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:: Monday, June 28, 2004 ::

Hey guys--I could use some help if any of you have time to look at this.

Shaggy's Soul Food Open Soon,
Said the Sigh outside of Tallulah

Shaggy could be anywhere--
maybe one of the ones
living at the motel between jobs.
You know the type--no money
for food, but able to scrounge
change for a lotto ticket,
figuring one day he'll collect
a windfall of unlikely numbers.

As for his message hand-
painted on one side of a vacant
building, I have lost all faith.
The letters start out square
and get smaller--a diagram
of trumpet sound, the volume down.
:: Alison Pelegrin 6/28/2004 10:43:00 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 ::

It's so nice to be talking poetry again.

Now, on to some of your questions. I did think Bland Strawberries was the name of the town, but I also thought I was wrong to do so. So, I don't know if I would change the name of the town--I know I've sent mail to someplace called State University. One thing that popped into my head as a possible solution--Bland Strawberries, Indiana, Population 363. Or something like that. But you may not want to go there. My suggestion for the chronological is a thematic one, although now that you point it out to me I see why you did it the way you did. I just have this urge for tweaking things like that, so that could just be my neurosis creeping over into your poem.

I'm glad you recognize what Choose Your own adventure is--I was afraid nobody would. I'll try on the stanza breaks for a few days and see how I feel about them. I've been reading Fairchild lately. and I think I have slipped into his long stanza poem thing that he does. I'm glad you think the close works--it's not the original and I felt like I was reaching too far when I wrote it. I think the bigger problem is with the trope you point out--about making choices--I talk about choices in the poem, but really there is only one considered at length. I'll have to work on it. You're right about tube socks and roustabout ways and the circular forest. I was stretching.

As for metalworkers--I'll look at the places you said. All of these are good suggestion. The few lines about the circle house I was going to cut. I did intend Mr. Berretta to be engraved on the gun, not the manufacturer's stamp. Perhaps I should get a look at one of those things close up. Damn bout the serpent pipes. I rearranged like a third of the poem to get that in.

Ah well. Thanks so much for your feedback on these poems. I work all the time but never know if I am getting anywhere. I have the whole dining room table covered with drafts of a few different things, and then there's the chapbook fiasco, although I'm letting the book rest for a few weeks. By the way--you were asking about the title, weren't you? "Squeezers" is the name for playing cars with the little numbers in the corners--when cards started being made this way it allowed players to squeeze their hands together. The specific image I am referring to is the picture on the back of Bulldog Squeezers. It's these two dogs chained to their homes lunging at eachother, beneath a wicked looking moon. It's a woodcut image, and at the bottom of the card is the phrase "There is a Tie that Binds us to our homes" which is where the first poem/ sort of the title poem gets its title. I didn;t want to put all of that in a note at the beginning, and also, in the chapbook I am not talking only about card players, but also people who are sort of on the last dollar, hanging on, etc. Does any if this make sense?

:: Alison Pelegrin 6/23/2004 07:43:00 PM [+] ::
Thanks, Alison, for the feedback. You touched on some good points, and I think I'll need to go back and re-think some of the poem. Some questions, though: first, I did intend "Bland Strawberries" to be the town's name, but is that clear enough? If not, should I change it to something more clearly a town name? Supposedly, that's the real name of the place, and I really liked it; but if it's not working, it's not working. Second, when you suggest that I change the chronology so that we see the woman first, is this a suggestion for better clarity, or is it something you feel would work better thematically? I completely see what you mean about how the poem is really centered on her rather than the pilot (which is what I was going for), but I was also trying to make some sort of scenic movement from (1) pilot, to (2) woman, to (3) nature and the resolution. Again, however, if it ain't working, it ain't working.

OK, onward. "Choose Your Own Adventure"--I remember loving these crappy books when I was a kid, and I even got to the point that I would cheat. I would make a choice, turn to the page indicated, but only tip up the corner of the paper to see if there was a "The End" printed at the bottom of the page. Anyway, I think it's a pretty cool idea for a poem, and I really like how you almost immediately make something more out of it than a solipsistic reminiscence. The overall movement and rhetoric of the poem seem right, and that resolution is fantastic (everything from "You'' be the world's best dilettante" onward)--I love the "en media res" part, and the final image is beautiful and haunting too.

As for criticisms, they're few and mainly nit-picky stuff. First off, I'd break this poem into stanzas in order to better emphasize the rhetorical and scenic shifts. For instance, I'd insert breaks after "convicts on the highway, "straight into your mouth," and "circular forest." The main reason I say this is the momentary confusion I get after the first 8 lines. In those lines, you set up the controlling trope, and you give us a few potential "choices": teach, bagpipes, and convict on highway. However, I'm not fully prepared for the shift where we stay in the convict's perspective for the next 10 lines or so. A stanza break there would help me as a reader understand that there's a fairly cohesive chunk of narrative coming up, and I don't think I'd be as unprepared for staying with the convict. Does that make sense?

Next, some small stuff: the line break after "wet your jumpsuit" may have some unintended scatalogical humor. I imagine you meant wet with perspiration, but there's that momentary hangup where I think he's pissing himself. Also, I'm not sure I understand the lines "in the tubesocks .../ ...roustabout ways." There's something I'm missing here, but it could just be me being stupid. Finally, I like the line about the hunter uable to recognize his own footprints, but it may be pushing too far to include the "circular forest bit." Somehow the image seems stronger without that tacked on. And the conclusion, as I said before, is lovely and resonant.

Onward: "The Metalworker's Epitaph"--this will be brief because this doesn't need much tinkering. I love the three stories, and I love the fact that they're welded together through Gaynel's memory the way the steel is welded together in the final few lines of the poem--really nice. Again, like the previous one, I think the poem might work better in stanzas, broken at the junctures of the narratives. I know that sounds like it works against what I just said above, but I think that in this case it's okay to sacrifice some structural symbolism for clarity. Otherwise, it's all small potatoes--
--is there a name for that particular MS River bridge? For instance, there's one in Memphis called the Hernando Desoto Bridge. It might localize it a little.
--the electrical shock; was he working on power lines, get shocked, and then fall? It seems that's the case, but it might be clearer.
--I'm not sure what a "circle" house is
--I'm also not sure what you mean when you say "author of the meanest gates"
--is the pistol really engraved with "Mr. Berretta"? or is it a kind of joke meaning just the manufacturer's imprint?
--not sure if "serpent pipes" is fully working

But there are great lines all through this, really beautiful and visceral descriptions. I love it.

:: Rob 6/23/2004 12:27:00 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 ::
The Metalworkers’ Epitaph

This is for Gaynel Jackal’s first husband,
the one she loved, who dropped like an anchor
from a peak of the Mississippi River Bridge,
electrical shock’s marionette jangling
the long way down until he hit the water,
the commerce below him never pausing, not
the dredger spewing a fan of silt,
or the tugboats, or the patchwork of barges.
And for Mr. Jackson, very black black
man with a fluid, pink, post-explosion face.
Once he drove a Cadillac with spoke wheels
to the snowball stand and offered to pay
for everybody in line. From behind
he was a black man in a baseball cap,
but if he moved—his hands or his face—all
was pink, pink as a newborn mouse, except
his absent eyelids, and his lips—remade—
forced open in a constant, gold-tooth snarl.
Mr. Jackson built a red brick circle house
on a double lot in Timberlane Estates,
the sole black man allowed behind
those gates, iron wrought with curlicues
and fleur-de-lis. And most of all Chester,
author of the meanest gates, blasphemer
of the nuns behind their convent fences
until he busted both knees in a crash. Forget
the convent and the crippled legs. The picture
to keep is the one of Chester kneeling
in a rain of sparks before his father’s safe,
the man dead a week before anyone noticed.
No key, no combination, no other way
to get at the stash of worthless things inside,
like that pistol engraved Mr. Berretta.
Now Chester sleeps in a chair with that gun,
a bulge beneath the quilt warming his legs
that twist like serpent pipes, comprehending
the figure—friend or foe—at his front door.
Chester, commando of the switchblade,
who fastened bridges with the suicide kings
and shipped offshore from Avondale to lower
himself into holes as tight as overcoats.
The novices handed him tools. They learned
by mimicry—the focused burn, the blue
heart of fire, the mirage within it
cascading, more water than the steel it marries.

:: Alison Pelegrin 6/22/2004 10:01:00 AM [+] ::

-- May 17, 2004

His chute still furled but trailing as he drops,
He is an exclamation point plunging
Down the sky’s blue page, his smoke-wreathed jet
A pencil smudge arcing off the margin
To crash across the Wabash. Letters unsent,
A woman leans against her mailbox, numb
With disbelief, and watches his silhouette
Be swallowed up by fields of early corn.

And even though he falls no further off
Than fifty yards or so, she hears no sounds
Except her own hot pulse within her ears
And the ceaseless wash of summer breeze—
That machinery of May that breathes and hums
As if to say that nothing new could happen.


This is a great idea for a poem. As usual, I am jealous. I only have a few nits and questions, so 'll start with those. Here's a dumb one, but I have to ask--is "Bland Strawberries" the name of a town? In the title it seems like it is. If not, I would but the name of the town in the title of the poem, because I think it has something to do with the emotion the poem conveys, esp. in sestet. Even thouh I know you have it there for metrics, I'd cut the "and" in line nine. Ditto for "own" in line eleven. It feels like padding to me. I ove the close--how the poem becomes more about the woman than the man falling out of the sky. (Landscape with Fall of Icarus?!)

In the first two lines, the image speaks to me perfectly, but the grammar of the lines has me wanting to misread them, or at least makes it difficult. I don't know how to tell you to fix it, but do you see what I mean? And you will hate me for this too, but I feel like the woman should be first in the poem, not the man, although I know this rearranges everyting in a bad way. But do you see why I am saying that? "Be" in line eight doesn't belong.

"The Machinery of May" is one of the best lines I've seen ever. I just love it, and as for metaphor, it fits the poem perfectly. I also love the understatment of the last line. "The sky's blue page" is also amazing.

This is such a good poem--you handle it perfectly--I would have been tempted to go overboard with the crash and the fall and everything else. I never would have thought to make this a sonnet.

:: Alison Pelegrin 6/22/2004 09:48:00 AM [+] ::
Choose Your Own Adventure

You know the book—the one you read in secret,
last on the rack at the paperback exchange.
The rattlesnake uncoiling as you thumb
the sour pages insists you’ve taken the wrong path,
misread the horoscope, hijacked the wrong scenario—
all this time you thought the stars were saying “teach”
what they really meant was “learn the bagpipe”
or “stab trash with fellow convicts on the highway.”
Would you skip ahead or wet your jumpsuit
with the work of it, becoming more and more
a god of thieves as the temperature rises?
Come lunch, you could snooze in the shade
or break for the treeline and the refuge
you know must be written somewhere behind it—
a woodcutter’s cottage where you read old newspapers
and pump goat milk straight into your mouth.
If the bloodhounds break your wretched sleep,
no matter—open the book to another page, to a place
in the tube socks of the one you “let get by,”
his wife gone old with the gripes of the twins
mirroring their father’s roustabout ways,
or be a coal miner and spend a few seconds trapped
underground, the water rising like a tide of ink.
Read the book enough and you’re right back here,
in the very spot you started, like a hunter unable
to recognize as his own the footprints he tracks
through the confusion of a circular forest.
Keep up with these one night stands of life
and you’ll have a birthday for every creature
of the zodiac. You’ll be the world’s best dilettante—
part journeyman, and part Quixote. What if
your life began again today, in medias res,
and we, your audience, must read the full book
to find why you pause here, at this desolate crossroads,
facing west to a barn full of shadows.

:: Alison Pelegrin 6/22/2004 09:45:00 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, June 21, 2004 ::

-- May 17, 2004

His chute still furled but trailing as he drops,
He is an exclamation point plunging
Down the sky’s blue page, his smoke-wreathed jet
A pencil smudge arcing off the margin
To crash across the Wabash. Letters unsent,
A woman leans against her mailbox, numb
With disbelief, and watches his silhouette
Be swallowed up by fields of early corn.

And even though he falls no further off
Than fifty yards or so, she hears no sounds
Except her own hot pulse within her ears
And the ceaseless wash of summer breeze—
That machinery of May that breathes and hums
As if to say that nothing new could happen.

:: Rob 6/21/2004 04:15:00 PM [+] ::

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