Friday, July 17, 2009

Week 5: The Between (The Poems!)

Here are the poems from Project Verse ~ Week 5: The Between.

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MICAH LING

Runcible Spoon

A piece of toast cracks like slate
when it’s the only sound in the room
and the only room in the world. The toast
is lonely, Jim sighs as he pockets the burnt bread.

When it’s the only sound in the room
Jim’s voice is thin as his ribs
and lonely: he sighs as he pockets the toast
wasting nothing, soaking each crumb.

Jim’s voice is thin as his ribs
when he sits at his table, in his corner
wasting nothing, soaking each crumb
with butter or cream or cold coffee.

When he sits at his table, in his corner
Jim listens to the sounds of the room
rich with butter and cream and coffee
between his teeth.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This is not Micah’s strongest work, I don’t think. There’s something a bit like Bishop about the poem, a matter-of-fact and distanced tone which appeals to me on some level, and in fact there’s a bit of Bishop’s sestina “Miracle for Breakfast” here with the toast and coffee references. But the poem feels “thin.” Jim is a gesture of a character not actualized in the poem, and the situation feels not fully realized. Why is this “the only room in the world”? Finally, I wonder what we are meant to feel by this one.

Dustin: I think you have a great beginning with "A piece of toast cracks like slate / when it’s the only sound in the room." I'm also quite fond of "Jim’s voice is thin as his ribs." I think you complete the assignment by splitting the sentence "A piece of toast cracks like slate between his teeth," but what you have between the split isn't very compelling to me.


Dana: I love pantoums and I’ve written a lot of them, so I was smitten with this piece right away. I didn’t mind the variation with the third-to-last and last lines not repeating lines three and one, but it did make the poem feel a little incomplete, and I wonder if there could be another stanza to tie the piece up. While the poem does exploit the variations that can occur when each line is repeated — one of my favorite aspects of the pantoum form — I don’t feel that overall the variance was leveraged as much as it could have been. Also, there was some confusion in the poem, which can happen in the pantoum as lines are brought back. One instance of this was the bread being pocketed but also being soaked. On re-reading, I understand that the bread is being pocketed and the crumbs from the bread are being soaked, but it’s a little confusing at first.

Guest Judge Dara Wier: Who doesn't like a runcible spoon? And there being but one room in the world, well, that's good to think with, too. I really like the recycling ways with the lines, I love how it makes both sonic and sense insistently inevitable. I like this poem a lot. It is also fun to translate "Jim" into "I" just to see what happens then.



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KRISTEN MCHENRY

Sanctuary

Thus the private asylum is far
thus he cannot
get there but by boat.

Thus he will pay the ferryman
in moon-fat coins.
Thus he will thunder

over cowlicked waves
in a rot-bottomed barge
to grasp the scrawny shore.

How he has festered in his prophecies,
and oh what the Stakes are
in this Seeing!

It’s all in the Semantics--
the wording and the Interpretation:
somewhere lurks a shelter

in which he may learn
dreamspeak. Thus he will shamble
through the hoary copse,

trample the backs of mud-deep moles
with his scabrous feet for passage.
He will breathe the sick-mist,

let their neuro-germs seep in
through his most judicious eye.
But he has exhausted

his amulets too soon; been made to beg
provisions from the enemy.
It is said: a silver-tongued

saint deceives us all. It is
said: there are no angels on this plane.
Always there's another gummy step

on his odyssey to the silent pool,
but nothing will hold
still in all this bruise and teal.

The sky presses its mattress full
of squids upon his mouth
to suffocate his warnings. The chatter

of the assassin bugs is ceaseless. Peace
is always never-jam-today; always
beyond his reach at the present.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I have been a fan or Kristen’s inventive, sonic, surprising language throughout the competition, and this poem’s language is no exception: “ he will pay the ferryman/in moon-fat coins./…will thunder/over cowlicked waves/in a rot-bottomed barge/ to grasp the scrawny shore.” “The sky presses its mattress full/of squids.” The mythological story also works beautifully here to ground the poem and give it resonance and breadth. I’m not as wild about the way the poem ends the “never-jam-today” is a bit awkward and there’s a kind of falling away, but this is a strong poem given the parameters of the assignment.

Dustin: Kristen, I have to give you kudos for selecting "Thus the private asylum is far beyond his reach at the present"-- I think it was the hardest option to work with. My favorite lines: "It is said: a silver-tongued / saint deceives us all." Yes, you have beautiful language. Yes, you have lovely images. Yes, you always do a good job with the assignment. However, I can't help but feel there is a little something missing, for me at least. Maybe you are leaving something out. Are you writing furiously, then stop thinking it might be too much? Either way, I still enjoyed this poem quite a lot.

Dana: Are you kidding me? This poem is amazing. For me, this is one of the best pieces overall in the competition so far. The way the rich, lush language works against the short lines is thrilling. The poem is so tight but so language-dense. I loved reading from line to line to see what goodies the next line would bring, and I was not once disappointed. I especially love the line, “trample the backs of mud-deep moles.” And when I got to, “The sky presses its mattress full / of squids upon his mouth,” I couldn’t even get past the lines because I wanted to read them over and over. I finally managed to read the rest of the poem, though.

Guest Judge Dara Wier: The anachronistic therefore idiomatic "thus" completely seduces me. Immediately feel in the presence of an oracle or at least a fiesty judge, turns out there's but one part of this poem that maybe could be changed.

Even though this is probably true:

It’s all in the Semantics--
the wording and the Interpretation:
somewhere lurks a shelter

in which he may learn
dreamspeak.


it's not needed in this poem. If you left this part out the poem's not about to appear as any kind of lesson, it's more mysterious and I like that a lot. "The chatter / of the assassin bugs is ceaseless," is just great.
Added to "thus" come other rhetorical insistences most enjoyable (funny how so called transitions can make or break a poem, these make it). This is also great to read translated into first person.



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EMILY VAN DUYNE

Because As A Youth, My Love Was Sure His Wife Would Want His Name

He already has
her plucked! This is years
before we saunter down the aisle—

I’m sleuthing time’s back
alleys, a wedded Nancy Drew. Suddenly,
I unearth Mrs. Peck! His conjured lady

wife; she’s lounged, facedown upon
a paisley chaise. Perfection: she lifts
her sleepy chin: sphinxy girl—

a bas relief Colette. ‘Sorry,’
she says, ‘have we met?’
Oh, my dear, we have. In dreams,

and in the sun. I’ve decked you out
in paper aprons; you cooled the piping
steam from my mud pies. You peeked

out from my Mother’s sad brown eyes.
I ask, ‘What’s it like to be
a flat, two-sided bride?’ ‘Every woman

is imagined!’ she huffs out— a thunder-
cloud of pride. ‘I’ve seen you
in the shower, how you wish

your body gone— your wet lark’s
an execution song! You grasp and wring
your glutted flesh, you’d hack it off, if

only—!’ Now she pancakes down to size—
smoothes her chignon, rolls her cobalt
eyes; they turn familiar, brown! ‘Sometimes,

I think he still wants you around,’
I whisper, look the other way. ‘It’s not
too late,’ she jeers, ‘Let’s call you

Mrs. Peck.’ She bids her hollow
hand— it glints! Hot diamond in a flame.
She smiles a white mirage.

She Mona Lisa’s me.
I tell her I already have
a name, she sighs reproachfully.


THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This is a fun and inventive poem exploring sexual dynamics. I like the light deftness of the way the poem moves “I’ve decked you out /
in paper aprons; you cooled the piping / steam from my mud pies." and ‘What’s it like to be / a flat, two-sided bride?’ Another fine job with a tough assignment.


Dustin: Again, you create a long title for your poem. Again, the long title works. I think this title would cause people to go from the table of contents directly to your poem. You also selected a sentence that no one else used: "He already has a name, she sighs reproachfully." I am in love with "I’m sleuthing time’s back / alleys, a wedded Nancy Drew," and I really enjoyed "Now she pancakes down to size." On the other hand, I am not really feeling "She Mona Lisa’s me." In the end, I think you handled the assignment well. Emily, give us an interesting story between.

Dana: Emily, I love the creativity in this piece and so much of what is going on throughout. A couple of things hung me up, though. I had trouble settling into the poem and understanding what exactly was going on at first. The “he” and “her” in lines one and two made the “we” in line three confusing, and even the explanation in the second stanza, along with the title, wasn’t clear enough to orient me immediately. Don’t get me wrong — I am not arguing that poetry has to be “accessible” in that way that everyone talks about poetry being accessible. I just wanted a smoother on-ramp into the piece, if that makes sense. The other thing I noticed was a lot of long “i” sounds in the fifth through seventh stanzas, with “piping, “pies,” “eyes,” “like,” “bride” and “pride.” You have rhyme and assonance in the rest of the piece, but not the same sounds over and over, and that made this section of the poem sound and feel different from the rest of the piece.

Guest Judge Dara Wier:
...I’ve decked you out
in paper aprons; you cooled the piping
steam from my mud pies. You peeked

out from my Mother’s sad brown eyes.
I ask, ‘What’s it like to be
a flat, two-sided bride


is my favorite part of this poem, and I'm also intrigued by the dramatic monologue quality that's immediately territorially in action here. I listen. I listen in to a conversation that's reported. There's a sphinx, Nancy Drew, Mona Lisa, Mrs. Peck, Mother, Colette, a populated poem! I appreciate how these 3 line stanzas create vertical action in the poem's narration/dialog. And I admire the work the poem's title does.




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EMARI DIGIORGIO

Continually Calling On Persephone


A piece of toast
blackened beyond a clean shave
with the best serrated knife.
Nothing a little butter, a little marmalade
can’t sweeten. Over breakfast
I ask what love isn’t half stale anyway?
Akhmatova answered this: the first helpless and frightening glance.
I remember them all. Boys, really.
The evening of their eyes starless, lit only by my face.
Their longing dangerous. Mine, too.
You, sir, are mistaken: a siren cannot not sing.
And pleasure slackens desire.
We walk along the hard crest of the snowdrift.
The shiver is not from the cold.
Whatever was promised me
cracks like slate between his teeth.

*Poem contains lines from two Anna Akhmatova poems translated by Jane Kenyon.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
Though I like many of the lines in this poem “I ask what love isn’t half stale anyway?” “I remember them all. Boys, really. / The evening of their eyes starless, lit only by my face,” the contemporary situation of the poem feels a but insular to me. I think the poem needs to be teased out more. The lines: “You, sir, are mistaken: a siren cannot not sing. / And pleasure slackens desire.” don’t let me in enough. I do like the ending lines, and the situation of the poem is intriguing.

Dustin: The title of this poem really piqued my interest; however, I don't feel the poem lives up to its title. I don't feel like there is enough between "A piece of toast" and "cracks like slate between his teeth." I also feel with more time that you could turn this into a much better poem.

Dana: It’s interesting to see three different takes on the “piece of toast” line. All three poems are so different, and I like your approach very much, especially the quiet intimacy of it, the narrator’s meditation and revelations. Lines such as “The evening of their eyes starless” and “And pleasure slackens desire” are standout moments in the poem. I stumbled over the double negative of “a siren cannot not sing,” but that’s a small detail. The turn created with the line you chose is remarkable, the way you move from “A piece of toast” to “Whatever was promised me / cracks like slate between his teeth.” Look at all the territory this poem covers in just a few lines.

Guest Judge Dara Wier: I think you can leave off the note that tells from where the lifted lines come. Either we know it or we don't, and if we do, fine, if we don't fine. The note's a great big interruption in a poem such as this (notes can be incorporated into a poem's very being, or appear elsewhere). I love
"The shiver is not from the cold."



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W.F. ROBY


Breakfast with Walt

A piece of toast cracks
into a broken line. His face is the wing of a flightless bird.
The crumbs of gathered eggs are caught in his beard.
My orange juice is half full, it casts a glaze
over his manuscript, stretched epigraph to postscript,
laid out between the knives and the pepper mill.
A bit of shell was lost in the egg batter, an island
bound to the dreams of mapmakers, a flea
on a wedding dress. Walt is still drunk
from the night before -- we sipped HD
until our lips were salty as the sea’s edge
where blooms take root.
Behind my breakfast nook
there is a window framing trees, still
as iambs in a sturdy breeze. I tell Walt
that leaves of parsley seem to me to be
the uncut hair of omelettes. The great poet frowns
around a mouthful of food -- he's found the shell. It sings
like slate between his teeth.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I like the imagined scenario here, and some of the lines/metaphors are quite nice “His face is the wing of a flightless bird.” “A bit of shell was lost in the egg batter, an island/ bound to the dreams of mapmakers, a flea/ on a wedding dress.” I have to say though that finally, I’m not all that excited by this poem. I think my main question for it is that it doesn’t move much beyond itself in the telling. It has a kind of flatness and the arc of the poem doesn’t for me have enough metaphoric reach.

Dustin: I am actually disappointed that you selected "A piece of toast cracks like slate between his teeth." I thought you would have went with another option. This poem is not lacking in images. We even have writers popping up. I do love a poem full of images, but I am not sure if this poem is about to be on image overload. I do not like "still / as iambs in a sturdy breeze." I would say something, but I've already said it two or three times in my comments to you. This is not your best work in the competition.

Dana: Another piece of toast! This poem has a kind of playfulness that I really enjoy. I especially love the second stanza, the way you start out in lines one and two with iambs, then describe the trees as iambs. That’s a wonderful interplay between content and rhythm. And the rest of the stanza is outstanding, including the parsley as omelets hair and Walt frowning around his food. The only part that tripped me up was “to me to be.” The first stanza has a lot of great imagery, but it felt less polished than the second. I felt myself wanting to pull a few words out and tighten a bit as I read it.

Guest Judge Dara Wier: "a flea on a wedding dress," is worthy of a latter day Emily Dickinson! I wonder what HD thinks about being in here, probably that HD (the very proud HD likes it a lot). I'm not crazy about "still as iambs" but maybe it's growing on me.........esp. when I see how close, for the first time! iambs is to lambs. And the poem turns toward a tonal joke in its 3rd to last line in a way that's pretty fetching. "...the uncut hair of omlettes," that's funny. And since you're obeying the assignment's orders, I find that all the more funny. I wonder if you were going to disobey, if you'd end the poem very differently.



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KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR

My Grandma’s Breast

As soon as he saw her
crying in the bath, hand cupped
over something on her chest—
an engorged tick, head buried
in skin an inch from her nipple—
her father thought of fire,
             my grandma said.

Only 13, she knelt in a tub,
screened off in the kitchen corner.
Stomping in from the porch
with all his “take charge”
Kentucky charm, her father
returned with an open flame.

His head half-turned, he held that burn
to the sucking creature at her breast,
until it let go in its inferno. Fear
and fire puckered her skin.
It hurt like Hell. Her eyes swelled
closed with tears from pain,
             for her lost modesty.

At 90, she repeats her story to me,
while my father dismisses this tall tale.
She admonishes him: his own cheek
rested on the scar in infancy;
his own lips worked in and out
beside that dime-sized injury.

She raises her voice to tell me
how hard it was to be a woman,
someone’s rag doll or nurse maid,
fighting all the time with big boys
who thought they knew better.
She shakes her head and clucks her tongue
             at her son, my father,

when he says that even back then,
folks knew basic medicine: tweezers,
rubbing alcohol, or perhaps, rum,
and if a deer tick latched on
to a daughter a good man loved,
he knew that this wouldn’t happen.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I am a sucker for the compelling narrative, and Kathi’s poem certainly ropes me in from the get-go. That opening stanza (that title even!) is hard to beat. She is a natural story-teller, and we see this in the following section, which I’ll paste in en toto:

Stomping in from the porch
with all his “take charge”
Kentucky charm, her father
returned with an open flame.

His head half-turned, he held that burn
to the sucking creature at her breast,
until it let go in its inferno. Fear
and fire puckered her skin.

I’m not sure fear can pucker the skin, but the sounds, the timing, the power of the scenario all work well. The penultimate stanza is less sonically rich and gets a little flat, and for me the last line doesn’t quite fit, but this is definitely a strong draft and a top pick for me this week.


Dustin: You were the only person who selected "As soon as he saw her, he knew that this wouldn't happen," and you did a great job. This assignment was about what's betweent he split line, and you give us one heck of a story. I thoroughly enjoyed this poem, and it is my favorite for this week. Granted, I think you can be a little tighter in places. One place for me is:
She raises her voice to tell me

how hard it was to be a woman,
someone’s rag doll or nurse maid,
fighting all the time with big boys
who thought they knew better.
She shakes her head and clucks her tongue

This is minor, but I really wanted a simile with the engorged tick-- something to make us see it more. I like your title; it will make readers do a double take. Good job, Kathi.


Dana: This is a strong piece, and I love the storytelling aspect of it, specifically the way this poem gets at the oral tradition in families and the disputes that can arise about what’s real and what’s made up and what’s been amplified over the years of telling and retelling. I also like the reference to Hell and the inferno, with the story playing out on this teensy scale. I did feel that the piece could be tightened in places, including the first stanza. I don’t know if “over something” needs to be there, and I would love to see what would happen if the poem went straight to the engorged tick, as opposed to hovering for a line on the nonspecificity of “something.”

Guest Judge Dara Wier: Well, I'm feeling shy and almost embarrassed, wondering if I should be privy to the narrated events of this poem. Even the poem says so, after all, it's about a story, a family story, that's disputed and/or differently recalled, and at the very least differently interpreted. Of course that's what we do with stories, and if a story, as it seems to be in this case, is presented as a memory, yes, we are going to not only remember it in our different ways, we're going to assign it more or less importance. ("only 13" and "at 90" wind up being two of the most significant moments of the poem's character, maybe more of this (in a rhetorical way.....a formal way) would make the two instances of this seem less perfunctory and more intrinsic....I think it's close to being shaped into something great...........so.........maybe more imagination about what I'm supposed to be thinking would help transform an anecdotal piece into metaphorical territory.



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13 comments:

Kimberlee said...

For some reason, I'm really loving the poems that used Option 4 (A piece of toast cracks like slate between his teeth.) :) Good job everyone!

W.F. said...

Wow. The judges have a tough decision ahead.

Micah's "lonely toast" is inspired.

Kristen's language is twisty and complex and wonderful, like an old scotch.

Emily's poem tells a story without being too much of a narrative.

Emari's poem is like metafictive and intriguing in a way that makes me damn jealous.

Kathi -- yet another great narrative this week. What's with everyone telling stories?

That W.F. kid on the other hand, I don't know . . .

The poets remaining really represent a variety of styles, and that surprises me.

Best of luck everyone.

Emily said...

Oh, you mean the story of when I time traveled and ran into my husband's imaginary wife from his childhood? Oh, right, that story. Now I remember.

Emily said...

Also, Micah- nice pantoum. Solid :-)

W.F. said...

I can't for the life of me figure out what kind of poems I'm supposed to write.

I use odd similes and metaphor. That's what I do. That's what I've always done. And I'm not going to start writing slam poetry or journalistic verse just because people aren't willing to wrap their heads around an oddball comparison.

This is what will, ultimately, remove me from this contest. For sure.

Emily said...

WF, you're running the risk of going Ott on us, here. No one's asking you to write 'slam poetry or journalistic verse'. The comment above implies that that's what the winners did, which I think is absurd. This competition is clearly not looking for either of those types of poetry.

W.F. said...

Emily,

If that's what I sound like, I apologize. I didn't insult the judges, only expressed concern about the comment I am CONSTANTLY hearing. I need to "reconsider" my similes. What in the world does that even mean?

Emily said...

Yeah, but-- an iamb wouldn't stand still in a breeze. Iambs are not affected by breezes. And the poem isn't technically surreal, it's tonally kind of chatty and grounded, so it's tough to carry something like that off. THAT being said, if anyone, much less someone whose work I admire as much as Dara Weir, said my line was worthy of a latter day Emily Dickinson, I'd just take that and be really stoked about it.

W.F. said...

You're right, Emily.

And I don't mean to sound like a spoiled child. I meant to express frustration about NOT KNOWING how to improve.

Perhaps after all this is over, I can pay Dustin to workshop with me.

Friends forever and ever?

Emily said...

'Til the end of time! Tra la!

Collin Kelley said...

And to throw a little more chastisement on you W.F., please wrap your head around the fact that there is no such thing as "slam poetry." That is not a form. A slam is a competition, and the poem can be any style as long as it's three minutes or less. Look it up.

W.F. said...

And to throw a little more chastisement on this guy -- who speaks out in anger to defend themselves anymore? That is so 2008.

Emily said...

PS-- no quitters allowed in Project Verse-- if you do, I'll start calling you the Sarah Palin of poetry-- you little mavericky maverick, you!