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  #11  
Unread 05-24-2022, 05:29 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Robert,

Thanks for dropping by!

I'm glad you find the narrative smooth and compelling. It may be that tending toward the journalistic is inevitable in writing about current events: we have had an awful lot of discourse about the pandemic pushed our way over the past two years, and that's fairly hard to get around. Some markers are kept, some are not, I do what I can to allow it to become poetry without cheapening or lessening the death toll that is my subject. Anyhow, yes, current events I think are hard to write well about. We do what we can.
I do think I have a fair bit of imagery here - or do you mean, more specifically metaphors? I've not counted mine but it could be I have few. And as for subtlety, you should see my Donald Trump poems! They are unsubtle. To my mind, craft and the esthetic transformation of the material is always welcome, but subtlety is not the endpoint of composition in verse, as a topic like this one illustrates. I don't know if you agree, but it seems to me that being too subtle here would be a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Mind you, my poem "Cage Street," about McAllen, never once says that children were being kept in cages by the Trump regime just down the road. So, I don't know. I guess it depends how the poem comes out. Poe's Masque of the Red Death, now - that is an unsubtle piece.

Cheers,
John
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  #12  
Unread 05-24-2022, 05:49 AM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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I'd cut everything before "Here, the dead“— though maybe I'd retain "netherland" as in:
Here, in this weird netherland, the dead

Everything before that line is rather prosaic journalism, and doesn't say anything new about the pandemic experience. The poem after that line is more compressed, more imagistic, does something different from usual prose. the 9/11 reference is particularly weak I think, "upset" is such a casual, almost inconsequential choice that it sounds comical; yet the comicalness seems accidental.

My main problem (and Ukraine poems) with pandemic poems are their attempts to universalise. Unless you have a very idiosyncratic language you can apply to a mass experience, which this poem does not, you'll end up just reiterating common sentiments, and if you're doing that, what's the point of the poem? I'd seriously consider whether this poem is doing anything that any other pandemic poem / article hasn't.
I'd also consider rewriting this as more personal experience. As I say before, the communal "we" unless placed in a very idiosyncratic voice can come off as bland and uninteresting.
The best pandemic poems I have read, btw, are by Aaron Poochigian and Vahni Capildeo. Neither had any predecessors.

Hope this helps.
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  #13  
Unread 05-24-2022, 06:16 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Cameron,

You're right, the 9/11 bit in particular has to go. For me, among the weirdest aspects of the pandemic was to see a nation that lost its collective mind over 3,000 deaths on 9/11 basically swallow hundreds of thousands of dead without a blink twenty years later. But I've completely failed to express that weirdness, especially to non-American residents.
Your idea of dropping "we" - which after all is purely American - is fresh and provocative and very possibly the way to go. For now, I have to wonder about removing this from the MS. it's in - I like it, it says what the pandemic put on my mind, but everyone seems leery of pandemic poems, and you provide good arguments for that. My data points are mostly common property after all.
Anyhow. 9/11 will go, and the opening will be edited. I may get stuck in now. Thanks very much.

Cheers,
John

Update: revision posted.

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-24-2022 at 06:22 AM. Reason: revision
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  #14  
Unread 05-24-2022, 08:27 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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John, hundreds of thousands of dead without a blink? I thought that was a Russian weirdness. A friend of mine whose parents live in Manhattan said the atmosphere there was pretty grim. My impression was that Americans were a good deal more aware than Russians, who took a devil-may-care attitude to masks and other precautions. In the big cities, free vaccinations were available everywhere, but people stayed away in droves. The vaccination rate has now edged above 50%, but getting there wasn’t easy. Do you mean that Americans have been too quick to put it all behind them?
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  #15  
Unread 05-24-2022, 08:37 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Carl,

America kind of split down the middle, following Trump's lead. Half the country wore masks and seemed affected by the death toll. Half the country yelled at or assaulted service workers who requested masks of them, actually spat on doctors and nurses trying to treat them for COVID, caused planes to be diverted because of their refusal to wear masks, etc. etc. etc. I am I think quite precise to suggest they numbered (and number) in the tens of millions.
These are the same people who had a total meltdown when 3,000 died (horribly) on 9/11. But that time, their GOP leader was not a nihilistic con man. At least, by comparison.

Cheers,
John

Update: in other words, millions behaved like members of some freakish death cult. I was forcefully reminded of Jonestown.

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-24-2022 at 08:51 AM. Reason: death cult
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  #16  
Unread 05-24-2022, 10:37 AM
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Rose Novick Rose Novick is offline
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I enjoy the first stanza of this: it's fresh, and I like the way you've turned "nor is pain, pain just yet". I think "weird netherland" weighs down the stanza, but overall it's an interesting start. I might chop it to tet, like so:
As the imagination fails,
I find myself where death is not
quite death, nor is pain, pain just yet.
After that the poem loses its vigor, becoming another faceless plague poem in the unending series of plague poems we've all seen these past two years. I want to see you bring to life this place where death is not quite death. I want to see you show me the imagination failing. But instead I get stock scenes and the bare, limp insistence that the N "cannot // pin down this slick disease." But gosh, the N has to try for me to believe his failure.
6.12. Ran Qiu said, "It is not that I do not delight in your Way, Master, it is simply that my strength is insufficient."
....The Master said, "Someone whose strength is genuinely insufficient collapses somewhere along the Way. As for you, you deliberately draw the line." (Analects)
The ending is a pale copy of Frost's "Out, Out—".
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  #17  
Unread 05-24-2022, 10:37 AM
Jason Ringler Jason Ringler is offline
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Hi John

Thanks for sharing The Masque of the Red Death. I think it could be lurking in there, certain words and phrases chime in that way.

Words like furtive and behind the curtains are great helpers. I would say there’s death and secrecy there.

Were you going to make it a personal experience all the way down the poem and change the ending to “the dead are not me after all”? I’m not sure what kind of light that would put the narrator in though.

Sorry Rose I didn’t see your post about Frost’s poem.

Last edited by Jason Ringler; 05-24-2022 at 10:51 AM.
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  #18  
Unread 05-24-2022, 12:39 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Rose, hi Jason,

Thank you for stopping by!
Rose: glad you enjoyed the first stanza. Let me begin by noting that the end you dislike picks up on that opening you enjoyed. I also think that to be a pale copy of something, you have to be copying the other thing, not my case since I had to Google the Frost to find out what you meant. Thanks for your work putting this into tet - I appreciate it - but once again, I'm not writing a Rose poem Mark II and so that's not really my line. Sorry you don't like the weird netherland, I do.
When you say "the unending series of plague poems we've all seen these past two years," you assume I read today's poetry journals. You are mistaken. I read what's on the Sphere, where I've seen no such thing. I believe this may be the first here posted. You go on to say you get "stock scenes and the bare, limp insistence that the N "cannot // pin down this slick disease." But gosh, the N has to try for me to believe his failure." You are here confusing art with life, to which I am in fact referring. This is a common error for poets in my experience. I could give a crap about pinning down the disease on the page, that will not end the pandemic, to think otherwise is to overvalue what we do rather dramatically. My immediate concern is being able to pin it down in lived reality: do I need to quarantine my mail, for instance. Similarly, "stock scenes" - from the plague poems you, not I, have read - like hand-shaking or the refrigerated dead are precisely the lived reality of the disease. I could instead launch into fiction, but that would hardly enable me to record what I and we lived through. Which I think I have done.
Thank you for posting what for me is a rare interesting moment in the Analects, that tedious volume. I've expressed above my theory as to "pale copies" of Frost.
In short, I find your post on my previous poem more useful than your post on this one. Sorry, but that's how it is. Thank you for the time you took.

Jason: yes, I see more Poe than Frost in this piece. I think you're right. I think I need "the dead are not us," because that turn to the universal (it's I till then) is central to a disease that required (requires) us to think socially and succeeded in large part due to the refusal of millions to do so.

Cheers, thank you both,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-24-2022 at 12:39 PM. Reason: bold
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  #19  
Unread 05-24-2022, 12:53 PM
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Rose Novick Rose Novick is offline
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John, I am sorry that my critical comments on your poem have so upset you. If you would prefer that I refrain from giving you sincere feedback on your poems, let me know, and I'll stop.
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  #20  
Unread 05-24-2022, 01:02 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Rose,

You are mistaken, I think, to read upset in my voice. If it were otherwise, I'd have woken my wife with my typing. I just think you're wrong, a couple of times, in your read of the poem, and it's my job to point that out. It's not just that I will advocate for my work, as authors I think can and should, it's that I'll advocate for what I think is the reality of the case. Amicus Plato and all that.
For comparison, it seems to me your tone was not unduly positive on my last poem: you were, however, quite right in my mind, so I gladly took your suggestions instead of arguing with you. That's how it works. Please do comment away, there's a give and take to it, and batting .500 is pretty good.

Cheers,
John
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