Sunday, June 9, 2013

On yesterday's poem

I am of course so honored by your pleasure in the poem. Thank you, everyone.

Carlene, I've spent many an hour, over the years (and many of them with our mutual friend Baron), mulling this glowering Puritan cloud. Still, I'm not convinced that it's not salutary in some way . . . and as the contorted negative in my sentence indicates, my thoughts about the need to seek joy or to accept preordained failures are thorny and require many mixed metaphors. That's where the poems come in, apparently: articulations without answers.

Mary, the curve was so interesting to me! The poem demanded a rhyme scheme, but I could not keep it within the bounds of a regular line cadence. The lines seemed to push themselves forward as the poem's emotions intensified. So then I started experimenting with the shape, and that's when the rhymes and lines fell into place. To me it looks a bit like a drawing of plot action. But it might also imitate a curved road.

Jen and Christopher, I'm curious about your reactions to the narrative voice. You write "put us there with you" and "women in tired cars," but the poem itself says, "You, not man enough . . . " and plays with prince imagery. My question is: am I being unclear? My intent was to imply that the "you" is male. But if that isn't coming through, I need to do more work.


CMGadapee said...

"Articulations without answers."

Best definition of poetry yet, I think.

And to address the gender of the speaker, I read "man enough" as in "man up," more than a statement of gender. That being said, I'm not sure the speaker has to have a clearly indicated gender, but instead, as the situation is universal, why not leave it?

Christopher said...

Just right -- and of course macho expressions in the mouths of women get to the heart of most matters better. Because who wants to be "man enough" anyway? I mean, it's just as much a recipe for disaster whether in the mouth of a man or a woman, but it's a whole lot more ironical out of the mouth of the latter!

Ditto the prince on the road. Oh my!

But could be either, I agree, Carlene. On the other hand, I personally hear "Dawn Potter" in the poem, and as I love the voice and the positions I'm afraid it's going to remain a female persona for me however much the author protests. I'm also very interested in Dawn Potter's attitudes toward almost all the issues in the poem -- I touched on some of them in my previous comment, so you'll know what I mean.

And the imagery is so feminine as well -- "the coiled road .. slick as a seal," for example. No man would have known that what is more been able to write it. Or the way the fog spatters on the windshield, the monstrous owl, the invisible forest. And of course the prince.

But I have reservations about the curve, maybe because when I do such things in my own poetry I always regret them. The poem is much bigger than the curve, it seems to me -- the poem doesn't need any fancy or extra help, unless you interpret the gimmick as part of the persona's diffidence.

Having said that I love the poem just as it is -- it doesn't need any fiddling. Indeed, it's done so we've all got to live with it just as it is, including the author!


Christopher said...

In Defense of the Curve after a Good Night's Sleep in Cool Weather, the Monsoon Rains having Broken.

The Curve as Mary Hennessey dubbed it -- and at first I didn't get what she meant and thought it was some sort of secret talk between women. The curve? The curve?

That's why it's feminine.

It bulges outward at the opposite like a woman bulges inward.

"You know how it is," yes, but only if you're a woman. A man can never know such things personally except as a poet, and even then he'll tell you again and again that women are more intimate in the matter, and more assertive. That's why men write about women -- and perhaps also why women when they write about men are still writing about women!

The rhetoric bulges too like something is in there much bigger than anyone could imagine -- or would want to for that matter.

As I said about the prince -- oh my!


Dawn Potter said...

I'm going to have to think more about the "man up" properties of the poem. I'm feeling kind of uneasy now . . . which isn't a bad thing, at least in the world of revision.

Christopher said...

Why are you always in the world of revision, Dawn? It's as if poems for you were the product of some sort of professional obligation to hold up the side, as if you were part of a venerable Medieval Guild of Perfect Poets that guarded the secret of the perfect text. As if there were only one way to weave a poem and only one master-print, and that the apprentice lives to keep up not just the same quality but the same patterns!

When I first came to Thailand 20 years ago I was, like everybody else, ravished by the crafts, and weaving in particular, that were on display in every little shop and stall. And then I started to see design innovations here and there with the same Thai materials that were obviously not Thai designs, and they weren't -- the Japanese had arrived and were using the Thai materials, the weaves, the patterns, the finsishes, to create stunning new artifacts as if from another planet.

It took 15 years of that imbalance before the Thais dared to join the innovators. The fact is that Thai people are very conservative despite their extraordinary craft skills, and the individual always feels obligated to preserve what has already been established by tradition. Indeed, it's considered arrogant to design for yourself!

"My question is: am I being unclear?" you ask in the post above. "My intent was to imply that the 'you' is male. But if that isn't coming through, I need to do more work."

My intent? My intent? A poem is far more purposeful than any poet can ever plan ahead, and it's arrogant to think you can control how it's read. And why would you want to anyway?


Christopher said...

I wrote that at 6am my time, just before I started laying out the breakfast. So I had to rush it, and of course I had to rush it when I got to the table as well.

Now I'm back at my desk, and wish I had been a bit more circumspect -- because I know you, Dawn, and know that however right I am in something I say, if I'm even just a little bit wrong I'm going to suffer just as much for it as if were one black glob.


I have nothing against revision -- indeed I bet I out do you in sheer bulk of revision all the time. I'm much, much older than you are for one thing, and for another I'm much less successful at getting published, so I get to spend a whole lot more time with private poems that are still alive and willing on my desk. 10 years is not uncommon for me, 20 in some notable cases...

But the idea of controlling a poem so that it can say what you "intend" -- that's what gets me. Because in my experience a poem finally gets free of my clutches when it's good enough to say something I've never thought of before, when it picks me up, transports me, even, as sometimes, really, takes me by the throat and shakes me.

I think "Accident Report" has reached that point, and I do hope you'll leave it alone if only for my sake -- though I suspect for Jen's and Carlene's sake as well. You've given us a finely wrought labyrinth and we've been negotiating it fearlessly -- and maybe we don't want to come out and be put on your nice neighbor lane instead.

Forgive me if I hurt your feelings, dear complicated friend. I hang in there because you're so refreshing not to speak of so good, even in your impatience, self-doubt, and intolerance, and I hope eventually you'll be able to accept such undutiful but informed admiration.