with all this, so dispose at will.
:: Sean 1/19/2004 05:00:00 AM [+] ::
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:: Sunday, January 18, 2004 ::
OK, here's a new one. I don't think, at least, that you guys have seen it.

BROKEN

Before September burned away and nights
Grew long and cool as tombstones, the pastor lit
The chapel’s boiler, a gut of iron and fire
So choked with soot from harder years it coughed

Black smoke all through the church. The pastor, lost
Within this false night, staggered to open
High windows, let out the dark. He paid
To have the boiler fixed and cleaned, but soon

The rumor ran around the women’s choir
That Pastor’s check had bounced. Since June,
He’d played the church’s cash on dogs and hit
Rock bottom. He hung himself in shade
Beside his house, the fields so full of light
He half-believed there was no such thing as sin.

:: Rob 1/18/2004 06:51:00 PM [+] ::
...
Paul,
You're a diamond geezer from bandit country, and God love you for it. Like my comments for Sean's poem, I have little in the way of criticism. This is one of the best poems I've seen in a while, and there's little I can think of in the way of improvement. But here goes some nitpicky stuff:

--The title has to go, I think. Compared to the poem, it's flat and very dead. Even worse, it reminds me way too much of the kind of angst-y shit I'm getting from my freshmen right now.

--The organ. Where is it? Church? If so, I'm going to go ahead and make an ass of myself with a really pedantic question and comment. Specifically, how old is she supposed to be here? If she's young, I have no problem. But, if she's supposed to be older there's the problem that she didn't go to church--she gave it up about the time she went to school. I know, pedantic and anal. Maybe the title could give some indication of age; age, too, might help make the final line of the poem more resonant.

Otherwise, there are some fantastic lines here, and I love the resolution--it's very Dickens-ian, but you've made it all your own.
:: Rob 1/18/2004 06:48:00 PM [+] ::
...
Sean,
Sorry I've been remiss in commenting on your "Train" poem, but I've spent the last 4 weeks convincing myself that I really am back in the States and that I actually have to do some work this semester. Yargh!

Anyway, I don't really know if I'm agreeing or disagreeing with what Paul had to say about this poem, but I like it a lot. In fact, I think you pull something off that I see mangled all the time--the postmodern self-referential poem. Usually, the tone of such a poem is all self-important and pretentious, but you've struck what I think is just the right balance between seriousness and lightness. In fact, it really reminds me of Italo Calvino and his kind of tongue-in-cheek self-referential stories.

The only criticism I really have is that I would love to see you go further with this one. Give us more of the story of the chacaters in the book, and make us care about them in the same way we might care about the girl on the train. I don't mean a whole lot more, but maybe one more bite, a medium sized one.

Cool poem.
:: Rob 1/18/2004 06:33:00 PM [+] ::
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:: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 ::
Now, Seanie, don't be upset. I didn't mean that you had to take that line out. I happen to like it a lot, in fact, but got a little obtuse I guess, wondering if irises swell. I am happy that you see the world my way now, by the way.

Ok, so I'll throw one out here.


“There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons—”
—Emily Dickinson

Despair Unsealed

There she sat in Massachusetts winter,
watching the organ
bellow through long-angled sunlight,
a booming dome
that buried her soul one season deeper.

And if there was a sonnet of remembrance
to overlay the cold,
a pretty picture of the summer
to think about,
she heard the cracking trunks, not bird choirs,

felt the numb nerve twist in the muscle.
The minor key
then thumped the stove and stoked her hope for thunder.
What light may have
fallen she felt would some day get back up.

A few leaves may have trembled in the din.
Not her—she dashed
the afternoon to dark, paused it
for a whole rest,
and death looked on and on, fit to be tied.

:: Paul 1/14/2004 10:47:00 AM [+] ::
...
:: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 ::
Thanks, Paul. I cut one line and made your changes. I hope you're happy now. I am. I'm waiting for your poems. Thanks again, very much. Ignore blank line if you see it. I can't get rid of it. Write soon.

This Poem is a Passing Train

This is the poem about the boy on the passing train.
This is the poem about the girl in the pretty dress.
Here's the part where she looks up from her book
to see the most lovely boy on the opposite train--
his eyes blinking past like coins falling through air.
In the book in her lap, the characters stop
and watch the boy on the train--they fix a pot of tea
and smile to each other, remembering how they first met
on page 24, the Countess with a knife to the young man's
throat. A shiver playing through the tendons of his neck
told her he was not the intruder she thought him to be
but the man she would one day marry in a field
by the River Seine. And you've read this poem before, right?
The boy on the train doesn't see her, the train keeps moving,
the boy is lost to the young girl in the pretty dress,
but just as the boy's face blurs into a bright ribbon
the couple in the book kiss not knowing, either of them,
that the intruder has a heart of darkness and evil
and that, try though she might to avoid it, she will be destroyed
with unbearable pain over the next 249 pages which flutter
in the tunnel light in the lap of the pretty girl.

:: Sean 1/13/2004 05:04:00 AM [+] ::
...
:: Friday, January 09, 2004 ::
Sean,

I hate to slight you but, as you say in the poem itself, "you've read this poem before, right?" I can't say that I have "global" concerns for you. That we have seen this kind of poem before isn't the slight. I do have some nits to pick, though, for what it's worth. They seem minor, but you may want to think about them.

Do irises swell? If so, does a well? Or do you mean her irises pull back and her pupil dilates into something like a well? That's not nearly as sexy, and I'm no eye doctor, so tell me to fuck off if I'm wrong.

In line 9, put a comma after "other."

In line 12, put "to be" after "him."

In "and that try though," put a comma after "that."

I know that these sound like trivial things, which they are, really, but I like the poem, its idea (even though, as we've established, we've seen it before), and the way you pull it off. To look for things to say just to be saying them seems wigged, yo. Anyway, onward, as Jim used to say.

Paul

:: Paul 1/09/2004 04:22:00 PM [+] ::
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