Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Revisiting Week 8: Villanelle Revisions!

Well, there was an unexpected twist to the Project Verse week 8 assignment; the weekly judges were not impressed with the poems submitted. Click here to see what the judges had to say.

In this post you'll find each contestant's original poem followed his/her revision.


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Weekly Guest Judge Beth Gylys wants to send out this message:
I'm very impressed by these revisions. I know some of you were distraught to have to rewrite, but the poems are for the most part much improved, I think, so bravo to you all!



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KRISTEN MCHENRY

ORIGINAL:
The Menfolk Whisper of The Gulabi Gang

“They wear pink saris and go after corrupt
officials and boorish men with sticks and axes.”
--Soutik Biswas; BBC News, Banda



Why do our good women gather in a fuchsia crush,
to bow their heads, but not to pray?
A tribe of flamingos in rags of blush,

they're hoarding stones from the filthy dray.
I hear they are hungry in a bottomless way.
Our good women gather in a muffled crush;

they have nurtured us with that same pink hush.
Now their lullabies seethe with a cryptic sway.
A cloud of flamingos in rags of blush,

they shroud their rifles in the underbrush.
I've heard it told: one night they may
gather our daughters in a fuchsia crush

and baptize them in the river's rush--
Banda wives wading in the moon's crimped ray;
a rage of flamingos in rags of blush.

I've heard they grow fervent, lithe and lush,
their hair unruly as the grass owl's bray.
Why do our good women gather in a fuchsia crush,
a tribe of flamingos in rags of blush?


REVISION:
The Menfolk Whisper of The Gulabi Gang

“They wear pink saris and go after corrupt
officials and boorish men with sticks and axes.”
--Soutik Biswas; BBC News, Banda



Our good wives have taken to convening: tight-knit and savage crushes
of bowed and fuchsia heads, but their heads aren't bowed in prayer.
A massing of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes,

we've seen them hoarding rocks from the gutter's oily slushes.
The women have taken to whispering: we've heard them smirk and swear.
Our good wives have taken to convening in tight-knit and savage crushes.

Remember when they'd comfort us with sanguine, melodic shushes?
These days when they caress us, their hands shake with a livid flare.
A massing of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes,

I hear they've stashed crippled rifles in the rusted sticker brushes.
Gentle men, though we have nourished them, their hungers strip us bare.
Our good wives have taken our daughters, in tight-knit and savage crushes--

they'll swathe them in that treacherous pink, all pink-skinned from the water's rushes,
where they baptized them in their pastel ways with a hard, insurgent stare.
A massing of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes,

the wives of Banda have grown still, but as tense as a tree of thrushes.
These days, they're as silent as their nurturing is spare.
Our good women have taken to convening in tight-knit and savage crushes;
a rage of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I admire that Kristen tackles this interesting and rich subject, and she uses some beautiful language here: "A massing of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes." My criticism of the earlier draft was that it felt distancing, and I think she's managed to make the poem less objectifying with lines like "Remember when they'd comfort us..." Still, the tone of this one is less successful I think than it might be, and that is in part because of phrases like "Gentle men". Because I think finally, these men are going to be angry, and the speaker then comes across as disingenuous. I also worry about the long-ish lines, some of which seem unwieldy. Lines like "where they baptized them in their pastel ways with a hard, insurgent stare." I'd like to see the poem's lines more lean, and I'm still a little worried too about the point of view which seems to me really hard to pull off.

Dustin: Kristen, I'm not completely won over with this revision; I think this is due to the change of lengthier lines. I don't have a problem with long lines; however, I don't think it works for your poem. In your first draft, I loved "A tribe of flamingos in rags of blush," so I was glad to see you basically kept it in your revision: "A massing of flamingos in sweeping rags and furtive blushes"---beautiful. I'm happy to see that you corrected the form error you had in your original poem. I do like that you rhymed in plural; however, I wonder if this held you back any. This is not your strongest poem from the competition, but it is much better than your Week 6 poem.

Dana: So I have a matrix of sorts that I use which takes into account several things, including doing the assignment, skillfulness of execution, emotional resonance, level of risk taken, and other elements I looked for in the poems I read. I am not saying this is an objective matrix that anyone, even a computer, can plug in and use. Other people will have other matrices, other lenses through which they evaluate work. That’s what it means to be a reader and to have individual responses to pieces. But this *is* a way to externalize my personal process.

According to my matrix, you have a good balance of all aspects I was evaluating. I actually think your edits strengthened the piece, particularly the first line. But I do have some concerns. You chose two-syllable feminine rhyme all the way through, when there are more interesting ways to employ perfect rhyme. And in terms of emotional resonance, I still think you could push further. This piece feels a little like a FabergĂ© egg. I’d like to see it come down from the shelf and maybe even get a knick or two in it.


Guest Judge Maureen Seaton: Great subject. Kristen uses color well in this runaway persona piece. Memorable images: “a rage of flamingos” and “treacherous pink.” (I like “a massing of flamingos” too.) The repetition of pink, in “pink-skinned.” The epigraph gives us just enough. And I love the lines: “Gentle men, though we have nourished them, their hungers strip us bare” and “These days, they’re as silent as their nurturing is spare” and the image “tense as a tree of thrushes.” However, the piece doesn’t read like a villanelle to me, but more like a long-lined narrative with imposed rhymes. The poem begs for at least one companion piece, either in another persona or a narrative about the Gulabi Gang.



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EMILY VAN DUYNE


ORIGINAL:
The Lacrymosa, Washing the Dishes: Wednesday Night in Wartime America

‘Mozart’s Requiem begins with you walking towards a huge pit…’
                                                                                           -Zadie Smith

Those can’t be my hands in the sink! Expunge the crass
dried blood of this night’s wine, strewn
in the glass. That can’t be my face, cast

in the window—lonely woman, eyes like the Black Mass…
kyrie eleision, now scrub those pots & spoons…
expunge the crass sink. Those can’t be my hands that blast

the grease of fat & bone, latticed like the past…
and why should you have this life, this boon…
That face in the glass? It can’t be her place to cast

aspersions to the night’s eclipse, the sweet, dark grass,
another person, far away, who seeks the same hidden moon?
Those can’t be my cries! They sink in the crass

face of history: slouching beasts, dead stars… the last
shall be first, penance is like ashes— no one is immune…

That can’t be my face in the window: bloody glass

house we’ve assembled and hewn.
The pit is ever closer, surely you come soon,
surely: those must be my hands that sink in the fast
cast of water. That must be my face in the glass.


REVISION:
The Lacrymosa, Washing the Dishes: Wednesday Night in Wartime America

‘Mozart’s Requiem begins with you walking towards a huge pit…’
                                                                                           -Zadie Smith

Those can’t be my hands in the sink! Absolve the crass,
dried blood of this night’s wine, strewn
on the porcelain
… that can’t be my face in the glass—

lonely woman, eyes like the Black Mass…
kyrie eleision, now scrub those pots & spoons…
those can’t be my hands that absolve the sink: crass

grease of fat & bone, this warm night’s mass …
and why should you have this life, this boon…
that face in the glass? It can’t be on her to pass

judgment (14 more dead) on the dark grass,
someone far away who seeks the same hidden moon.
Those can’t be my cries! They sink in the crass

face of this slouching beast, (a roadside bomb), dark morass…
penance is like ashes, no one is immune…
That can’t be my face in the window: the bloody glass

house we’ve built on another’s green grass…
The pit is ever closer, surely you come soon,
surely: those must be my hands that sink in the crass
well of porcelain. That must be my face in the glass.


THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
As usual, I admire Emily's skill with language and sound and her lovely turns of phrase: "Absolve the crass,/dried blood or this night's wine, strewn/on the porcelain...that can't be my face in the glass--" I'm a little less charmed by the metaphor here though. I get that filth and filth work together: war is dirty, we are all made dirty by war, the dishes reflect that on some level. And then of course there's the helplessness of the speaker standing there at the sink is poignant. Still, there's something a bit less natural about this poem than the poems that Emily has so charmed me with earlier in the competition. Still, I have to say, I think the revisions are smart and there's real beauty here.

Dustin: This isn't your strongest poem from the competition, but it is a good revision. You did a great job playing by the rules. Now, do you see it doesn't hurt to play by the rules? In the past, I have enjoyed your longer titles, but I am not sure about your title this week. I think you can come up with a title that is a shorter and packs a punch, or you could have a title that is the same length that packs more of a punch. Basically-- I want more of a punch with the title. You are capable of it. I love "lonely woman, eyes like the Black Mass." Also, I love your opening line "Those can’t be my hands in the sink! Absolve the crass." Your first line does a good job of pulling in your reader, and I don't think your reader will be disappointed one he/she reaches the end of the poem.

Dana: If this were an ice-skating competition, I would give you a 10 in terms of using perfect rhyme. But that’s not *all* we’re looking at as judges (or all I myself am looking at). Yes, there’s the matrix. I put your piece in the matrix and, balancing everything, how do you think you fared?

You fared great. This poem had me at the Requiem reference in the epigraph and held me until the very end. Just look at what you do with language throughout — I can’t stop smiling when I misread “night’s wine” as “night swine,” an error I hope you intend your readers to make, thus giving another layer to the image. (And even if you didn’t intend it, that’s great, too. We could chuck intention out the window and still be drawn to words and phrases in ways we don’t fully understand.) This is a wonderful piece to read aloud as well. I love how it sits in the mouth, very musical, and not in a child-playing-the-recorder sort of way.


Guest Judge Maureen Seaton: I immediately noticed the rhythm this poem sets up, the enjambment of lines that make it interesting to me: “…crass/grease of fat & bone..,” “…the bloody glass/house we’ve built…” Ending in the effective last half of the last line, “That must be my face in the glass.” I would question the italics—their source(s). And I would get rid of the ellipses, and perhaps the exclamation points, although I normally like them. The poem appears busy although the image itself is carried from the first line all the way down. I like “the bloody glass/ house we’ve build on another’s green grass.” And I’m touched by the self-reflection of the piece. Its earnestness carries it.




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W.F. ROBY


Original:
Through the Gauze of Heroin Hydrochloride

I took to the drug like a baby
takes to incidents of peas. A bore
we tapped out grain by grain, all tingly.

In the distant city, two birdies
lined up their beaks and poked at the core.
I took to the drug like a baby.

Dope on my desk, brown and crumbly
as steel and ash on the city’s floor.
We tapped out grain by grain, all tingly.

The news so graceful, silver latchkey
on my neck, the stash drawer
open to the drug like a baby,

like a fly to a glass of sherry.
New York fell, I was a sophomore.
We tapped out grain by grain, all tingly --

a needle’s difficult to bury.
Let’s watch smoke cover up the seashore.
I took to the drug like a baby.
We tapped out grain by grain, all tingly.


REVISION:
Through the Gauze of Heroin Hydrochloride

I took to the drug like a ferry
ducks into the crests of waves, a bore
I did not think I’d ever marry.

The TV hummed -- a monastery
somewhere far away, airplanes galore.
I took to the drug like a cherry

takes to red, a fresh capillary
bright as bent steel on the city’s floor.
I did not think I’d ever marry.

The news was up loud. Cautionary
words fell out – heroin’s a trapdoor.
I clung to the drug like a berry

clings to a stem, math to binary.
New York fell, I was a sophomore.
I did not think I’d ever carry

a needle into church, or parry
perfect rhyme until my hands were sore.
I took to the drug like a ferry.
I did not think I’d ever marry.



THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I love the revision. Love the simple lines, Love the similes. I mean "Like a cherry/takes to red" "like a berry/clings to a stem, math to binary". There's a confessional quality, undermined by the slightly self-mocking tone "I did not think I'd ever marry." My only one small quibble is that in the last stanza the repeating line "I took to the drug like a ferry" doesn't have quite the same punch as it did in the opening stanza.

Dustin: W.F., I love this revision. Okay. I want to make this clear. I love this revision. Everyone did a good job with revisions this week; however, I think you did the most work in the revision arena. Do you remember what I've said to you about your similes? If you've forgotten, here it is, analyze more before you simile. W.F., you listened! Well, you didn't listen in your original poem---I have no clue what you were thinking with "I took to the drug like a baby / takes to incidents of peas." Honestly, I stopped reading and had a what the hell moment. OK. That is behind us because we are juding the revised poems. I was thrilled to see your beginning simile changed to "I took to the drug like a ferry / ducks into the crests of waves"----lovely. Then there are more lovely lines/similes: "I took to the drug like a cherry / takes to red, a fresh capillary / bright as bent steel on the city’s floor" and "I clung to the drug like a berry / clings to a stem, math to binary." Again, lovely. The end of your poem needs work. I don't think your last stanza is as strong as the rest of the poem. I know. I know. Your hands are tied by rules. THIS revision is what I've wanted to see from you during this competition. This revision makes me feel like you trusted yourself and the poem while you wrote. Good job!

Dana: We asked you to be a little dangerous, to let loose, and you did. All the poems were strong this week, as you would expect toward the end of the competition, but I can’t not get behind a poem that tackles the subjects you tackle. On Read Write Poem, Marilyn Nelson said this about her poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till”: “I don’t think I would have written the poem if I hadn’t imagined the form could be something I could hide behind in self-defense.” Your poem has that wonderful tension between form and content that I absolutely love to see in a piece. You used the form not to strap you down but to give you a new kind of freedom, and the reader senses how much the form contains the uncontainable content as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s dangerous — and it’s an important poem.

Why isn’t it perfect? There’s one slip-up with regard to the perfect rhyme: “binary” and “carry” are not a perfect rhyme in that there are two syllables after the accented syllable in “binary” and only one after the accented syllable in “carry.” Overall, however, you employ the perfect rhymes with precision, and you keep it interesting by pairing words that do not have the same number of syllables but do have the same number of syllables and the same sounds after the accented syllable. Nicely played.

I have to add that your rewrites made this piece sing. You accepted the challenge of using the form to sharpen the poem, and your poem is now so sharp it won’t be allowed as a carry-on item if you try to board a plane. So stay home, or travel by car.


Guest Judge Maureen Seaton: This poem feels most like a villanelle to me with its syllabic count of (mostly) nine. I found it subversive for its fitting the subject matter into a loose meter. I enjoyed reading a poem about addiction (which was well done in itself) in the “traditional” form of the villanelle. Like wearing sneakers to church when I was a kid, but better than that, wearing no underwear to church as an adult. (Not that I think of the villanelle as a church symbol. Do I?) Changing the rhymed endwords was really cool as well. I love doing that in sestinas. Not sure I’ve seen it before in a villanelle. Great choices, not your everyday: “monastery,” “capillary,” “cautionary,” “binary,” etc. This is my first pick for originality and proficiency with the form.


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KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR


ORIGINAL:
Gretel Copes

Repression’s underrated. She’ll forget
her cookie-house binge with M&M trim, licorice whip pitch;
the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit

all run together. She’ll always hate chocolate,
is rumored to huff Easy Off and do witch
impressions badly. She’ll forget

to watch Hansel on Letterman: instead, flit
from club to club to Daddy’s house. A hazel switch,
the reek of burning witch and cloves and kitschy shit—

grief after grief, it stings her. Damn it.
Damn the greedy crumb-eaters. Damn the itch
of repression, too slow. She’ll forget

her chubby brother behind barbed wire, but she’ll spit
at old ladies with gumdrop smiles. Anorexic bitch,
motherless witch, smokes cloves, shoots the shit—

that tabloid-Gretel: famous, wrecked, unfit
as a Nazi, murder charge dropped, filthy rich. . .
Repression’s underrated. She can’t forget
the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit.


REVISION:
In Which Gretel Becomes Tabloid-Gretel


Repression’s underrated. She’ll forget
her cookie-house binge with M&M trim, licorice whip pitch;
the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit—

Hansel in that cage. She’ll always hate chocolate
and gingerbread, hoard Easy Off and do witch
impressions badly. She’ll forget

to watch her brother on Letterman: instead, flit
from club to club to Daddy’s house. Abercrombie & Fitch,
the reek of burning witch and cloves and kitschy shit—

even centuries later in Hollywood Hills it
finds her: hunger’s cruel pose, behind kindly masks a twitch
of cannibal. Repression’s too slow. She’ll forget

her chubby brother behind barbed wire, but she’ll spit
at old ladies with gumdrop smiles. Post-traumatic bitch,
motherless witch, smokes cloves, shoots the shit

as she becomes that tabloid-Gretel: famous, wrecked, unfit
as a Nazi, clubbing with the stars, filthy rich. . .
Repression’s underrated, but she can’t forget
the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit.


THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I like this poem's imaginative innovation. I'm still a little bothered by the use of the slant rhyme--"forget/shit" in terms of following the rules--especially given the revision option. The rules aside, the poem's really wonderfully rich and fun and smart with some great sounds: "licorice whip pitch;/the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit--" And I like the contemporaneous look at the myth. Not that I haven't seen re-visions of the Hansel/Gretel story, but this is a really smart and fun and apt one.

Dustin: Kathi, I'm disappointed. The judges specifically commented on the use of slant rhyme in the week 8 poems; however, you revised your poem and left the slant rhyme. Are you giving us the finger? I realize each contestant is pouring a lot time into this contest, but the judges are pouring in a lot of time as well. These are the only comments you're getting from me for this week.

Dana: I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, Kathi. How can I not like a poem that lets the shit fly? This was so imaginative and controlled and had so many unexpected moments. I love the part about Hansel appearing on “Letterman,” for example. I will say that I was sad to see huffing Easy Off go in the rewrite, as well as a couple of other details lost in revision, such as, “Damn the greedy crumb-eaters.” I know it was impossible to keep everything and meet the requirements for the assignment, but I would still take a look at your first version and see what else you could fold back in. Of course, you gained a lot, too, in the revision, including a killer new title.

One thing I did take into account was the rhyme, per the matrix. It’s hard to ignore the fact that many of your rhymes were slant, not perfect. In addition, your middle lines are off in terms of the rhyme scheme because they don't provide a "b" rhyme. I even looked up the pronunciation key for each rhymed word (as I did for everyone’s rhymed words) to be absolutely sure the vowel sound in words such as “forget” can’t be pronounced the way the vowel sound in words such as “shit” are pronounced. They’re not the same sound. Maybe where I am from — Oklahoma — but people play it fast and loose with language in those parts.


Guest Judge Maureen Seaton: Very funny take on an old fairytale. And the short “i” has to be my favorite sound in the English language. Those second and third lines are a blast: “her cookie-house binge with M&M trim, licorice whip pitch;/the scent of burning witch and cloves and chicken shit—.” And, from there, we’ve got more to go because Kathi has decided ALL of her endwords will have that short “i” (except maybe two or three). And as if all that assonance isn’t enough for the ear, we’ve got all that consonance as well—every end word ending in “t” or “ch”. I really enjoyed the craft and the humor.


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8 comments:

emari said...

P-Versers! Sweet revisions. Good work on a tough mid-week assignment. And best of luck as you continue.

Kristen McHenry said...

*Waves* Hi, Emari! Hope the summer's going well for you. I still want to see that T-Rex poem of yours!

W.F. said...

So much love in this room.

Emily said...

Thanks, Em!

niina said...

man, I f'ing love villanelles. & these revisions are totally worth it.

emari said...

oh, i finished a true draft of t-rex! it's five pages long...the longest poem i've ever written. kristen, how can i send it to you?

ciao,

emari

Dustin Brookshire said...

HEY Emari! I'm glad to see you checking in!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dustin Brookshire said...

BTW-- The Marilyn Nelson quote that Dana used, it comes from the Double Ds column column!