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Unread 09-10-2021, 11:23 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Originally Posted by David Callin View Post
It's beautiful, Cally. It does seem greatly touched by folklore, but these three lines - out of many good ones - seem to go beyond folklore, and are my favourite of all:

The soft body is a cloak, a curtain,

and when the dark engine quits, the body opens

without regret, disowns itself by way of dissolution.

That seems to me to speak to the dark truth of our existence - and yet we should sing while we can. Keep singing.

I agree those lines are wonderful. I was struck when I read them that Cally (or the speaker of the poem) fully embraces the idea that the body is entirely separate from the mind/soul, as in Rumi's: “Know then that the body is merely a garment. Go seek the wearer, not the cloak.” Or as in Blake's "The Little Black Boy":

And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

Quite unlike, say, Whitman, who insists that body and soul are the same.
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Unread 09-10-2021, 11:42 AM
Jesse Anger Jesse Anger is offline
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Location: Toronto
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The alchemy of maceration - what a place to start. We always think of fire as the refiner, as the element that renders something into igneous, black. But here we have consciousness focussed into waves and unlocking white bone. Your elemental connection with water, this returning to the shore is so singular, and this poem mirrors that coming wave after wave, open, weighty, wearing away the cloak… mmmm wow.

Others have already talked about the beautiful lines here, and I'm sure you'll keep playing in the waves. This voice, the sea, it's yours.

Rly rly good,


As a side to Roger, Blake said elsewhere that the body was the part of the soul discernible by the senses. He was wrestling with the idea of spiritual material heavily...
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Unread 09-11-2021, 01:58 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Location: England, UK
Posts: 4,160

Hi Cally,

I really like this, too. I think it's my favourite of yours that I've seen at the Sphere. There's definitely a folkloric feel here. I think of selkies. It also seems to be a reflection on death and a breaking up of the body. Added to the mix, a nicely complicating the poem, is the presence of the woman with whom the N feels a kinship at first, but who turns out to be a rival of sorts. There's a suggestion that woman might be contemplating killing herself, wedding herself to the sea, walking in the waves. And on hearing this, the N thinks she's found someone like herself. I also really the transformations that seem to occur, or at least to be possible. The woman wanting to put on a seal's cloak very evokes selkies, and the woman might also might also be the wind (another transformation). The N might be the seal and certainly could be falling apart: I love how "by then, only a fierce tendon kept the head to the housing of the heart" could just as easily apply to the woman as the seal carcass; she also feels pain as she severs the seal head from the body, as if perhaps it were her head and body.

A few thoughts/questions.

Is there a word missing from the beginning of L2, a "by" or an "at"?

I'm not a huge fan of "pagan-pray". I think in part because you're naming the "pagan" part. I can see why you want it clear that not's not Christian prayer, but there might be a way to show what kind of prayer it was so that we could deduce it from what the N does. Partly, I think the construction/sound of the word seems at odds with the diction of the rest of the poem and stuck out for me.

some gone to the silver gulls, flying,

some drifting down to the narrow fish in the sleepless dark.

In S2, the phrase, "some gone to the silver gulls, flying," seems a bit odd to me. I'm not sure if it's saying "some gone with the flying gulls" or "some gone flying with the gulls". It seems like it should be the latter to pair with "some drifting" in the next line, and I wonder if that parallel couldn't be made stronger/clearer in the wording/word order. Anyway, it's very minor nit.

S3L2, I wonder if you need "to be wedded to the sea". Maybe it'd be just enough to have something like:

and told how she longed in her loneliness
to put on a seal dress and walk down an aisle of waves.

The dress and the aisle already tell us this would be a wedding and that it would involve walking into the sea. I guess we wouldn't learn exactly who she'd be wedding, but I wonder if we need to.

I'd agree that you might consider cutting the last two lines. They do wrap the poem up neatly, but I wonder if that neatness is necessary. We could be left wondering if the N does keep the head or give it to the wind woman. And if we're told that she does keep it, I wonder if we need to be told why. Being left to wonder about these things might be more enjoyable than being told.


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Unread 09-11-2021, 10:48 PM
Seree Zohar's Avatar
Seree Zohar Seree Zohar is offline
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The change to S5L5 is excellent. Now I am left wondering about the title. Why 'oyster'? - yes, I know it's in Tassie, but I wonder if it isn't just better to use "The Cove" since seals aren't especially drawn to oysters per se. In fact, in light of the po's content, consider titling with Putalina - with or without the word Cove - which has such a wonderful ring to it; and brings the sense of tribe and ancient myth to the fore.

and when the dark engine quits, the body opens /
without regret, disowns itself by way of dissolution.

Consider a slight switcheroo of positioning to infuse doubled affect from 'without regret'; and 'by way of dissolution' sounds far too legal for this poem - perhaps the simpler word is impactful enough? Though I'm not sure it's even needed at all. 'disowning' truly does ALL the work a reader needs to understand the transition.

and when the dark engine quits, without regret /
the body opens, dissolves, disowns itself.

(Dorothy Murray describing how to make a kelp basket is a stunner, no?)

Last edited by Seree Zohar; 09-11-2021 at 10:51 PM.
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Unread 09-12-2021, 03:22 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,468

This is tremendous, Cally. So beautiful and well-paced. The ending is revelatory, fully earned by the gradual and attentive build-up to it. There is a watery movement to the poem, as I’ve noticed in others of yours.

I keep reading it, admiring not only its lovely music but the way it evokes the thingness of the things evoked. The tidal pool at the beginning, described as “dead water,” the “rickety dock,” the seal’s “big body dark and heavy as the sea,” and in the later stanzas as well—it is all so palpable, the language doesn’t just describe but inhabits the things, I’m there with it all.

And yet it reaches so far beyond description, it leads into multiple layers of meaning, and even into the ritualistic, like a “pagan” liturgy. “a fierce tendon kept the head to the housing of the heart” took the top of my head off, and the final three lines, with the revelation that the lapping water is the song the dead jawbone is singing—I don’t know what to say. I feel transformed in reading it, I want to see it in calli-graphy. I mean, it is a great poem.



p.s. Glancing at some comments just before I posted this--I wrote my comment without peaking first--I have to say I like Seree's idea for the title. The bare-bonedness of it fits the poem, I think. But please do not cut the last two lines of the poem! They just about killed me with their beauty and depth. (If you do remove them, I will personally write them in when I see the poem in print. )

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 09-12-2021 at 03:24 AM.
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Unread 09-12-2021, 10:50 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 4,440

Greetings, All!

Thank you for reading, Jim! I've always wanted to make a poem that someone could peer into!

Martin, great to see you, and thanks for the further prompting to look at the old dolphin line.
The first line would be harder for me to give up, I think. It sets up a destructive way of being in the world that proceeds without respect for life in order to counterpoint another way of being—mythic and connected. It isn't a relic of an earlier draft. This poem is the first draft. I wrote it all, one line after another, in one sitting not long before I posted it. I wasn't expecting it to happen at all, and when it did, I wanted to show you guys to see if anyone else could feel what I was feeling. For now, I'm living with its present form, not rushing to change . . . I'm thrilled you feel the magic!

Roger, thanks! And thanks for making me aware of those two areas . . . I don't want the end to sound like a moral. Maybe some kind of connective tweaking is needed. I'll ponder. Also, every time I read it through, I wait to see if I groan at the seal pun, but I haven't yet. I think there's room in the poem for it. The shift in meaning seems to work with everything going on around it. And thanks again for "The Wellfeet Whale" — I love it.

Also, I'd forgotten that Rumi bit -- how apt! And I'm glad you brought up Blake. "The body is the visible part of the soul." That's his way of saying it that I've always loved.

Nemo—that is more than I could ever hope for in a reading! I wrote the poem with the skull beside me, and it felt like the words were forming from another voice/s. You are right—I did not want the death of the seal to go unrecorded. I sat with it for many days through the putrefaction. Lutruwita-Tasmania is a land of intense mythic power, and a history of terrible deaths since white settlement. Everything about this land feels like living memory. Now that I'm home, I want to find ways to write from this place. This is a start. At the same time, I want it to be true for everywhere.

Cally-lad, thank you for your beautiful words! Yes, those lines are exactly what I learned from the seal. They came out with barely any thought on my part. Yes! Keep singing ...

John, thank you! And you are so right about the unease. There is a real tension here -- the wave woman is necessary. The speaker is at least double--making false promise, and recognising that capacity. But there's a necessity in the story that overrides everything, that all things are subject to. I'm not particularly drawn to peace and ease. I want poems to unsettle me. And those are the kind I want to write.

Jesse! Grand to get your take on it, babe! I love the word and the process: maceration. Yes, I can't keep away from the water, can I? It's been true all my life, so I don't think it's going to change now! It is the great change-maker, and I love change.

Matt, thank you, and it's very helpful to get your reading. So pleased you're picking up on all the transformations. In the experience of writing it, I could feel the poem refusing to stay still for more than a line or two. I like that you pick up on all the identities being mysteriously implicated in each other.

L2: it's a run-on from the first line--causing that "dead water" is one of the "new tricks" of the "old men". I'll keep thinking about whether that needs more clarity. Thanks for flagging it.
"pagan pray"-- I still like it. Might be hard to give it up, but again, I'll keep it in mind.
S2 -- yes, I mean to suggest something like sky burial, the rotting flesh being eaten by gulls, therefore flying. Same with fish food. The seal survives in the guts of the living. I'll think about it.
S3L2 -- interesting point! I'm giving that one some strong thought. Thanks!
Final lines: I hear the argument you and others are making. I really don't want it to sound neat, nor settled or finished. I want it stark. I want the reader to see the white skull. That's all. At the moment, I think I'll keep them, but I might play with different conjunctions . . . thanks for your thoughts on it, though. Greatly appreciated! So glad you enjoyed the poem, Matt.

Sereeee!!! Again, thanks for pushing me on the dolphin line. The push from you and Martin ushered in the wave woman who was obviously waiting in the wings! I'll give your other suggestions real consideration as this poem settles into itself.
Now, for the oysters! They are in every cove along this coast, along with seals and dolphins, so their proximity doesn't bother me. However, you raise an interesting point about the actual place name. If I use 'Putalina' or even 'Putalina-Oyster Cove' it would immediately focus any reading of the poem on the sorrowful/profound history of the place, specifically the life of Truganini. Here's a brief insight for anyone interested.
And I don't want to deny this way of thinking about the poem at all. All I can say is that I certainly wasn't thinking consciously about it as I wrote, but looking at it now, of course I can see how the poem is charged with this history and the spirit of this place. The fact that this poem came out of me now makes me realise I really am back home, my first home, and deeply connected. But, if I keep simply to "Oyster Cove", it has mythic universality, and it still doesn't prevent anyone from googling the place, and discovering for themselves. I really love "oyster" as metaphor, secretive and mysterious, the outside so different from the inside, and the magic of pearl. Anyway, it's a lot to think about, and I promise you I will keep thinking....

Andrew! Thank you so much for showing how the poem reached into you! It's just gold, to know this! Thank you!! And also for your huge support of the final lines! It gave me joy, as well as a good laugh! Also, see above what I wrote to Seree about the title.

To Everyone, I am so glad I showed this to you while it was still hot on the page. It's been amazing to get your reactions. I'm still a bit shocked by the poem myself. I just kept telling myself 'stay with what you saw and felt, and don't soften anything.' I mean, it all happened, but you just have to wait for a voice to emerge that can actually tell it.

Thank you all so much. I treasure everything you've said.

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Unread 09-13-2021, 06:51 AM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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Location: England
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This has the subtle song of the mythic to it. It could have taken place yesterday or in 1900 or in one-hundred years. The timelessness is in the music as well, for those modifiers, so specific and unexpected, conjure back to me The Seafarer, and its kind; if the metaphysical poets had the ability to experience emotion and intellectual thought as one, then those old-english writers seemed to have the ability to encompass the full range of nature, to present opposites in single images, a kind of quiet violence and danger with one with the beauty, that the beauty and the violence become one thing. You do this too, in your poem.

I remember Elizabeth Bishop saying there are hymns in her poems — there are hymns in this poem. Not the theocracy, but the music, the beat of something living and music-like. The entire poem is an arresting images building toward a narrative that does not resolve but unravel until you must read the poem again...and again..

I wonder is there a more original modifier than "move", "moves everything along"?

"pagan-pray" is perfect in Yeats's sense: unexpected yet appropriate.
I'm not convinced by the final couplet somehow. It seems a little more ethereal than the poem; it is certainly soft and sad and beautiful, but I am not sure the poem really needs it. I feel it is also a little too tidy for the poem, I want the poem to open up, into the realm of myth and knowledge, and "for where I found it" seems a better way to let that occur. But it is your poem, Cally.

This was such a sharp music, Cally.

Hope this helps.
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Unread 09-15-2021, 02:36 AM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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Thank you, Cameron, for your keen-eyed appreciation of the poem! It moves me that you respond to the "quiet violence" and beauty. I see this in nature all the time. I adore Elizabeth Bishop. She is certainly a touchstone for me.

Speaking of "move", I can't picture an alternative at the moment. The truth is, 'move' is an important word for me, in both its properties of sound and sense. In a former life, I was a Lawrence scholar, and I'll never forget when I read him say: "The great thing is, to move." It's a primal word.

I'm pleased you like "pagan prayer".

Your view of the final lines accords with several other readers on this thread. The lines still resonate for me. I'll wait and see how I feel when the poem cools down. Maybe something else is still swimming out there beyond my present reach? We'll see!

Thank you, Cameron!

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Unread 09-15-2021, 08:21 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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I'd like to add my two cents to the debate about the ending of the poem, an ending which I love. With things mystical there is often a reversal of sorts, a play with opposites, a rift in expectation than turns one thing into its reverse. A wedding, as a symbol, is a vow of promise, and an act of union. But here the wedding involves breaking the promise to the wind woman, and to achieve the white wedding of the skull, the skull has to be separated (the opposite of united) from the rest of the body. When contradictory elements like that conjoin in a redemptive way I always get a thrill that seems to come from far beyond or deep within the "matter" at hand. That's the thrill I get from the resolution of this poem. And I feel I am a guest at this wedding, whose white contains, ultimately, all the colors that have been sea-washed away.

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Unread 09-15-2021, 09:18 AM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Cally,
I am still a little stuck on the end of the first line. It leads me to expect more about the old men with their new tricks. I understand that you want a sense of desecration to open the poem, but I still find it leading me away from what follows; perhaps strip it down to the basics:

There was a seal, killed by men,

but since I am the only one hung up on this, it's probably me and not the poem.

Thank you again for the poem; I have read and reread it many times.

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