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Inside the house, mango curry tempts
wrenched stomachs. The boy
cuts cactus paddles for salad,
stripping sharp thorns.
Outside, Father scythes the field.
With a curved blade and clenched back,
he lowers the horizon. Later
he’ll sip from his Silver stein.
“Don’t cut a finger, boy.
You’ll bleed pomegranate juice:
tender and holy.”
Mother stirs at the stove.
The boy’s eyes narrow
at her caution: wisdom
he doesn’t yet trust.
They sit, all in the same chairs
as the night before.
Cooling spicy bites
with cucumber and yogurt,
they stuff bellies like olives,
holding fork and knife.
Later they’ll gather the webs
like berries, pick the silk clean.
They’ll place the webs
in Mother’s biggest jar
next to the stone and the Shel.
She keeps them near and ready.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: There’s plenty to like about this poem, especially some of the amazing details: “the boy cuts cactus paddles for salad,” “The boy’s eyes narrow at her caution: wisdom he doesn’t yet trust.” There are a few moments that fall flat for me: “Don’t cut a finger, boy. You’ll bleed pomegranate juice: tender and holy.” Though I like the weirdness, I’m not sure about ‘tender and holy” it doesn’t sound like real dialog, and I’m a bit of a stickler for that. “they stuff bellies like olives” is so weird for me as a visual. As for the imbedded poet’s name, it’s clever and cleverly done, but that “Shel” calls attention to itself in a way that feels forced to me. The last line is quite perfect though.
Dustin: I was intrigued the poem until I finished the last line of the first stanza: "he’ll sip from his Silver stein." If I want to be a man of technicalities, which I often am, I would say your poem didn't complete the assignment because you split up Silverstein to make "Silver stein."
Dana: Striking imagery throughout, especially the lines “With a curved blade and clenched back, / he lowers the horizon.” Slipping the poet’s name in so creatively deserves applause.
Andrew Demcak: A surreal poem. Too much going on here. Rather confusing.
OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO
My first memories are departure,
older sisters chanting the singsong stanzas
of Seuss, Lake Huron whitecaps cresting
behind the mop tops of cartoon apocalypse.
He should not be here when your mother is out
The summer my father hopped the yard
to kidnap me, a fishbowl of fear
made me scream him back to Alaska,
my cover of Cat in the Hat chewed to paste.
A person’s a person no matter how small
My father’s name made me unique in my home,
and alone in my town. What did Theodor
Geisel feel when his dad expected him to heal
men and he became a doctor at last for him?
I would not could not in a box
My mother built a bulwark to keep me at home
until I was twelve – no Halloweens or sleepovers,
reading myself asleep, nightlight beaming a perilous
passage, her drinking a sea I would soon sail.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go
I cannot forget racing on acid and the army’s night
rage, the women I cast in the wake of my tracks,
creatures of childhood welling up in my prose,
camouflaged among travelers, bottles and threads.
From here to there, funny things are everywhere
My mother and father spew out epic tales of lust
and mistrust, stories of gold digging and bricking,
fists and churning legs, truth and lies tongue thick,
blood thin, jagged verse to the conflict within.
There is no one alive who is youer than you
I read Seuss to my children and attempt to forget
the long stretches of loneliness and reunions lost,
forces colliding with no one to give way, east, west,
axe, pen, poetry, parenthood, a destination opening.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: I admire here the way lines from the Seuss poem are woven into the fabric of the new poem so that they seem organic and powerfully intertwined. The poem is for the most part moving and deftly handled, I think. I’m a little unsure about the end. There’s a summary quality to it that doesn’t work as well for me. Especially after the power and force of the earlier stanzas and their details.
Dustin: Martin, I like this poem! This poem is much stronger than the poem you wrote for Week 1: Workshop 1101. Weaving lines from another person's work can be a difficult task; however, it seems like it was quite easy for you. Bravo! I have to agree with Beth about the poem's ending. I feel like ending with "blood thin, jagged verse to the conflict within" would make for a better ending than you have now.
Dana: The interplay between the Seuss lines and the accompanying stanzas, and the tension between the two, is lovely.
Andrew Demcak: Clever- I like the Seuss lines juxtaposed with the stanzas. The irony of the title and the reality of the poet’s childhood. I also get a sort of Seussian rhythm from the lines without having to have the poem be soaked with Seuss-type rhymes.
Mending Frost's Wall at Thirteen
dear Frost, is missing
a stoic daughter,
and I would go well with your rubble.
I'd let your cheekbones be--
I wouldn't touch,
or blurt out the obvious
in our moment of communion with the wall.
You'd find me
with every rock we settled.
from nuzzling your flannel,
though you are all pipe smoke and I
am Wind Song.
After our genteel masonry,
you'd brew the Oolong in silence.
quite still, like you'd appreciate,
and consider the dignity in names:
would never suit you), and how
like a worthy frost, you civilize
your unruly swath of earth.
Thirteen is a century from ten.
I know now of this walling out, and in.
I'll carry in me the tonnage of your stone.
Something there is that doesn't love alone.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: I like the way the poet and poem are brought to life here, and I love the humility of the voice, “I would go well with the rubble” …there’s a deference that seems fitting and well-handled. I’m not sure a daughter would “nuzzle”. well maybe she would, but she wouldn’t be so self-conscious about not doing so. (Maybe since she’s a presumed daughter, she’s a bit less comfortable? ) In any case, the conceit is inventive though maybe a very very tiny bit strained in placed. I think the end line is about as good as it gets. A nod and a furthering at the same time.
Dustin: I like this poem; however, I don't like it as much as your poem from Week 1: Workshop 1101. You have great moments in this poem. My favorite moment is "(Bob / would never suit you)." I like "I know now of this walling out, and in" because it refers to one of my favorite lines in "Mending Wall." I don't agree with all of your line breaks, but I can live with what I see.
Dana: I love how the narrator writes herself into Frost’s poem. The end rhyme in the final stanza is great and mirrors the construction of the wall, the rhymes fitting together like well-laid stones.
Andrew Demcak: I like the digestion of “The Mending Wall” done by the poem. “Genteel masonry” is funny, too- but I think Frost’s wall is a little more passive-aggressive. I don’t like the blending/reworking of Frost’s line into the poem’s ending. Also the rhyme calls way too much attention to itself at the end of an otherwise unmusical poem. I have no idea what “Thirteen is a century from ten” could mean. Is the speaker 10, not 13 as the title says? Also so strangely sexual, teasing, between a child and a grown up.
for my neighbor, who last Saturday called me an angel
Hail Miss Mary
Lou, smoke stained spinster saint, who popped up
on my lawn as if from nowhere, half-puffed Merit
Light slung, quivering, from one liver-spotted hand.
I can tell you, she said, I know you’ll understand.
Last Saturday, I, too, rose up quick from drunk
sleep’s hasty nothing, light still empty
from the sky, my hair a matted, stuck-up rooster
Peter surely would deny. I was acid-gutted, choked.
Braless, I wandered to the porch with dawn’s first
run, and there she was— pick-comb curled, corona
panic in the low-hung sun. Sometimes
I wake alone & in the night, my throat just closes
up… Some nights I try to cry out in the dark,
and nothing sounds— my heretic tongue’s gone
missing, gagged or bound. Miss Mary Lou stabs the air
with smoke, she’s Saint Luke’s Black Madonna—
terse evangelist of my soul’s murk. I never loved
God, I loved His verse. My child prayers skittered
on vacant air, petite entreaties to a man
who wasn’t there. His telephone was always off the hook.
Miss Mary Lou stubs out her cig, borrows
a book. She calls me an angel, but I know fuck all
of grace. I only know her hand’s tight grip
on mine, her tanned and wrinkled face; I only know
this speech, these prayers, this cursed art. At death’s
cool hour, have mercy on my doubting heart.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:I love this poem, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to read “God” as the poet? In other words, the Bible is the text. I think it’s a bit of a dodge, but I’m willing to forgive for such meaty material and great use of sound quality. I think this is probably my favorite for the week. The characters are so well-drawn as is the situation, and the internal rhyme is deftly handled.
Dustin: You've written two good poems for the first two assignments. There are many details that I enjoy: "...quivering, from one liver-spotted hand" and "Miss Mary Lou stabs the air / with smoke." BUT, is God the poet? This poem may be good, but it missed the boat on the assignment. The assignment called for a first and last name to be used in the poem. Using a first and last name is what makes the assignment. I feel like you cheated. I guess I should be happy that you didn't pick Jewel.
Dana: It’s tough to pull of a poem that deals with religion, but this poem comes at the topic from a strong angle by focusing on Miss Mary Lou. I felt the ending was weaker than the rest of the poem.
Andrew Demcak: is the first poet? This one entirely missed the point of the exercise. The rhyme is interestingly embedded, but other than that, this poem wants to be prose. Look how the lines are stretching out, reaching to become sentences.
Reading Sharon Olds
Permission. That’s what she gave me. To say cock,
to let it swell in my mouth. To praise blood,
to reorder the world: mandible, manacle, not god. To say
In this light, I could be any woman you want. It was
a promissory note I owed myself, signed at birth.
I must have known the body is altar and offering.
Later, speech too. At eighteen I craved poems
with teeth—a guiled smile, a snap. In the hot coals
of confession Sharon Olds’ voice rose, a near shriek,
and I, tender, tinder, fixed to burn.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: I lovely tribute here, and a clear testament to Olds and her work. The end is quite lovely too. Passionate, intense, strong. The poem’s more obvious than some of our other entries, but I like it for its honesty.
Dustin: This poem is delicious! Great job, Emari. "To say cock, / to let it swell in my mouth," is a way to grab someone's attention, and I love that it happens at the beginning of the poem. Also, I enjoyed the ending, "and I, tender, tinder, fixed to burn," but it isn't as striking (for me) as the beginning of the poem. Again, great job; this is a short poem with a lot of punch!
Dana: This poem is tight and has a marvelous finish. I keep coming back to the core of this poem – at least the core for me – which is the permission to reorder the world. In just a few words, this author gets at what’s so important about poetry.
Andrew Demcak: This is excellent. Great use of the images of Olds’ poems in tandem with the poet’s own experience. A truly great, well-crafted poem.
How to Read Ogden Nash
Wait for a day that’s hot
as the dirt underneath an elephant.
Taste the sun coming through
Venetian blinds. Watch the adults slink outside
to open beers and laugh in the shade.
Sneak into your uncle’s bathroom.
Catch your face in the mirror. Notice
how pink your cheeks are. Open the toilet’s lid.
Watch how the blue water ripples
as if embracing the bowl. Listen for the back door to open.
Pick up a book hidden behind the tank. Read
the first line you can find: Why did the Lord give us agility
if not to evade responsibility? Drop the book.
Back away. Catch your face in the mirror. Notice
how red your cheeks are. Close the door behind you.
Remember the sound of your heels on linoleum
like distant cannons.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: This is another of my top picks. I think the poem creates drama in a way that works well. The control of tone and voice are superb, and the details of the scene make the situation come to life in a powerful and immediate way: “Taste the sun coming/through Venetian blinds. Watch the adults slink outside...”
Dustin: Analyze more before you simile is advice I gave last week. I'm giving the same advice this week. I'm just not whole-heartedly buying "a day that’s hot / as the dirt underneath an elephant." The detail in this poem is nicely done. Using the poet's name in the title made the assignment easier for you.
Dana: If this poem walked up to me right now, I would kiss it. I am a sucker for a short poem that packs so much in and leave me wanting more. I would cut off a nonessential digit in exchange for last two lines in this piece.
Andrew Demcak: Dirt under an elephant is cool, as it is in the shade of that elephant, not hot. Why do heels sound like cannons? What happened here? The poem is so full of images and yet so empty. What is the real story trying to be told?
Where We Begin
The Walkman was red; a translucent gray window
for spying the spinning spool of tape rolling steadily
along – running back to remember to headphones black,
where two metallic marshmallows rest. At first,
I learned French: J’mappelle… J’mappelle… J’mappelle… I
have known Jaques, Michel, and Suzette. Then, imagined
riding my bicycle through Parisian streets, alone and wandering
in search of a hamburger or my grandmother’s pot pie.
I came back, fell idle and asleep, suffocated
teddy bears, brought hardbacks to bed
instead: a weighty chalk-colored one, the biggest
on the shelf, invited Shel Silverstein to the sheets,
learned the line and the rhyme
shut eyes to the book and it’s spine.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth:there are some great sounds here “spying the spinning spool of tape” “two metallic marshmallows rest” etc. I get a little lost in the poem though “I came back”…I’m not sure where the speaker is coming from—her imaginative riff? The ending is a nod to Silverstein I know, but it doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of work, and there’s a typo.
Dustin: This poem didn't move me to say it's a good poem. It didn't move me to say it's a bad poem. Wait. I'm telling a little white lie. It did move me; I almost fell out of my seat when I read "it's" instead of "its" in your last line.
Dana:Another Shel Silverstein poem, and a very different, and engaging, approach to the piece. I felt line two is a little heavy on consonance, I was confused by line three, and the ending felt somewhat forced with the inclusion of “and its spine,” but I do like the end rhyme in the last two lines.
Andrew Demcak:The beginning has a difficult time with its word choice. “running back to remember to headphones black” – is awkward, unnatural language. Also the implied sexuality of a child “inviting” a grown man “into the sheets.” I’m not sure Silverstein merits this sort of an image; he wasn’t Roman Polanski.
It was like eleven liters
of icy water, falling
in love. I’m talking cold, and I know all
about buckets: at eight,
in grandmother’s basement sauna
washing my hair in the cold water basin, ginger dip
and rinse to avoid the freeze.
Then someone, brisk as a parent
says like this! and over-
turns the entire red tub on my head.
It’s like that, flooding the steam-softened
plateau of the back with bitter
rivulets, a furious blight
from the hairline on down
through the organs, fast and loud.
No wonder people in love are friendless,
become Sylvia Plaths to each other’s
Teds, want to open fire
on everything – water that cold
is hard, even an afternoon swim
is hard to handle, tepid pool water
on the cringing belly skin.
Now imagine warming all your life
on the bottom step of this sauna,
steam overhead, concrete beneath your pleased feet.
Everything’s nice, then that fucking water bucket,
hysteric of gooseflesh all over as you scramble
to remember which way. Forget
that thing they say about the heart. Love is a body’s worth
of shocked skin, and always starting from the scalp.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: This is another of my top three of the week. I admire the overall wisdom expressed in the poem, and I think some of the precisely described physical details in this poem are arresting: “Then someone, brisk as a parent says like this! and over-turns the entire red tub on my head.”
Dustin: I think this poem is too busy, but I like the use of water in the poem.
Dana: I feel this piece is having trouble hanging together and being as tight as it could be. For instance, stanzas three and seven seem to be getting at the same thing. At the end of the poem, I don’t feel convinced that love it like having a bucket of water overturned on my head.
Andrew Demcak: The poem finds its emotional center in the last 3 stanzas. I don’t really see how Plath or Hughes fit in here at all based on the poem’s images. The title makes no sense. The opening stanzas are unnecessarily wordy too.
Years With Rabindranath Tagore
Little Boy Courage. The Old Banyan tree.
You came to me Rabindranath (tough name for a kid)
As playmate Rabi
On a horseback through our childish woods of romance
Mixing the monsoon rains with tunes
Of leaf floats making off to the Seven Seas
Between homework of grammar and spelling.
Here, Rabi, hold my hand
Write that stanza I’d read even years later
For every year the drummers are out
(Still underpaid, they now sell fake branded accessories)
Teasing autumn clouds.
Tall palm with winged-desire. Camelia my Girl.
So who said he wore a solemn beard? Not on my book cover!
Duping the elders we must remain green –
Exactly the way he called out:
My little greens, my little young shoots
And those lines are still the first to ring
The way it once did
Candle-blowing sleepiness on a power-outed summer night.
Reading Tagore in bed, living inside the crumpled book leaves
I frolicked with my playmate Rabi
Soared above static and din
(Father loved Tchaikovsky on old Radio Moscow)
Also cried when the Pilgrims drowned at sea.
Here, Rabi, take this line
Let my first eyes remember that time
A drop of water. The leaf shivers.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: There’s a sweetness to this poem that is touching, but I worry that it veers a bit into the sentimental, and that the language suffers as a result at times. “through our childish woods of romance” “I frolicked with my playmate Rabi”. I know we’re in the child’s mind, but “frolicked” is a hard word to get away with in a poem. The intensity of the influence is strong though, and it’s a fine tribute.
Dustin: This is a much better poem than the one you wrote last week. The poem gently pulls the reader into it and continues to gently pull until the reader arrives at the end. I really enjoyed your first parenthetical note. Nabina, I like this poem.
Dana: Beautiful sounds in this poem and I love the shifts as the poem unfolds, especially the question and answer in the fifth stanza. The parenthetical remarks pulled me out of the poem.
Andrew Demcak: This is truly lovely in parts, but also vague and awkward. The word choice sometimes slows down the rhythm and makes the poem confusing, e.g. “Still underpaid, they now sell fake branded accessories” (awkward) splits the line “For every year the drummers are out/ Teasing autumn clouds.” Awkward split of a lovely line.
My First Poet
The owlish man is fond of nonsense
and his cat. Beard curly, unruly
with limericks and bits of runcible quince,
he writes about birds that nest there, messily
confirming his rag-tag fears. Then seeing
how those birds taunted his cat— “O lovely”—
he gave one owl a guitar, a pea-green
boat and a feline fetish to sail charmingly
into children’s literature. Dear Edward Lear,
I sounded out the two of them—confessing
desire, bobbing on waves with their weird
stash of honey and cash, music and repressed
instinct. Wings plucking catgut, to me,
at age six, as sensible as the Bong-tree.
THE JUDGES SPEAK
Beth: “bits of runcible quince” “rag-tag fears”. I know this is Lear’s language and I love reading it and seeing it used in this way. The poem’s clever in the best sense of that word. Clever and linguistically rich and rife with great sounds for the most part. The only line that stands out as a little off is “feline fetish to sail charmingly/into children’s literature” it’s less compelling and a bit prosaic. The end seems exactly right though.
Dustin: This poem doesn't strike me as much as your one from last week. I am not a fan of "feline fetish to sail charmingly / into children’s literature," but that is my only real major complaint with the poem. I think my only other issue is that I would have liked more from you.
Dana:This poem is as playful as Edward Lear. There’s a slight breakdown on the sonic level in lines eight and nine, but overall piece is extremely musical and tight.
Andrew Demcak: Lear’s limericks are not unruly, nor was he himself for writing them. I really don’t get any sense of the poet (not Lear) in this. What is the poet saying about Lear? The tone of this poem is so strange and forced. The language is better when it apes Lear; when it moves to “music and repressed instinct” it is less so. Also again, this weird sexual implication of “my first poet” with a poet who wrote for children (word choice: “feline fetish,” etc. Strange sexuality.)