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  #21  
Unread 06-01-2022, 04:28 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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"No good deed goes unpunished" some say in Brooklyn, but Pithecanthropus directus will neither be punished or punish you, Tim, as long as we face down wind. Modulated modest meandering can be good. I'm here to say that "clear mind" sounds like scientology or other baloney, and again implies a totally extraneous evaluative judgment by you, thereby calling attention to you, qua you. Why not say simply: some "late mind," some "tired mind," some "____ mind"?

\\

PS "But luckily for all, I'd saved it!" All? Maybe your machine was ahead of your game.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 06-01-2022 at 04:32 PM.
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  #22  
Unread 06-02-2022, 12:33 AM
Tim McGrath Tim McGrath is offline
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Ordinarily, meandering is discouraged in math. Poetry should be no different.

"The stars are making iron in the machinery of night" is a great line. It reminded me of Swinburne:

And the murmur of spirits that sleep in the shadow of Gods from afar
Grows dim in thine ears and deep as the deep dim soul of a star

Last edited by Tim McGrath; 06-02-2022 at 01:02 AM.
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  #23  
Unread 06-02-2022, 02:14 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Tim, hi Allen,

And thank you both for your visits!
Tim: Yes, this poem, as so many, has improved remarkably thanks to everyone's advice. I have a little Portuguese series, of which this, and I've just tried taking a scalpel to the others by the same token - I think it's a good thing. Sorry about the delay in responding - we've left Asia and are now briefly in Istanbul.
Thank you for the kind word about my meters, and yes, inspisstaed may have worked for Johnson, but incarnadine might fare better when in search of a polysyllable. It was indeed Johnson who inspired me to call the night thick.
I've gone back to High above the town at your suggestion. And yes, i do meander, that's my habit. I can talk ten to the dozen, name a topic and I will do so!
Allen: I have that line in a poem! No good deed and so forth. Yes, I meander here, and at your urging, I've changed clear to still. And luckily for all was a joke, Allen, though perhaps not obviously so!!
Tim: Thank you for that fine Swinburne quotation! I agree, meaning in poetry should not be overemphasized. Mme de Stael said just the same.

THank you both for the nudges.

Cheers,
John
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  #24  
Unread 06-02-2022, 08:59 AM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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“ I can talk ten to the dozen, name a topic and I will do so! ”
You can write a poem about me! Now that you are reapproaching the West, you can get my book “Of Course” from Amazon by typing Allen Tice in the book search line. You should learn more about me, not much, that way. There are certain obscurities.

Regards to the Constantinople hippodrome.

\\
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  #25  
Unread 06-02-2022, 08:28 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Allen,

I at first read that as "You shall write a poem about me," and I appreciated that confidence! We're still traveling and thus without a place to send your book, but I can imagine a world in which I purchase it, I like what you post.

The Hippodrome, eh? Regards given, but I suspect it's long gone.

Cheers,
John
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  #26  
Unread 07-01-2022, 03:13 AM
Jonathan James Henderson Jonathan James Henderson is offline
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Allow me to start general and move into detail: overall I really enjoyed this. Thematically it seems to play with the classic idea of poetry as a light confronting darkness, but also of darkness, night, and dreams as a correlative to the creativity that inspires that light. It feels historically indebted to Wordsworth (I especially think of Westminster Bridge) and Coleridge's Conversation poems. Recently I've been reading Ashbery and, when he bothers to make sense, he also likes this night/light and individual/world dichotomies as metaphors for artists' works and relationship with the rest of the world.

As much as I love that tradition (and I do; I've abused it myself more than once), if I'm to be brutally honest while still being general, my biggest complaint here is that, for all the poem's lovely polish, I don't feel it does anything new with that tradition. I half-expected to come across "the very houses seem asleep." There's nothing wrong with well-made iterative art, but it fails Dickinson's standard of poetry "feel(ing) physically as if the top of my head were taken off" if only because it treads such well-worn ground. This is the kind of thing that will probably only matter if trying to get it published; is there a current market for Wordsworthian/Coleridgian conversation/meditation poems that don't have much trace of the contemporary? I'm the intended audience, but I often feel I'm also out of touch with contemporary traditions and tastes, so don't rely too much on that!

Moving into more specifics with structural elements, I get the feeling this is essentially tripartite, and a pretty classic one: moving from night (or evening), where observation provokes reflection, then into the morning. A well-worn structure itself, but my only real issue is the slightly lopsided symmetry. We essentially have 10 lines of the nocturnal scene, using the last foot to transition into the image and reflection (I particularly like the imagination's motion of seeing the castle "lift(ing) its parapets" from which we travel "down" to mortal life); 10 lines of the reflected image (perhaps one question too many here: I think it would've been better with two, and then having a line devoted to a different speech act rather than three interrogatives); then another prepositional phrase at the end of the 10 lines transitions us to the finale of the dawn scene, but you break the symmetry with having 15 lines devoted to this. I think it would work better if there was a sense that the last stanza was a kind of epilogue, or coda, to what preceded it. As it its symmetry breaking without purpose to my ears.

Moving yet into more detail, and I'll probably go more linear here, covering both praise and complaints:

-I love the image of the "sun inside the wolf that swallows it."

-I like the metrical substitution of "in the thick black." These double trochees (or major ionic if we go Greek) work well as correlatives for describing anything heavy, thick, etc.

-The play of the line ending on "some soul has turned" is nice, and echoes nicely with the later idea they may be writing "verse," but also suggesting more profound kinds of turnings, especially because it's some "soul" rather than someone. All the connotations of "verses" "turning" "souls" is a nice one; probably unintentional, but that's where my mind went reading it.

-"there's a lit window in a darkened wall" is also nice because of the metrical substitutions, really emphasizing through rhythm the rhetorical and dichotomous relation between the "lit window" and the "darkened wall." My mind went to the idea of the "inner light" that burns in the "darkened walls" that are human bodies. Again, maybe not intentional, but that's where my mind went.

-"might I have a companion" needs changing, I think. I've praised the metrical substitutions before but this doesn't work IMO. I see no reason for its metrical violations other than to accommodate those specific words.

-"still mind" struck me strangely: is a writing mind still? It would seem to be the opposite.

-"or a soul / that struggles with the angels at this hour" is quite lovely, and I appreciate the echoing of the "soul" before. They're far enough apart to not grate, but close enough to force an intuitive connection.

-I wish there was more connective tissue between "sleepless, in pain, or dying," which is such a dour note, and the "all along" that briskly (too briskly) moves us towards the quasi-aubade. It has the same awkwardness of someone saying something depressing and then someone else quickly changing the subject so as to not have to think about it much, almost as if someone made a social faux-pas with TMI.

-Too many wakes/awaken here at the end: "fishermen who wake," "laborers... awaken," "every soul... must... waken," and a very similar idea with "the sleepers will arise." Too much repetition. You could probably fix the symmetry I complained about by seriously trimming or changing some of these.

-"city's pulse will quicken as a hand / is passed across the stars" is a lovely but mysterious image. No immediate interpretative thoughts, but I like it.

-I like the connection between dawn "breaking" and the "machine of night" ending. I probably would've tried to connect them even more. Like, it would be interesting to remove the period and let it be "Dawn must break the whole / machine of night" and writing the rest around that.

-I do think you do a good job of bringing back the "light yet burn(ing)" and connecting it to the looming castle above the air, which is interesting because it was the transitions from the height of the castle to the building below that brought us to the light, so lines connecting the light to the image on high is a very nice touch.

-"The city slumbers on" isn't a satisfying ending to me. Even though it loops back to the beginnings' sleeping it feels too tacked on. No immediate suggestions for bettering it, which I wish I could offer since I know "it doesn't work" isn't very helpful and seems too subjective without justification.

I will say on the whole "Inspissated" controversy, I would've kept it. It may be out of place with the poem's diction but, as I said in my own recent thread, I love discovering new words, the more expensive the better. I think just having one in a poem of such length is fine, it works nicely as contrast, if nothing else. Personally, I do not mind poets/authors showing off their erudition, I don't mind literature that calls attention to itself, and I, in general, think the aesthetic demand for literary humility is vastly overrated. Most of the greatest literary minds would've had none of that, and some made an entire career of it (Joyce). If you like a word in a poem don't let people convince you otherwise just because of artificiality or calling attention or showing erudition or whatever. Logophiles, unite!

Last edited by Jonathan James Henderson; 07-01-2022 at 03:16 AM.
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  #27  
Unread 07-01-2022, 12:47 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Jonathan,

And thank you for the detailed and helpful critique. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem as a whole: you are quite right to hear Wordsworth and Coleridge here, first because it’s about place and second because I’ve been immersed I the Romantics for nigh on forty years. My new book An Outline of Romanticism in the West should in fact be out before the year’s end. I love that tranquil, solemn Wordsworthian voice, that wrestling with what matters. I also agree with your feeling that I’ve not done anything radically new with that tradition – Dickinson is my benchmark for what is poetry, and so that’s a problem for me as well. Or am I simply writing vers de société? These poems are all from a MS, Vagabond, that details our rambles over Europe, and it’s hard to be more Childe Harold-y than that. But it’s what I’ve got, and it has a thematic and structural unity, I think.

Your point about symmetry is well taken. Perhaps it’s worth me working more at this to try to have three stanzas of ten lines apiece to narrate the whole. After all, the topic deserves it. I can also look at cutting a question from my series, I tend to get carried away with them. I’ll have a look. Maybe I can just make S3 a coda as you suggest.

Glad to hear that lots of little details worked for you – the sun inside the wolf, in the thick black, some soul has turned, the lit window in a darkened wall. It is especially nice to see you unpacking my imagery and meter: some of this is conscious, some unconscious, but it’s all music in the mix, I believe, and it’s good to have it given voice. I especially liked your light inside the walls of the body, that’s right up my alley.
I’ll look at might I have a companion, which does sound a bit clunky, I agree; and still mind came after many attempts – I think I’ll go with quick for now.

It’s good to know you enjoyed the soul struggling with the angels, an echo of Jacob in the OT. Sleepless, in pain, or dying feels a bit Baudelairean to me, and I quite like it, but I hear you about connective tissue and the change of subject. I’ll have a think, as for all the waking taking place at the end. I like also that you enjoyed the hand passing across the stars, and the machine of night, both of which I think would have been at home in a Wordsworth poem. I’ll think about removing the period after dawn must break.

Glad the light yet burning works for you. The city slumbers on is I agree hardly earth-shattering poetry and better is out there, I shall have a think. And as for inspissated, I may have deleted it too quickly – though it was Johnson, not Milton, I took it from – but on balance, I quite like the thick black of night I got from its replacement. Still, there is scope for the recondite word in a poem, maybe a long poem in particular.

Thanks again for the very helpful thoughts. The poem has sat for a while and my mind has been elsewhere. I’ll get stuck back into it now.

Revision posted.

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 07-01-2022 at 12:49 PM.
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  #28  
Unread 07-01-2022, 12:49 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Inspissated is braggadocio. Obliviate.
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  #29  
Unread 07-01-2022, 01:09 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Allen,

I don't believe in showing off. To inspissate is to thicken or grow thicker, and Johnson used it precisely of the night, just as I did. I'm quite at ease with the process that led me to use the word. However, one's readers are different people, and if a preponderance of readers is going to think it's braggadocio, then that seems reason to let it fall by the wayside. I don't want or need that distraction.

This is why I don't argue with an adolescent who feels he has to demonstrate to his companions that he owns the sidewalk. That now is a principle I demonstrated just the other day.

CHeers,
John
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  #30  
Unread 07-01-2022, 01:30 PM
Jonathan James Henderson Jonathan James Henderson is offline
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Glad I was helpful John, and I want to say I do vastly prefer your recent edit! One thing I've noticed is that the change to "quick" now has a nice echo with "the pulse quickens," but it's subtle enough not to jar. My last advice was to have "day early breaks" as "early day breaks." Yes, it breaks the meter, but you can get away with it as you're describing something breaking. Some might think it too clever, but I love such things. Cheers.
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