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Unread 10-06-2021, 12:09 PM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
Join Date: May 2020
Location: England
Posts: 609
Default the feel of not to feel it

The train, steel maggot, was worming
its underworld of tracks
when a red eye petrified it, and peering
through an eye
like window I saw the world remade
as multiplying nothing: a Hades-black.
And I thought of space
of any iced void that suffocates, how
I found it squatting
here too at the centre of things: numb
as lidocaine: my life, this hollowed mouth
a glass width from my face.
The window was suddenly too thin.
And then the train bolted on.
L9 lin-broken.
"my life, this hollowed mouth" was "this mouth / of absence"
Penultimate line was "the window suddenly seemed"

Possible other version

The train, steel maggot, worms
its underworld of tracks
when a red eye petrifies it, and through the squinting
window the world's remade
as multiplying nothing: so Styx-black.
At first the thought of space,
of an iced void that suffocates,
and how it's squatting
here too at the centre of things: numb
as lidocaine: your life this hollowed mouth
a glass width from the face.
The worm-skin window suddenly too thin.
And then the squirming on.

Last edited by W T Clark; 10-24-2021 at 05:36 AM.
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Unread 10-07-2021, 03:09 AM
Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Portland Maine
Posts: 3,679

Interesting crash of perception. The myth-context that reinforms and repopulates the world of the observer here might be a bit too submerged in in despair and bit too thin on story to pull me down with it. I don't doubt it is true to a feeling on the subway but I need art to make something to set against this modern bankruptcy when walking the dark to not just acknowledge the danger of bleakness unlit by story and move on.

In any case, the red light/eye bit seems like one eye too many in that section, a bit forcing the metaphor there rather than smelling of a true animistic memory. That could just be me. Steel-ish and maggot-ness seem so opposed but I get what you mean. Maggots are so stubby and closer to not very mobile yet nothing is hard about them at all.

Even the best of work that traffics in despair turns me off so this may just be all my trip.
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Unread 10-09-2021, 01:30 PM
Seree Zohar's Avatar
Seree Zohar Seree Zohar is offline
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: oy of the storm
Posts: 4,958

Hi Cameron,

Sometimes the reading mind and intuition connect instantly to something in a poem, and sometimes it just takes much longer. I've read this a few times but I guess perhaps during the work week the words just didn’t want to speak. Now after a quiet day I think I'm starting to catch on: the perception of an imminent train crash. But I'm having trouble envisaging the train as a maggot [which is short], envisioning its movement as worming [which is hardly high speed straight line but more a tipsy wobble of sorts]. I can't say ‘eye / like window’ is inspiring: I think both the wording and the line break are too awkward to maintain the kind of momentum needed for a seemingly impending crash. ‘any iced void’ – you’ve lost me there because I don’t have that experience in my experience-banks: would they suffocate? And it would seem iced voids can also be found at the centre of things. By which time, rather than feel that my breath’s being sucked out in anticipation, I just feel exhausted and not exactly trusting the words. I also wonder if ‘suddenly’ and ‘seemed’ are strong enough to convey the sense of ‘almost…’ – “How thin the window. / And the train bolts on.” – I've a hunch that more direct language will work better.
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Unread 10-09-2021, 03:02 PM
Sarah-Jane Crowson's Avatar
Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: UK
Posts: 862


Although my reading of the poem is different to Seree's, I think that her point about more direct language is a good one to make, although I'd think of it about perhaps a more direct location of and 'showing' some of your language.

I read the poem as a kind of preamble to your series blurring Greek myth and the urban social. It introduces the idea that we are all on journeys, that much of contemporary life can serve as a metaphor to myth (and vice versa).

It's got some brilliant images - the train as maggot, the lidocaine (and the sonics with that and 'iced eye').

It's a poet's poem, I think, and I also reckon that this is where you want it to sit.

But I would consider experimenting, in parts to make it clearer - what, for instance, are you meaning in 'absence'? I'm reading it as the nothing/expanse of space - the void, the river Styx - but it'll be read differently by different people. What image might 'show' absence' as an image/feeling you want to convey that many people will understand?

There are about two/three uses of general conceptual vocab in here that might also make the poem clearer.

I enjoy it, but the thing is, I know other poems you've written, we're in a workshop environment, and so I feel that I can follow the thinking behind the poem (although whether I am or not remains to be seen).

I think bringing in more concrete images in places would benefit the poem, although I like what you have here as it stands & it's cohesive.

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Unread 10-09-2021, 05:12 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,998

I've been reading this for days. It wasn't until I read Sarah's comment that it occurred to me what hung me up. It does read like an introduction. Things will follow is the impression now that she's enlightened me. It does move, as it should. My one suggestion is I'd remove the "I." Write from the train's pov, or of the pov of an omniscent narrator looking inside and outside. I guess if what follows is designed around a first-person narrator you couldn't do that. So, unless there is a designed reason for the first person, I'd at least consider doing away with it. I like the language and the bounce of imagery. I'd like to read more in this vein.
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Unread 10-09-2021, 10:21 PM
A. Baez's Avatar
A. Baez A. Baez is offline
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Alexandria, VA, USA
Posts: 159

I'm quite rapt with the feel of this, even though a few scrutinizing takes on my part were not enough to reveal to me quite what it was about. However, Seree's interpretation made things gel for me. If this perception is on point, what interesting territory to explore! I just wish that the poem were a hair clearer, so that I could home in quickly on its full experience--the facts of it as much as the feeling.

I agree that the second "eye" detracts from the first and that the lack of the expected en dash after it confuses its meaning.

I'm not sure I get this:

I saw the world remade
as multiplying nothing: a Hades-black.
The world remade, as in, the train occupants' world reconfigured by the crash? Multiply, as in, the crash breaking things into pieces? And nothing, as in, since this crash would be taking place in the dark, none of this would be visible, only blackness (both physical and psychic)? If I get this right, I do much enjoy the curious, ironic sense of the N imagining not being able to feel the experience because he cannot really see it. I've had that sensation before (although about much lesser things)! This is such a challenging concept to evoke, if that's indeed what you were trying to achieve; if so, you've done a splendid job, at least on an emotional level.

I'd like to see a comma after "space." I do just love the construct of space "squatting here too at the centre of things." I also revel in the two sequential colons in one sentence. One doesn't see this usage often these days, but I think it can be so effective in certain circumstances--here, it really sets off what comes before, in between, and after.

However, something about the last line seems to very disappointingly dissipate all the fine tension that you had built up until then. By the time I reach it, the last thing I want to hear about is anything "bolting on." I want my focus to stay glued to the space and moment that you have detailed with such specificity. If something must indeed bolt away, I'd like the focus to remain on the N's perception of same, not the thing bolting away. In any case, I don't think of trains as ever "bolting." But I'm not willing to let this one line distract me from my enjoyment of all that has preceded.
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Unread 10-10-2021, 12:18 AM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
Join Date: Mar 2021
Location: Florida
Posts: 273

Dear Cameron,

Contrary to other suggestions, it tightened itself for me as I read it. Not as a suggestion, but as a way to show you this, I fiddled. You are so good with words that I wouldn't wish to see beauty cede to effect. The effect I got from your poem was very like a bullet. In contrast to a bullet, the tercets just made it easier for me to experience the details.

I experience and write quite a bit about the presence of absence. It's a sensation that grows deeper as I age and more loved ones are no more. Each loss taps on this existential mystery and adds its twist to the abstract swirl of feelings.

I've enjoyed your view. Often, I see the tunnel as a mouth.
I hope you don't mind.

Thank you,

(Your original is below)

The steel maggot worms
its underworld of tracks—
a red eye petrifies it.

Peering through a narrowing
window, the world remakes
itself multiplying nothing:

a Hades-black space
of an iced void that suffocates.
I find it squats here too

at the centre of things: numb
as lidocaine: mouth
of absence a glass width from my face.

The window suddenly too thin,
the train bolts on.

the feel of not feeling it

The train, steel maggot, was worming
its underworld of tracks
when a red eye petrified it, and peering
through an eye
like window I saw the world remade
as multiplying nothing: a Hades-black.
And I thought of space
of any iced void that suffocates
us, how I had found it squatting
here too at the centre of things: numb
as lidocaine: this mouth
of absence a glass width from my face.
The window suddenly seemed too thin.
And then the train bolted on.
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Unread 10-10-2021, 08:05 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is online now
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 3,210

I'm having trouble understanding this. The weird thing is, though, it triggered a wild free-association thought in me of a visit to the dentist's office for some oral surgery or something along those lines. It is a different poem from yours, I'm sure, but I may try to write it.

Sorry for the useless crit. I just can't crack this open for some reason. That's not to say I don't find it intriguing. I do. There's a hallucinatory quality to it that I like and often try to incorporate into my own poetry. I'm not nearly as daring as you, though... I want to be. Existence is often a continually changing hallucination. Might just as well write that way, too! Cheers, Jim


Last edited by Jim Moonan; 10-10-2021 at 12:59 PM.
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Unread 10-13-2021, 02:11 PM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
Join Date: May 2020
Location: England
Posts: 609

Well, thank you, everybody, for looking at this.
First of all I'd like to apologise for my late reply. I have been quite busy this last week or so familiarising myself with alien environments, and I have often been too tired to post, and would rather skulk around and watch. Hopefully my presence can be felt more heavily from now on, though some of you might not think that is a complete positive, ha.
Andrew, I appreciate your idiosyncratic opinion when it comes to despair. I think you are using the same argument you might use on some poems of Larkin and Eliot. I do not think this is an all weeping, all despairing poem of the utter terror of modernity, more about a feeling, the feeling of not feeling it, as Keats says, that came to me. On the other hand, I see the writing of the poem as the very act of resistance against such emotions, moments. The more expressive, inventive, uncluttered and unclichéd it is, the more it fights against the states which it describes.

Seree and Sarah, thank you both for bringing your critical gaze to bear on this. I agree that it needs something more of the concrete and understandable. The poem I think has succeeded in establishing its emotion, its mood, I think, and that is the most important for me, that the poem can be sensed, can be apprehended long before it can be easily prosed into a clear explanation, some poems are more about atmosphere than others; but this does need work. Revision will be coming, but not quite yet.

Alexandra, thank you for your comments. It's gratifying to know the experience of the poem you have. I think I will take much of your advice. The final line may be too cheap, the in/on too coy.

John, I love your suggestion!

Jim, oh, I am daring, am I? How nice to be told that! And I think you are daring, though maybe not in such a visible way?. Sometimes a poem communicates emotionally before it does so straightforwardly ... I think this is one of these. Please, write your poem. I would read it.

Mignon, I so appreciate your understanding and the play you have with all my poetry, to you, a deeply felt thank you.

Thank you everyone, this is a strange one. I never wrote it as an introduction but it has neatly slotted into place. John has challenged me to the production of more. That is a good sign, I think.
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Unread 10-15-2021, 03:01 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,527

I think this is a promising early-ish draft of an underworld-epiphany poem. I like the mythologizing of the Underground (Heaney has a good but very different poem on that), and the image of nothingness as the blackness in a tunnel. Lines 1-6 set things up economically and effectively. The scene is recognizable but is made strange through the weird sci-fi imagery of the steel maggot and the red eye. Weird or grotesque or scary metaphors are effective for defamiliarizing the familiar.

Lines 7-12, however, move into abstraction too soon and too extensively. The reflection there (“I thought of space . . . how I had found it squatting” etc.) feels sandwiched between the imagery of lines 1-6 and the concluding line rather than organically blending with them. So it comes across as sententious. This might be improved upon by getting rid of the “I thought of . . .” framework. I don’t think the reader needs to be told the narrator is having the thoughts. We’ve just been told the “I” saw the “world remade / as multiplying nothing,” so self-references to the N could be left out until the “my” near the end. That, and making lines 7-12 less “telly” could go a long way toward better capturing this Orpheus-like vision of the underworld.
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