Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week 6: Epigraph (The Poems!)

Here are the poems from Project Verse ~ Week 6: Epigraph.

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MICAH LING


Kittens
             Splendor, and splendor,
             and not a one in any way
             distinguished from the other
                       -Mark Doty, from “A Display of Mackerel”

Spring brings birthdays
and Dad's trip to the pond.
The girls name cows and chickens,
the cats are all Molly.

Dad chooses
a rock from the pile behind the barn,
places it in the burlap with the tiny bodies,
eyes barely opened.

The girls watch as he marches past the field
where corn will grow, along the creek
where crickets go silent. Dad tosses the bag
of Mollys over the edge

and turns before the splash. Sometimes
the youngest cries, to herself,
because she glimpsed a tiny grey Molly,
and gave it her own last name.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
Okay. So I’m sitting here reading this poem as the gray feral kitten I rescued from under my house (born there), purrs at my feet. The poem’s pretty brilliant and awful and perfect in its brutality. The flat language accentuates so effectively the flat affect of the father and the event as he wants to convey it. The one thing I would suggest for revision is that the word “Sometimes” has a flattening effect on the experience. I’d like to think this is one specific moment, so it could be “This morning” or “This time” or some other phrase to indicate specificity. The cycle of the occurrence is already inherent in the opening line and need not be emphasized, I don’t think. A powerful poem.

Dustin: This poem reminds me of a poem written by my friend Lisa Allender; in her poem, her grandfather tosses a sack of puppies in a lake while the the mother dog circles the lake---heartbreaking, like your poem. I like the detail of "the girls name cows and chickens, / the cats are all Molly" and "...he marches past the field / where corn will grow, along the creek /where crickets go silent." You need to revisit your last stanza to make it clear. The lack of clarity weakens the punch you're delivering with "gave it her own last name." I love the irony that I find with the epigraph paired to your poem; I like the irong a lot. I think this is my favorite from all the ones you've written for the competition.

Dana: This poem is interesting in that not only are the kittens not distinguished from one another, but the girls are not distinguished, either. They are referred to as “the girls” throughout, yet the narrator refers to the man in the poem as “Dad,” so we assume the narrator is part of this family. But he or she creates a sense of distance from the girls by not calling them by their names or even by their familial relationship to the narrator. In the end, one kitten is distinguished, by being given a last name, and one girl is distinguished, by bestowing a last name on that kitten. I like that shift in the piece, and it’s an interesting take on the epigraph.

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: Well, this certainly utilizes tension between the epigraph and the poem written. If one told me this poem lived between “splendor” and “death/murder” I would be intrigued. But despite that basic premise of tension, this poem seems too narrative for what it seems to want to do. The power of the lyric poem is its ability to place readers within a situation. This poem mostly tells. At times it reads like the opening of a short story and yet it resists being a narrative poem. And I cannot get over the unfortunate moment in the final stanza where “the youngest,” due to grammar, refers to the youngest Molly. I know Ling means the youngest girl, but that isn’t really what she has written. As a result, the ending is overly maudlin.




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KRISTEN MCHENRY


Silence

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
--from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye



We are right to fear it.

It is only within it
that we die enough to heal.

A clot of soul, coaxed free,
falls mute
into the shaman’s net of light.
Grief swarms
through the soundless breach.

Silence skins us naked,
expresses its veins,
lets flow
the carnage of change.

No wonder the lunatic
seeks it in earnest.

No wonder we've laid down
highways of jabber
in every open airspace,
even knowing
our wards will only hold it off so long.

At the end,
we’ll claim we didn’t know
that the whole, nattering
world was so quiet underneath;

all this time, so still.

At the end, silence
will lumber onto the horizon
for her austere coronation, spread
her thighs over the earth
and hunker in her rightful place at last.

Healers will remember
no sound but the knowing of their hands.

The healed will hear nothing
but the divine
hymn of their brokenness.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
Many of the poems of this week are rich and powerful in their own way. This particular poem has a wisdom that is quite winning, and some of the lines are simply nuggets: “It is only within it/that we die enough to heal.” “No wonder we've laid down/highways of jabber/in every open airspace,” “The healed will hear nothing/but the divine/hymn of their brokenness.” The one problem with this poem (or one caution flag the poem raised for me) was that it’s a conceptual poem and thereby it is short on image and specificity. I love the poem for its ambitiousness, but I also worry about it for the same reason.

Dustin: Oh, Kristen. Yes, you complete the assignment, but I didn't really care for this poem. This poem is no where near the caliber of work that you've been delivering. Where you purposely trying to show us yet another side to your work? I find

"At the end, silence
will lumber onto the horizon
for her austere coronation, spread
her thighs over the earth
and hunker in her rightful place at last."

to be disturbing. I guess I can give you creative points, but this stanza doesn't work for me. I think you have a great first line to pull in a reader; however, the rest of the poem doesn't pull through for that line-- I know I've made this comment about first lines and titles, but this is the first time I've made that comment about your work.


Dana: I feel like this poem encounters a problem in trying to talk about the abstraction of silence. The piece is fumbling a bit as it tries to get its hands on making silence concrete. I was thrown by the shift from silence being referred to as “it” at the beginning of the poem, to being referred to as “she” in stanza nine. I could see a shift like that working in a poem, but I don’t think it’s working yet here. I can see the relationship between the epigraph and the poem, and I appreciate that the resulting piece is so different from the original, but I think there’s more work to be done to make the piece sing. (Of course, you’re in a really tough position, coming off last week’s poem in particular and all the strong work you’ve produced so far during the competition.)

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: Unfortunately, you could sum up this poem as “Silence is scary but is good (in a mysterious way).” Despite opening with a wonderful first line that hooks a reader almost instantly, the poem continues with a vacuous second stanza that seems intent on making the “silence” more mysterious than it really is. By the time we reach the truly terrible mixed metaphor in the opening of the third stanza, we move from doubt in this poet to a need to catalogue her errors in judgment. And who knew “silence” could straddle the earth in such a sexual way?



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EMILY VAN DUYNE


Contrition

My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are…
-Anne Sexton, ‘With Mercy for the Greedy’


Forgive my fat mouth! Topsy-
turvy glutton. It begs speech and out
it wings, a swallow from the flue… Careful,
girl, your tongue might fly out, too…
It happens
I’m a long line’s lonely sum, and rank
confessor, posting sin before I even fell
to earth (the sparkling

cider in her nuptial glass, empire
waisted gown to hide her girth…) I must
catalogue these failings— Irish music
drenched in gin! Its pipes would wallow me
into the bin… toora, loora, looral—
focus, girl, or follow in their sins…

Idolatry, now there’s a pretty word!

Grandma worshipped whiskey in the glass, two cubes
that clinked and cooled— how her head ached
when my Dad would wake for school! Her fists
curled up like smoke if Grandpa asked
her where she’d been the night before— but
in her head, she heard her father hiss
you whore… he used to beat

her face until she bled, her mother
always turned the other cheek. Her sister
Grace, the one who courted trouble?
Girl, it doubled back on her… oh, but
that’s a different tale, another
time. Bless me,
Dad, I have to speak

your crimes— your fury zipped the house
shut like the priest’s confessional slot!
Even the dogs refused their bark.
All mouth, I mapped escape routes
in the dark— lusty girl, with mercy
for her body. My hands skimmed brand new
breasts, then wandered south—

since we’ve happened onto lust, let’s
say it plain. At 23, (and four, and five…)
I numbered men like sleepless children
count fat sheep. More, I cried, and more!
Another needle in the vein— my wounded
need’s a wild, trackless
train. On, it ticks, and on

like tatted lace— these poems
are its wrangled, desperate trace—
they bleed in some back alley
with poor, reckless Grace. Oh, greedy
tongue, don’t fail me.
Heed this seedy call. My God, my
God, I’m sorry, but I have to spin it all.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
The poem’s dazzling in its way, but it also has a kind of all over the place unfolding that feels a bit unwieldy. Perhaps the presentation is meant to mimic the wildness of the speaker, but I’d have liked a bit more control.

“Dad, I have to speak

your crimes— your fury zipped the house
shut like the priest’s confessional slot!
Even the dogs refused their bark.
All mouth, I mapped escape routes
in the dark— lusty girl, with mercy
for her body.”

One can hardly fault the inventive language nor the energy, but there is a kind of haphazardness in the poem that worries me. I’m also less wild generally about the poem about writing. The epigraph leads naturally to writing about writing, but lines like “these poems / are its wrangled, desperate trace— / they bleed in some back alley / with poor, reckless Grace,” are not as compelling to me.


Dustin: Emily, if you weren't such a sassy pants, I'd say you picked the Sexton poem to kiss ass since my love of Sexton is obvious. However, a sassy pants wouldn't kiss ass. Okay. I had to tease you!!! I like this poem; it is strong work. Not as strong as "Shame," and I have to say I'd kill to have you turn out another poem that delivers a bitch slap like "Shame." You issues with the poem flowing at time--- I made the same comment on your Curveball poem. I love that you begin the poem with "Forgive my fat mouth!" I really like "At 23, (and four, and five…) / I numbered men like sleepless children / count fat sheep."

Dana: Extra points for using the name of Dustin’s blog in your epigraph. OK, you don’t really get extra points for that, but you do get extra points for creating such an strong, persona-driven piece again. We’re dropped right into an amazing opening with the command: “Forgive my fat mouth!” That entire opening stanza is killer, and the tone reminds me a great deal of your piece for Shore Tags in terms of the strength of the voice. You also mirror much of Sexton’s poem in yours, including the exclamations and rhyme, as well as the lines, “On, it ticks, and on / like tatted lace— these poems / are its wrangled, desperate trace— .” There’s no doubt the poem was influenced by the epigraph, so you’ve definitely completed the assignment. I do think you could look at stanzas three and four. They are great on their own (although perhaps “turned the other cheek” could go), but in context, they feel different from the other stanzas in terms of the diction. You pick that diction up again in stanza five, with “your fury zipped the house / shut like the priest’s confessional slot!” Compared with the other stanzas, the two I mentioned were a little flatter. But overall: bravo.

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: Wow. I mean, Wow! The command of diction here is unreal. And not only is the command of diction here incredible, but the tension between the line and the syntax of the sentences only heightens our appreciation of the diction. This poem is amazing considering how little time was given to write it. It is simply amazing. I almost don’t know what to say. My one quibble, tiny as it might be, is the ending. The speaker of this poem doesn’t seem the type to be sorry. And this speaker cannot help but “spin it”; it is what she does! I suspect a better last sentence or line might be: “My God, my God, I am not sorry at all.”



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EMARI DIGIORGIO


Short Answer

“...would you want to be yourself only, unduplicatable, doomed to be lost?”
–from Mark Doty’s “A Display of Mackerel”


I told God no.
At least I think I did.
There was a storm.
Not an end-of-the-world
joist-ripping, amphibian-flying storm,
but the rain was loud and I could hardly see
past the dash. To tell you the truth
I don’t know if it was before or after
the accident, lights on the bridge, a squad car.
I wasn’t driving that fast. There must’ve been an ambulance.
I didn’t even think You’re gonna kill yourself tonight.
Come on, you know you’ve thought that too,
and if you don’t wanna die, or even if you do
and are just a bit squeamish about it, you ease off
on the turns. You check the brakes, tap ‘em,
make sure they’re there. I was glad really:
no angel song, no harp, no golden stair.
Just guessing it was God, that voice in my head,
maybe the same one that would’ve warned
Slow down, sweetheart.

And the blue books were passed down the rows.
I’d been in my car but now I rummaged for a pen.
I was always a good student, studied, sturdy, shot straight.
Short answer. Directions. I could follow directions.
What would Kierkegaard say? Something about
a leap of faith? It wasn’t a dream but it felt like it.
A woman issued me a temporary id card
and left two quarters on my desk.
They stared up like coin-covered eyes.

I’d never been myself only.
Wore my mother’s eyes my whole life.

Imagine the self dissembled on the factory floor.
Earlobes, elbows, furrowed brows, sighs
the same length, weight, frequency sorted
stacked in the corresponding row.
What sharp instruments to strip
the sense of loss we might share.

Tough work cutting a body from a car,
especially when the car has melded with a bridge.
Traffic stops. The water, the barge beneath the bridge
proceed. Proceed, the officer waves. You go.
Slow, looking, think rubber-necking,
are embarrassed for only an instant. You will forget
the color of the car, what you are wearing,
how many bodies attend the one body trapped
wrapped around the steering column.
The leap of faith less difficult now.
You’ll never really leave that bridge.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I’ve been a fan of Emari’s work, and I like the subject here, the speaker’s encounter with death, but this poem’s end is less satisfying to me, and generally I’m not as compelled by the story as I feel I ought to be. There are great moments in it, (for example the stanza about the disassembled self), but finally, I’m less gripped by this one than by some of the other poems of the week and by some of Emari’s other work.

Dustin: The beginning of this poem made me feel like I was reading a short-short instead of a poem. I didn't start enjoying this poem until the last two poems. Your last two stanzas are damn good stuff. What a striking line: "Imagine the self dissembled on the factory floor." I only wish the rest of the poem was as striking.

Dana: This piece has so much going on in it and so much potential, yet it feels unfocused. I was confused by the setting shift in the second stanza, and I think you know that’s confusing because you give an explanatory note in line two of that stanza: “I’d been in my car but now I rummaged for a pen.” From the second stanza on, I felt the stanzas were pulling the reader this way and that, and not in a good way. The next-to-last stanza is very strong on its own, for instance, but going from that stanza to the last is jarring. I feel like this poem loses its way in the middle, and that the poem really is happening in the first and last stanzas. I would love to see what happened if you combined those stanzas and then focused on making the poem clearer.

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: I admire the way the poet threads narrative within a lyric structure here. I like the delaying tactics in the poem, the way it moves the way the mind works, via tangential locations in time. It seems quite fitting for the opening and the ending to be separated by school and the Short Answer test. But Kierkegaard? Where did he come from? He surprises, but he also distracts. I also loved the way the epigraph was used here and the fact the poem is an answer to the question posed. That said, the real focus here is not answering the question. If revising this, I’d say lose the epigraph and tighten up the poem and let it be more meditative instead of narrative. Good poem though.


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W.F. ROBY


To the birds

“The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.”
                       -Naomi Shihab Nye, from “Famous”

Perch here, my jewel tone, my parachute,
and study the outline of the beast. At night you’ll hear
his spells crossing the lawn in thick boots,
the everywhere creak of ice under weight. In time
you’ll understand his scraps, his bondage,
his rolling in congress. Under the street’s lamp
some nights there are two tails pointing
the way home, two mouths to track. You’ll catch
his good eye creased to watch
the tiniest detail -- a feather flickering
against the tree’s skin. Rest here,
shake off the weight of the shell,
peek around a twig and learn
the dance of his paws. He is lightning
from a blue sky. You are no longer blind,
you can tell me what the cat looks like. Start
at the whiskers, finish at the scratch.
Eat this worm.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I love the inventiveness of this poem and the clarity and distinctiveness of the voice. I’m not entirely clear on the meaning of a few of the lines “two tails pointing the way home” (two cats—but why would it be home to the birds?) and also not sure why this bird sounds so weirdly villainous “my jewel tone, my parachute” “Rest here/shake off the weight of the shell…” (I mean, it’s a sweet little bird, right?”, but generally, this poem’s a winner, with a fantastic close.

Dustin: I love your opening line; it does a good job pulling a reader into the poem, and you do a good job making sure the reader isn't going to be disappointed once he/she is done with the poem. I do think this poem could use some revision to put more emphasis on the identity of the speaker because it is a little fuzzy. I know that fuzzy can be good at times, but in this case, I think fuzzy is distraction from a lovely poem with lines like: "He is lightning / from a blue sky." And, yes, I love that last line. Good job.

Dana: First, this is a great poem, W.f. Second, I want you to stop beating yourself up. Deal? It pains me to see you say negative things about your work or about your future in the competition. But back to the poem: I love these lines especially, “In time / you’ll understand his scraps, his bondage, / his rolling in congress.” The first line is great, too. And the last. Pretty much everything in between. The only thing I would say is that it took me a minute to orient myself in terms of understanding who the narrator was. What I really love about this piece is how creatively is responds to the epigraph by Nye. This is good squishy, W.f.

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: This address to the birds is odd. I cannot figure out the speaker’s psychological stance. Is he warning the birds? Educating them a la St. Francis? The speaker seems far more interested in the cat. And we know the poet is interested in the cat from the epigraph. But here is my issue: if the epigraph says the cat is “famous to the birds,” why does a speaker need to educate the birds, tell them all about the cat(s)? And why does the cat suddenly become two cats? Odd. And the poem is made odder by its decisions to locate images where they are. This would be a very different poem were it to open with these lines used late in the poem:

He is lightning from a blue sky.
You are no longer blind,
you can tell me what the cat looks like.

That is a setup for a perverse yet interesting poem.



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KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR


Also Famous

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
-- from “Famous,” Naomi Shihab Nye



Our paper boy’s black Converse sneakers
dangle on the power line just above
Min’s Sushi. I recognize them

because of purple stripes drawn on the margin
of their soles. When I ask, he says
he can’t remember who threw them up there,

but will count the summer thunderstorms
anointing them with lightning.
He’s too poetic. I don’t buy it.

Urban legend says he’s dead (a casualty
of gang violence), or Min is selling crack,
or here’s a boundary we shouldn’t cross,

as if we walked around looking up like that,
seeing trouble and mapping out new routes.
Let the truth be more simple.

A boy and a girl under an awning after hours—
his pitching arm itched, as she unlaced
his favorite shoes to fling at the Peeping-Tom-moon

shining in the window on the plastic
replicas of sashimi plates. I don’t know
how many times it took, back and forth,

until her toss stuck and swung, for the length
of a kiss, in the raw universe
of the young and poor and famous.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
The ‘boot’ of the epigraph and the sneakers seems to me to have a different kind of cultural import (the first of course referencing the working class, the second indicating or indicative more of race and a racial identification). I do see the last line as sort of bringing the two together, but the connection may be a bit of a stretch. Putting aside this quibble, I think the poem itself is impressive for the power of its details “unlaced/his favorite shoes to fling…” “stuck and swung for the length/of a kiss, in the raw universe” (such great sounds in this last passage), and for the unity of its message. In fact, perhaps part of the strength of the poem is that it brings racial and class differences together (too true for the U.S., sadly). A strong poem.


Dustin: Last week, Dara Wier told Emari to remove a note about certain lines of her poem coming from another's poet work. Dara wrote, "We either get it or we don't." In the case of your poem, I didn't get it, and my not getting it me. I had to visit my ole friend Google for clarity. Maybe I was bothered by the extra work because I don't feel this poem is your best work. Don't get me wrong---I like what you are trying to accomplish with this poem. I like this poem. But, I think the last half could use some tweaking and possibly a little more added to the store.

Dana: The opening of this poem doesn’t pull me in. I feel like we get information in the first and second stanzas that isn’t needed and doesn’t move the poem forward: “I recognize them / because of purple stripes drawn on the margin.” I had to look up the urban legend that shoes hung on a power line are a signal that a gang has killed someone or that crack is being sold in the location below the shoes. This reference is very interesting but would be lost on many readers, and I wonder about having a second epigraph that explains the legend and orients the reader. I see the connection between the poem and the epigraph, but I don’t think it’s as strong as with some of the other pieces this week.

Guest Judge C. Dale Young: “Let the truth be more simple.” Brilliant move! That small rhetorical gesture deployed just past the mid-point of the poem, is what allows this poem to move from the narrative to the metaphorical, and yet, Morrison-Taylor resists that and gives us more narrative, albeit slightly more charged narrative. This is lovely. The ending is not quite right: “her toss stuck and swing”? But this poem understands how an argument is utilized within a poem. It has an authority because of that. And I love how it mines what readers already suspect about the shoes hanging on the wire only to then discredit those suspicions. “Let the truth be more simple.” Gorgeous.


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3 comments:

W.F. said...

Emily -- reading your poem I realize the purpose of this contest, for me.

I don't have to win. Hell, I don't even have to advance another week.

Your poem is over the top. It spins me into sensation. Puts the kind of smile on my face that is difficult to remove. And now that I've experienced this poem, now that I've had this warm fuzzy feeling, I can move along.

Having said that (I know I said this last week too) but all you guys entries are outstanding.

Emari's poem builds to a wonderful climax.

Micah's poem is just plain haunting.

Kristen's poem is overwhelmingly "silent", very sparse, very engaging.

And Kathi's poem's use of the "boot" influence from Nye's poem is unique.

Fun stuff.

emari said...

W.F. as I said on Facebook (and I'll say again here, Dustin ;-P), sweet poem.

The past two weeks have been really fun prompts, and I know I stalk the blog in anticipation of everyone's rendition. I have been excited by the work both weeks (and before that too).

Though I often feel overwhelmed at drafting a new poem each week that meets my standards for sharing (and in this case I'm not sharing with a few close friends but possibly all of the internetted world), this project has helped me make this summer my most productive writing summer.

Happy writing, everyone.

Ciao!

Kimberlee said...

Wow... great round! You all are so impressive being able to take on each challenge and do it with such finesse (in less than a week).