This is a very old piece of mine that was modeled on and was a reaction to a poem by a reasonably well-known author. Unfortunately, when I wrote it, I didn’t notate whose poem it was modeled after, so if anyone sees a vague (or not so vague) similarity in form and phrasing between this poem and one which they are familiar with, please send me an e-mail at, as I would very much like to go back and read that poem again, and if necessary include an attribution with this poem.

Brother Thoughts

My brother thinks with half a brain
that hinders his progress as he moves.
And I was the one who wanted
a firm strong leader for a brother.
I wanted him to be bright and capture
attention with his quickness and his wit.
I wanted him to be the best of all
the kids he goes to school
with, the leader, one who breaks
new ground with his inventive mind. Instead
he’s this rickety little kid who makes mindless
patterns on his paper when he’s confused.
He’s a stumbler who can’t do anything
right, or so the teachers say. It hurts me to see
him so abnormal so lopsided with glasses
crooked on his face. Sometimes I weep
knowing he is mine, but then he turns
and looks at me with eyes full of life.
He comes over and tugs
my shirt and I play a game
with him in the grass and his imperfections
are forgotten.

I love the dawn; her ragged edge is capped
by hazy veils. It is impossible
to see a single leaf whose veins have trapped
her light. The branches, too, are just too full
of light to view. Obscured by a fiery sun’s
occluded force’s shade, the world and you
were equally lost through light. I think no one
could reason in such love; it blurred you to
the point where I was blinded when I looked
into your eyes. I could not see a fault,
regardless of how plain it was. It took
some time away from you, self-forced default,
to sift out of the coriolis sure
proof that you were mine and I was yours.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia foundation and
Vine tendril seeking the light

Dissatisfied with the Alexandrine couplets I had written and making use of some suggestions from <a href=" have a peek here.html”>Tim Morris, I started over, and came up with the following Sonnet in Alexandrines.



A wicker basket tries to hold the plant upright,
But calling to the sun, it stretches for the door.
It’s leaves drag on the tile as it gasps and fights
For the fresh air seeping in, then, as it was before,
It’s motionless and still as people pass it by.
Although I see the slant its efforts have produced,
I wonder if it will have the strength for one more try,
And would it be my place to give it a small boost.
It seems so out of place and yet so apropos
It’s immobility a curse it cannot fight,
It struggles on despite the fact it cannot go;
And go it does or seems to, a little to the right–
So closer to the sun, so closer to the door
But when I blink it’s back to where it was before.

Smoke curls
            up from empty
     words.  I burn
a page for you and
   incense like, it
               wafts up through
                      the air, particulate and
                                          grey like
                               you, not like
                        the ink that every day
                     I spilled like
         blood only to see you
                           laughed without
                                            a smidge of human-like
                                  concern in the way your eyes
                          met mine and turned away.
                                  You stalked off to
                                           the kitchen, asked again
                      for food or milk or something; gauging
               you is difficult.
                           Perhaps your age or mine’s
                 the barrier.  Although
                            you’re masked by onyx eyes
                                and pointed ears and fur, it can’t be that
                                             your feline incarnation could be
                                                      the cause of all my lives’

The above sonnet employs a nonce rhyme-scheme of abccbaabccbadd.  After composing the sonnet as usual, I began to look for ways to break up the lines and change the wording so as to allow for doubling of meaning, abiguity, and intensification.  In the process I found the opportunity to create an additional aspect in the concreteness (visually) of the textual arrangement. It was created rather off the cuff because I saw I hadn’t posted in a very long while and wanted to put something original up, and it is a little too abstract even now, for my taste, but I enjoyed the diffusion and the layering of meaning that the self-developed workshopping allowed me to achieve.  Now if I can just do the same with something a little more concrete (memetically).


So, as you can imagine, with Josely Baptista fresh in my mind, my thoughts are focused on translation.  Add to that a class in Old English language and literature, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous combination.

I’m reading the Wife’s Lament, right, which I can without affectation retitle Lonely Wife Blues.  After all, the scholar who came up with the title “The Wife’s Lament” back in the day was simply seeking a descriptive handle by which to reference a text which its scribe left untitled.  Some people will tell you that authors weren’t concerned with titling their works until the advent of the printing press and the possibility of widespread printed publication.  I beg to differ.  I think that SCRIBES weren’t all that concerned with titles, but authors (in what small sense authorship as we know it existed in a pre-literate culture) always titled their works, and always shared that title with their audience (reader or listener).  What, you think Homer just started strumming and people lined up to listen?  Well, OK, maybe he could have, but I guarantee you that what he did was say something along the lines of “And now I give you the story of Odysseus and his remarkable journey,” or something along those lines.  It’s basic; it’s intrinsic; authors title their works.  In any case, that was a humongous old tangent.  The point is that you can give the Wife’s Lament any old title you choose as long as people understand what you’re talking about.

So I get to thinking, what modern poetic form most closely approximates the alliterative verse of Anglo Saxon culture, and I realize, we have a form today that is strikingly similar.  When I say strikingly, you’re not gonna belive how striking it is.  So what is Alliterative verse?  Basically what you’ve got is a “line” divided into to half-lines, each of which has two strongly weighted syllables, at least one of these syllables in each half-line alliterating with one in the other half line.  Of course the rules for determining a strongly weighted syllable get pretty complex, as do the iterations that can be used within that basic pattern, but nevertheless, that’s pretty much it.  In modern verse, we have something commonly referred to as the blues line.  Basically, it has two half-lines, often (though not always by any means) joined by alliteration on the stressed syllables, with the lines repeating and/or rhyming at the end.  Remove the requirement for rhyme and you’ve got the updated version of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.

What follows is my translation (and I use the word translation advisedly; this is not a transliteration or a traduction or a paraphrase) of the first several lines of the Wife’s lament into unrhymed strongly alliterated blues lines.  I have tried to stay true as much as possible down to the word level, and always at least to the level of the half-line.  I think it works as well as any translation can.  What do you think?

Lonely Wife Blues

I’ll sing you a song    ’bout my sad sad life,
’bout my sad sad plight,    though I say it myself;
and my miserable lot    after i matured.
I’ve been there before    never badder than now.
I’ve suffered torment    been sent away,
just like my man was    away from the masses,
when he caused a commotion    and filled me with care.
I wanted to know    just where he was,
So I went on a journey    and looked for a job:
Couldn’t make no friends    in my miserable state.
My poor man’s kin    considered it great
(though they tried to hide it)   that they’d parted our hearts,
as far away    as the farthest lands.
My man’s life was lousy;    he longed for me;
he had me live like him    in the horrible trees.
I didn’t have no friends    nowhere in this nation.
didn’t have no friends    didn’t have no joy.
So when I found him    and he made me happy
didn’t know he weren’t lucky    that he’d lose his mind;
didn’t know he’s contrivin’    a homicide.
He had a happy appearance    we promised and vowed
we wouldn’t be parted    ’til death did his part.
We said we wouldn’t be parted,    but that was a lie,
cause I’m sittin here now,     and just want to die.

[To be continued]

At the request of a friend I am posting the following humorous verse.

At the Club

A Farce

“The act of esteeming worthless; pointless” – floccinaucinihilipilification:

I’ve a constant pinging tintinnabulation

that I can’t escape no matter my gyrations.

So I sit and ask Doc Smith’s interpretation,

and he tells me it’s just due to loud vibrations

and a cure is pointless in his estimation.

It’s the gin he’d drunk that in my estimation

caused his analysis of my problem to devolve into mere floccinaucinihilipilification.

To identify the causative vibrations

of my now quite painful tintinnabulation

will require a dowser’s skilled interpretation

of a hazel wand’s erratic quick gyrations.

And I’ll prob’ly have to go through some gyrations

to allow me to obtain an estimation

of the price to stop the noise zithromax pills. Interpretation?

Why it’s simply that quite a lot of exclamatory and self-exculpating floccinaucinihilipilification

will result when I explain my tintinnabulation

and request the end of those blameworthy vibrations.

I sure hope the ceasing of those foul vibrations

will allow me to be rid of these gyrations

and will end this dreadful tintinnabulation.

Otherwise, my search, by any estimation,

will be bound to endure a considerable amount of floccinaucinihilipilification.

If the singer’s very flawed interpretation

(And I’ve very loosely used “interpretation”

for the rather less than musical vibrations;

though I don’t mean to be engaging myself in any floccinaucinihilipilification.)

and the dancer’s un-interpretive gyrations

could be stopped, then, in my humble estimation,

I could find the cause of my tintinnabulation;

but between the effects of my tintinnabulation

and the music and the dance, interpretation

has become impossible. No estimation

can succeed. I’ll have to live with the vibrations

and just sip my beer and watch the strange gyrations

of the dancers. And it begins to become obvious that the floccinaucinihilipilification

of the tintinnabulation and the cymbals’ loud vibrations

gives a weird interpretation to the dancers fierce gyrations;

and though no one pays attention, my estimation of the situation is that it can all reasonably be chalked up to a simple matter of a lot of floccinaucinihilipilification.

“Flesh-back,” by Guy Goffette, translated by Marilyn Hacker (published in Poetry London, No. 46), transmogrifies beer into gold and urchins into avenging angels. It speaks in the language of the urbane sophisticate, but rekindles the color of the back-alley brawls of beggars. I am glad that it was part of a longer piece, for it doesn’t seem like enough in and of itself to do justice to its theme, although the individual details are well wrought. I especially love the image of the light, entering into the domain of the dark, the bar, the café, and turning the liquor of despair into the liqueur of hope, a straw-colored ray that brings the heavens to earth, the sky to the asphalt.

Of course the problem with translation is that all sonic effects and matters of form and function are difficult to attribute to author or translator, but in the end, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter. This poem, though perhaps a different poem from the one written by Goffette, is its own entity and can stand alone. So it is not out of place for me to talk about the interesting internal rhyme of cafés/ray’s and urchin/in and shit/shit, rhymes, which do seem to be thematically appropriate, highlighting moments of contrast and of completion. The alliteration is also enjoyable, and it makes one appreciate the skill of a master translator who pays attention not merely to the sense, but to the sound.

If George Bush wants to win the race he’ll have to free
his campaign from the taint of missing WMDs.

If Edwards wants the liberal nomination then
He’ll have to show the delegates that he could win.


Poor examples no doubt, but worth the exercise.

Writing a Sestina

I only write one line. That’s all I have to write.
I keep the meter tight. No need to run across the line-ends.
Each is clear, and each one stands alone.
So each one stands alone, I only write one line.
The line ends. It is clear that that’s all I have to write.
No need to run across the meter, keep it tight.

The meter is kept tight so each one stands alone.
I need to bear my cross and write the only line I ever had to write.
The line ends. It is clear the line ends. It is clear the meter is kept tight.

And all I have the right to do is stand alone and write
the only line I need. To bear my cross I need to run across the line
-ends. It is clear I have but one right line, whose meter is too tight.

I know to stand alone It must be exactly right.
It must be exactly right, with no need to run across another line.
Alone, the line ends it. Is clear meter just too tight?

It’s all I can write. One line– I write across the page, alone, struggling to be clear, clinging tightly to the pen through just one last line.

I wasn’t really happy with yesterday’s poem. It failed to keep rigorously to the requirements of the rhyme. The one below is slightly more satisfactory.

Look in the interstices
  of spider webs and flowers.
To purge the inner vices
  look in-between the hours.
If you would find true pleasure
  in aromatic spices,
it’s not in what you measure;
  it’s in the interstices.

“The Final Stroke,” by Peter G. Epps (published in the Penwood Review, November 2003), is interesting in that, more than any poem I have seen recently it keeps strictly to the Petrarchan requirement that the sextet be able to stand on its own as a separate poem. The theme seems to be rejection and loss, especially that which is (or seems to be) a product of one’s own actions. It also has a strong feeling of death and judgment as well. The connection between the two seems to be that realization of the former occurs in the process of the latter.

There are several phrases that evoke particularly poignant and enjoyable images. “Too numb to rest,” is one. The opposite would seem more likely to be true, yet this rings solid and perfect. One is numbed by not resting. I love the transposition of imagery that occurs between the octet and the sextet. The octet ends with an apparent death, a “clotted brain.” The broken vessel of the opening line of the sextet, is then initially read as a blood vessel, and thus is tied inextricably to the woman. This sets up a concrete metaphoric relationship between the woman herself and the vessel which has just dropped from her lifeless hands.

Another nice juxtaposition of nomenclature occurs in the penultimate line (which is also wonderful sonically speaking), when her betrayals are made of clay, a traditional medium for dishes. Although the abstraction of the sextet gets to be a little too much toward the end, it was still a wonderful and enjoyable exploration of the transformation of death, a questioning of what lies just beyond and a suggestion that our assumptions may be turned on their heads.


Beaches call; stony clamor
of silence rings through dead air.
Dead air receives the stammer
and sinks without a sound. Where
are the calls of the sea birds?
This silent screaming teaches
me the power of no words
as I sigh on the beaches.


endless.   Here
is the bison,
lost to us when
longbows departed.
I see it rifled
buried. Achilea
eventually is grown,
or killed; élan
returns when man,
murdering being,
noticing the lack,
overcorrects. Ex-
too little  for
sinners like us,
underhanded. Re
supply, re-support.
All heaths dead.

I think all heartfelt love poetry, composed in the moment and to a real lover, is probably pretty cheesy. I know for certain that mine is. All the technique and craft I normally hope to employ are right out the window. Nevertheless, here’s a cheesy, heartfelt love poem composed for my wife on Valentine’s Day.

Argument To His Lover on Valentine’s Day

I’ve seen you self-destruct and seen you win
Your way past snags Odysseus would rue.
I’ve seen you, with your clothing all askew,
Stare down an erring kid, and finally, when
They sat in meek submission, seen you grin
In pardon, turning pique to cheer in two
Quick seconds. All the things I’ve seen you do
Seem meaningless the moment I begin
To contemplate your physical perfection
Which I know that you would argue is fictitious.
Your face would make the very form of face
Blush to be compared to your reflection.
To argue with me surely would be vicious
So shut up and wrap me in my Love’s embrace.

Gloss on a Passage From Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way
Text1 Commentary Image
When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly bodies. Instinctively he consults them when he awakes, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks. Wrapped more tightly than
a tourniquet
wound round heaven, instinct
conducts us, bloody
placenta of
dream dripping
The cat
is purring
the two year
old pulls
its tail. Then
it is
Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back in its course, and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will conclude that he has just gone to bed. Book slips through fingers
the foggy mind
remembers, dreamless, until
the smell of morning
lures consciousness
to mistakes;
ready to sleep.
I watch
the dog play
in snow,
a frosted
streak of
umber. Or
is it
a small child?
Or suppose that he dozes off in some even more abnormal and divergent position, sitting in an armchair, for instance, after dinner: then the world will go hurtling out of orbit, the magic chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier in another place. Off our rocker we
slip, merge, emerge,
engaging the globe in sense,
sensing the smell of
sorcery or
physics or
History lives.
The smell
of roasted
and the feel–
the rough
armchair gives
me back
my childhood.
But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; Make it personal.
Tie it to me
with duct tape and still lose it:
identity. Eyes
darting this way
and that way–
Who am I?
and be defined.
In dark,
the candles,
wax gone,
still flicker,
float on
fumes. The smell:
of cavemen.
I was more destitute than the cave-dweller; but then the memory–not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be–would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned down collars, would gradually piece together the original components of my ego. The chasm surrounds me
echos of past
times, lives, loves, places, faces
cross my mind. I climb
from life to place,
place to face,
face to love.
earth, and roots
cut off
roughly. Hear,
the finch. Feel
water drip
down your back.

1 Text is taken from Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff et. al. New York: Modern Library, 1998. 4-5. The original text is a single paragraph. I broke it up into the divisions above.

“A Sonnet For CNN,” by George Bradley (published in The Fire Fetched Down, 1996), was written during the first gulf war, in 1991. It is not a typical war poem, which is appropriate since it was not a typical war. Poignant imagery is used to highlight the dichotomy between the realities of the war, and the reporting of the war as it enters the home of the average US household. In the octet the harshness of the war reporting is emphasized as its horrific images are brought into sharp focus in the “mind’s eye.” This type of war experience was impossible for the average civilian in any previous war, and in that sense it offers an experience of the war, which binds the nation tightly together in unity of purpose, a purpose illuminated by the final quote from Psalms 137. We have a connection through religious roots that ties us tightly to the Middle East even though half a world away.

The sextet, on the other hand, opens by reminding us that what we saw on the screen, however gruesome, could not in fact compare with the realities of the war, we have only a broadcaster’s “monotone” to inform the images. We are missing a primary sense, that of hearing, and are not actually affected by the mustard gas and scud missiles, the things that our children, our troops, are being faced with and suffering from. But rather than be distanced from our children by the impersonal nature of the war reporting, instead, we are led to an even more emotional connection. “How not to weep?” We are, in fact, brought to a deeper understanding our loss by examining the distance between us that would not be as obvious were it not for the seeming closeness that the TV brings to us.

“Little Blessing for My Floater” by Jeanne Murray Walker, was published in the November issue of Poetry. I wish I knew whether the epigram meant George Herbert the 17th century poet or G. H. W. Bush, as I personally can’t see the connection either way but the second seems somewhat remotely more applicable if the intent is to suggest a blind spot in political policy. I tend to think though that it is the former that is intended, and as such, though it may merely be my own poor memory, I can’t find the poem that this is intended to be ‘after’ or in what other possible way it relates to George Herbert at all.

But disregarding the unintelligible epigram, the rest of the poem is quite a nice little piece, with both sonics and sense that are fathomable and fun. I love the oxymoron “tiny ruin,” which seems perfectly sensible within the context, the contrast between the “little speck” and the “deep chip,” and the action attributed with the “piton that nails every rock.” I love the internal rhymes of ‘spot,’ ‘not,’ ‘rock,’ and ‘see,’ ‘sea,’ ‘be,’ ‘me,’ ‘see,’ especially because they become noticeable only when the poem is read aloud, at which point they surprisingly come, for the most part, at pauses in the speech, highlighting them and showing the authors obvious attention to the aural pleasure and the contract between aural and visual.

The idea of the poem, of embracing our difficulties, our faults, our trials, is presented freshly and enjoyably. The alternation between abstraction and concreteness keeps the poem grounded while allowing it to soar. However, the final apostrophe seems overblown and unnecessary. I could have hoped that the poem had ended three lines earlier on “that reminds me what I will be zithromax pills 500mg.”

I. Impotence

“It seems to him there are A thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.”

You try to break out of your cage
In a feat of fearsome strength. You pace
Behind the bars, and, in your rage,
You try to break out of your cage.
You’re in an unforgiving age;
Society will not embrace
You. Try to break out of your cage
In a feat of fearsome strength, then pace.

II. Power

“The movement of his powerful soft strides is like a ritual dance around a center”

Ignoring bars, in cyclic scope
He plots his path, pursues his prey.
Though never a breath of tight held hope
Escapes the bars. In cyclic scope
He circles with a steady lope.
His eyes, on fire, would like to flay
Offending bars. Instead, to cope,
He plots his path, avoids decay.

“Instant Coffee” by Patrick Donnelly, published in the October 2003 issue of The Yale Review, makes a beautiful and tightly woven connection between the coffee and the sunset. This connection is expanded into the change of the seasons, and could be representative of much more, what specifically being left up to the reader. The personification of summer and much of the language make it feel human and personal and lend credence to a reading of personal loss, whether of a loved one or thing making no difference.

The vocabulary of the sunset (falling, cloud) is used to describe the coffee, and the vocabulary of coffee (dregs) is used to describe the sunset. Time is brought in with the cream that holds “an instant.” The insects, the dregs, the giving up, the dark water, the kneeling, the cold, and the dispersion all point to a feeling of loss and mourning. However, the sweetness, the light, the summer, and the bright crystals all point to hope, happiness, and joy. I take away a celebration of life that glories in the transitions from one thing to the next yet mourns the passing of the lost.

There also seem to be some theological overtones. One could imagine the winged things to be angels as easily as insects, the sweetness to be a loved one for whom the angels have come, the pouring out to be acceptance of the loss, the cloud of cream to be a vision of heaven, and summer to be the Christ dispersing light into the cold dark world. However, even without taking it to that level of symbolism the piece is highly effective at evoking loss, acceptance, and comfort or hope in images that are poignant, effective, new, and breathtaking.

Hannah makes some interesting and insightful comments on my last post (scroll down for the comments). The following are my responses to some of her thoughts.

I see, at least within the poem, ‘make’ representing cooperative creation, while ‘being’ includes all of the individuated effort that she talks about. Poetry and essays might in fact be seen as a part of the great repulsive effort that we make (that darn word keeps popping up where I don’t want it) to individuate ourselves. So again I think the poem sort of bounces or really perhaps hovers between the two tropes, and I’ll admit to a little grandstanding at the end of my essay as well, the question is perhaps somewhat inappropriate.

It may be too much of a stretch to make the connection that I did between make and cooperation, and indeed, I was somewhat deflated by the fact that, with two poignant line breaks like those at the beginning of the poem, the subtext that they created was not more directly addressed in the rest of the poem. I perhaps struggled to hard to impute intent when there may have been none.

It is true, also, that there are fragments of the celestial throughout the poem. Her point with regard to the equation of the celestial with the personal is well made, and is akin to the ideas of order in the middle ages, with the celestial reflected in society reflected in the very humors of the body and as such, probably worth playing upon in the poem. Science, too, finds connections and mirroring between the macro and micro, from electronic and gravitic forces to the insidious quanta of Schröedinger’s cat. Nevertheless, on a personal level, I wanted things within the poem to stay at the micro level, at most hinting at a higher plane. The passage itself also seems just a little too high-falutin’ and grandiose. I will admit, though, that it is merely personal preference, my own micro-aesthetic, if you will.

“Repulsive Theory” by Kay Ryan, published in the November 2003 issue of Poetry, captured my attention immediately with its opening phrase, “little has been made.” Much has been made of the phrase “Much has been made of,” and this opening plays off of my familiarity with that phrase. However, the opening line by itself makes a bold declaration “little has been made” This seems false on the face of it, and I expect the poem to support it or subvert it. While the line belies the syntax (or vice versa), both are integral to the understanding of the poem. Looking to the next non-prepositional line, we see that “nothing has been made” is juxtaposed with “while much has been,” an interesting juxtaposition, that makes a certain amount of sense.

I particularly enjoy poetry that makes use of tropes traditionally belonging to the realm of the scientific, a realm that has on occasion (through the branch of linguistics) attempted to subvert or at least control the critical response to poetry. I am fascinated with both mathematics and speech, with both physics and rhetoric, with both science and soul, and this poem satisfies both cravings. We have the hard facts of “magnets reversed” and the “principle of repulsion” followed by the art of “doily edges” and the abstract “arabesques of thought.” The imagery of the poem is obviously reflective of repelling magnetic fields, yet it transforms it to a criticism if you will of traditional thinking with regard to mankind’s need for connection, offering alternatively the truth of mankind’s need for separation, all of this of course, without resorting to such mundane exposition.

In fact her imagery is enchanting, especially in the combination of the concrete with the abstract. Things like “oiled motions” and “pearly convolutions” produce specific images in my mind, but they are attached, in the text, to abstractions like avoidance. Anyone who has watched the rapids of a stream understands the concept of an eddying vacancy. Something normally abstract is made concrete by placing it within a context that defines it by what it is not.

The end of the poem, gives me a little pause because it seems to me to attempt to over extend the metaphor, or rather, it defies the metaphor by taking it out of the personal, where it has worked so well, and attempting to apply it to the cosmological in a way that doesn’t really add anything to the meaning of the poem, at least to my mind. On the other hand, the final three or four lines seem to bring it back to the personal and tie it together, I’m just not sure the jaunt to the cosmos was necessary for them to work.

Finally, to address the question posed in the opening with regard to the making vs. being of much, it seems that the poem bounces between these two tropes, in its own form, and its position on its subject, negative and then positive. In the end, is their any reason that we must make and not simply be?

The ‘sh’ slid out– shameless, thoughtless,
after I, careless, kicked the couch,
an ‘i’ piled up– a perfect scream
issued as pitch increased, increased.
The ‘t’ breaks, trembling– torn
from my lips, like my nail, lost now
but lingering, drips to a stop, stunned
as blood– like copper, leaks
from my cuticle, cut off.

I like to titivate a lot;
I titivate with all I’ve got.
My titivation knows no bounds.
Although my titivation’s sounds
Sometimes annoy my patient spouse,
I titivate the whole great house.
I hope you know just what I mean
When I’m done even the pipes are clean!

… I told you to beware of doggerel didn’t I?


A few Double Dactyls for your reading pleasure. They’re hiding… Can you find them? Come out, come out, wherever you are … Please note, the following verse is childish, silly, and sometimes ascerbic. It’s the type of stuff you might expect to find on a bathroom wall, really. Enter at your own risk and

Beware of Doggerel

Wearyin’ Spearean
Thomas E. Porter was
Lecturing Shakespeare to
Students with gall:
Half of them slept while just
One writing poetry
Captured it all.

Apery Japery
David D. Silva was
Teaching linguistics by
Playing a tape.
They can communicate
Scientists claimed as they
Signed at an ape.

Narrowly Arrowly Archery teacher
Ms. Maxwell was watching as
All the class shot.
Students shot bulls-eyes with
Striking consistency,
Errorless. Not!

Serenade Masquerade
Ms. Manning teaches her
Poetry patiently but is betrayed.
She’ll fail them all cause they
Can’t tag Aubade.

Languages Anguishes
Sandra Wise speaks in a
Language that none of her
Students can grasp.
So though she lectures them
All that they hear is an
gravelly rasp.

Well, I’m going to do something that will probably be frowned at, and go classic for this final poem of this series. Yep, that’s right, I’m going to look at Shakespeare, specifically at Sonnet 130, my favorite of his. I think I like Sonnet 130 so much because I, like Shakespeare, am frustrated at the pointless hyperbole in love poetry, both in his time, and today. This poem says, let’s get serious and talk about reality. Reality is better than hyperbole, even when it is, as always, worse-seeming.

In one sense, this poem doesn’t have to be very original, since it simple takes the clichés of the time and deflates them, the entire poem almost seems to rest in the last two lines, the closing couplet. It is of course filled with many things that are considered no-nos in modern verse: archaism (not so at the time perhaps), clichés, unrelentingly end-stopped lines, inversions for meter’s sake, etc. The question that I ask myself is whether we simply accept these supposed flaws as relics of the time period and culture and ignore them in looking at Shakespeare’s poetry, or whether we still consider them flaws but opine that Shakespeare’s verse is so piercingly poignant that it overcomes these flaws to succeed despite them, or whether we decide that Shakespeare’s poetry really wasn’t all that good because of all these flaws (though of course we don’t dismiss his drama in the same way thus allowing ourselves to still claim we admire his “work”), or what? The answer, I think, lies somewhere in the middle. There is a happy medium I think, where we say that it is partly simply an acceptance of his culture, partly that these “flaws” may not be quite so insurmountable defects as is made out (that is to say that in a century or so, the trend toward anti-archaism, anti-endstopping, anti-meter, anti-rhyme may have reversed itself, though I doubt I could convince anyone on the modern poetics scene of this possibility), and partly that even the greatest poets are not perfect nor is their work, no matter how canonical.

Some of the things that I like best about 130 besides the ending, are the matter of fact tone, in statements like “I grant I never saw a goddess go,” and “breath that from my mistress reeks.” I like the foretaste in the third quatrain that we are not going to be left depressed. The speaker tells us “I love to hear her speak” even while admitting that there isn’t any music in it. And of course I get tingles when I hear “And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,/ as any [. . .]”

“Player Piano” by Kevin Young (published in the Winter 2002 issuse of The Georgia Review) is one of only a few free verse poems that I am going to look at in this 15 poem series. Although I stick primarily to formal verse in my own writing, and hence feel that formalists are where I will be able to learn the most, an occasional foray outside one’s own bailiwick must surely be beneficial. So in the spirit of learning, and with the caveat that I am venturing outside my bailiwick, I tentatively venture to approach the work of a poet who Flagpole Magazine calls “one of the hottest commodities in poetry today” and Swing magazine labeled one of the most powerful men under 30 (see same article).

“Player Piano” seems to be a sort of take on a love poem, but the images it employs to arrive at this sense are highly unique, and captivating. Allusions to the underlying theme come just often enough that I don’t get lost in the images–a good thing. I did think the transition from fishing images to he bookstore was a little too abrupt, one of my only nits. The poem shows evidence of a high level of crafting. I enjoyed the frequent use of highly poignant internal rhymes and/or significant assonances, such as near/fear/smear, forgot/rot, better/beg, and list/slick etc. The juxtaposition of the sound of the heart and the sound of the fish in the opening section was particularly effective for me as well.

Another thing that really stands out about this particular poem is the way that young seems to bring all of the senses into this poem. From the sound of the heart, of the fish, to the smell of the perfume, to the sight of women’s magazines, to the feeling of sea-sickness, to the taste of salt-water taffy. And let me also just mention a few of the line breaks that I thought particularly well chosen: “This afternoon I tore out [. . .]” “Driving home, [. . .]” “to beg– [. . .]” and most especially, “how still [. . .]” with its doubling of meaning when taken with the line before vs. the line after.

Idea wise, I was particularly taken with the idea of wanting to be a keeper, in the sense of fish/love. We see through this image that the speaker has not been a “keeper.” up to this point, and this gets expanded upon throughout. I think the first part of the Women’s magazine section worked least for me, from the perspective of the ideas presented. I don’t know why, but the idea that the speaker’s name might be listed as a disease in a Women’s magazine is just so far fetched and is juxtaposed with such an otherwise matter of fact account, that it just doesn’t hold water for me. Unbelievably, the idea of the speaker as a fish wanting to be caught makes more sense on some weird poetic level. On the other hand the second part of the magazine section, the part dealing with perfumes is absolutely brilliant in the way it conjures up scent, especially the clashing scents of the perfume samples of women’s magazines and the connection of that smell to sickness works especially well for a bundle of allergic reactions such as myself.

I’m guessing that the apple was chosen as the source of the sickening smell because of all of the apples baggage with women and sin and sex etc., but it didn’t work very well for me, primarily because even the rottenest of apples, at least to me, still has a scent that is, at some level, pleasing, but that may just be a personal quirk. Also, apples have cores (most likely), skins (not likely), remains (possibly), but do not, in my experience, have husks.

To move back to the accolades which are more due this poem, the ending introduces yet another metaphor, has nice associations of the sea with tears without ever making that explicit (which would be cliché), and ends on a positive note that keeps the poem from descending into self-pity. The ending opens it up into an offer, and one that, I think, no sane lady would turn down. In the end, the poem has certainly moved me at the least.

“To A Critic” by Timothy Murphy (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is very interesting because it is a response poem. It was obviously written (am I assuming too much?) in response to a deleterious remark from a critic in regard to one of the poets mentioned in the piece or to poets in general, yet we don’t need to know the specifics to appreciate the poetry. Its audience is probably somewhat limited by the topic to people who are close to the critic/poet relationship on one side or the other though it might be appreciated by anyone in a similar type of antagonistic relationship such as actors, singers, and other performers. The pertinence of the Yeats quote was unclear to me. It is on the same subject, but the poem does not reference it in any way that makes it necessary to the understanding of the poem. It seems to be there just for show value.

Even though I am not familiar with a single one of the referenced contemporary poets, I don’t feel the lack at all. In fact, I am now going to have to seek out and read “Western Elegies,” “A Thing Well Made,” and “Musical Chair” if I can get my hands on them. The specificity makes what might be just a rant become more than a rant. For the poem is very expository in tone and style, a lecture to an unseen critic for whom we almost feel sympathy. Yet I, for one, am right there with him, lecturing that critic as well. I could substitute any specific poets in place of Hope, Wilbur, and Hecht, and conjure the same images. It is simply the specificity that matters.

The poem is written in iambic trimeter, with many anapest and trochaic substitutions. These substitutions come slightly too often to be acceptable especially in such short lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme is unusual, having the form abcbac in each stanza, but is consistent and works well with the movement of the poem. The trimeter moves the poem along quickly, rant-like. Form and content are well matched.

“Sonnet For A Nurse” by Elizabeth Tibbetts (published in Volume 53 Issue 4 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) manages to somehow deal with the issue of death, of the final decay of the fleshy portion of our being, without being overly sentimental, without being cliche, and without being depressing. At the final line, it almost begins to dip into the over-sentimental with “while I still have the chance,” and I think that I would rather have seen it end on a less mellodramatic note, but still, it is a little enough portion of the whole, that I can get over it. Other than that, there is a lot to enjoy in this poem. The association of washing with death helps to keep the poem from being too dark. The line “So I talk because I’m alive” is just perfect. The image of the connection between the living nurse who has only time between her and the bodies she is working with is sad, poignant, and yet not cloyingly sad–appropriately sad and yet holistically right.

There are also some nice sonics going on: The alliteration of slow,circles,skin and something, soothe, stretched, serene, stranger’s, the rhyme surrounding the quatrains, the assonance of croon/room and howl/mouth, etc. There is not so much so close together that it becomes a tongue twister, yet there is enough to be noticable in its pleasing sonic effect. There is a clear volta between the octet and the sextet, yet the one flows into the other without a jolt or break in the thought. All in all a model well worth emulating.

“Bird’s Eye View” by David Anthony (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) seemed to me to be just a little contrived. I am sometimes willing to give more of a benefit of the doubt to formal poetry just because it is formal, which means that the author took at least enough time and thought in their creation to produce reasonable facsimiles of rhyme and meter. Free verse on the other hand, has only its content to catch me (unless we get into sound poetry, concrete poetry, performance poetry, slam, multi-media, etc. which we won’t). However, this poem fails. From the pointless interjection that absorbs most of the first and second lines, “(how could he know/the weight of all my cares)” not to mention the other one on line 7, “how I’ll dazzle them,” to the clichés, “weight of all my cares,” “to and fro,” “unfurled its wings,” to the poorly chosen exclamation mark, this poem has little to recommend it.

Why then would I choose it from the galaxy of poetry available out there to include in my poetry analyses? These are supposed to be helping me improve, not devolve, right? There is a simple answer that is nevertheless profound, at least to me. This poem was published in an at least semi-respectable online poetry journal. What does that mean to me? It means that I need to quit hemming and hawing, and start submitting. Even if I can’t get published in POETRY or The Paris Review, I surely ought to be able to get something into The New Formalist or Triplopia, which is not to say that these are bad rags of the sort where my bad work might be accepted, nor is it to say that I have previously undervalued my work and have upgraded my assessment, it is simply to say why not give it a try. It’s only some 37 cents to give it a shot since most lit-zines prefer legal envelopes as opposed to manila. But anyway, to get back to the poem…

There are a few things that do work for me in this poem. I really like the image of the robin looking for worms “along the fresh cut line” (Line 5). This image gives a symbiotic feel to the relationship between the mower (person) and the robin. I love the line “The bird has his agenda; I have mine.” (Line 8). If these were the two ideas juxtaposed in the poem, I think it would be a success, but the whole “animal who thinks it is the center of the world, how silly–oh wait that’s me” theme has been done to death, and there is nothing new about it here.

“On Stars” by Nancy Callahan (published in Volume IV Issue 1 of The New Formalist) is a very minimalist piece of formal poetry, written in iambic trimeter with rhyme scheme of abacdc. At a mere six lines, it has to be pretty packed if it is going to say anything, and it is. There are two problems that seem to me to be pretty common in minimalist poetry. The first is minimalist poetry that doesn’t have anything to say. You see this in a lot of modern Haiku. I’m not bashing Haiku per se, as I have seen Haiku that was poignant and perfect, both traditional and non-traditional Haiku. But we’re not talking about Haiku here, as much fun as that might be.

This poem does seem to have a close relationship with Haiku that might be worth exploring further. Besides its brevity, it also has the natural theme, and the enclosing structure that it shares with Haiku. In the case of “On Stars” the enclosing structure is generated by rhyme rather than syllable or word count. Each of the tercets can be easily said in a single breath. The natural theme, a comparison of the sun and the stars, is not quite at the imagistic moment level of Haiku, but is still piercing in its specificity and insightful in its description. It has the typically English device of a twist at the end, where the poem is wrenched into a new direction that transforms it from simple imagery to full fledged commentary.

I love the phrase “pinpricked night.” I love the twist from contemplation of the heavens to the backlash against science and scientificism towards a more spiritualistic view of nature. I love the em-dash, but I hate the commas. I don’t want to be slowed down ’til I hit the full stop of that dash, proper punctuation be damned. I’m not fond of the title, but at least it is appropriate. I love “half a cosmos” vs. the whole cosmos. I love the “warmth of one”, separated from “or shine.” I originally read one as representing a person, and perhaps that’s what we’re really talking about, the sun is a personal thing, while the stars are remote. Whatever the case the poem is beautiful, and enjoyable, and a nice break from all the longer poetry that runs so rampant these days.

“The Bat” by Kasey Jueds (published in Volume 54 Issue 1 of The Beloit Poetry Journal) has a lot going on in it. There are three primary images, the bat, Blake’s angels, and the rain. They are tied together in an orderly fashion, so we have a progression rather than a juxtaposition, and that progression is marked by stanza breaks. If it weren’t for the title, I think it would be just a progression of images, but the title ties the final image back to the first, and allows the poem to suggest a connection between two images that would not work together if overlaid as direct metaphor or juxtaposition. We just can’t make the leap to connect the bat with the rain without the intervening stanzas to lead us through a progression. However, once we have been led there, the connection seems appropriate. Our experience with the bat and our experience with rain are connected, and we reevaluate our connection with the former in the light of the latter.

I like the feeling that we are moving from dark to light, in mood, in imagery, in our perceptions. I like the line: “First sleep, then eyes” standing by itself. Coming after the darkness, it gives us a foretaste of the revelation to come. The poem is eye-opening. I love the way that “rain isn’t rain” although I would have preferred a more formal diction for the last three lines to mirror the weight of the connection being made. Of course the common diction speaks to the commonness of the uncommonness of the feeling, smell, attitude, but still…. I’m not sure I like the word something in line 5. I think that maybe it would work just as well, and yet make it less distant. That would also coincide with the it of the next line. Still, it is an amazingly potent and tightly packed little poem.

“Fault Lines” by T. M. Moore (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of <A href="http://www2.evansville generic”>The Formalist) draws a parallel between the fault lines between tectonic plates, and the lines of a poem, a “poet’s verse.” However, the almost the entire weight of the metaphor rests on the closing couplet, which seems an awful lot for the poor thing to bear. It makes one appreciate the ballance of a Petrarchan sonnet. On the other hand, the jarring impact of that final line is profound, and guarantees the poem a re-read so that the reader can catch all the allusions that may have been missed on the first time around.

The diction is a bit scientific, which for me doesn’t quite convey the awe and mystery that this poem is attempting in every other way, but I know some people who find science and even the pseudo-scientific awe inspiring. On the other hand, I really liked some of those scientific words from a sonic perspective like countervailing. It just means counteract, but it means it with so much flair.

I think, though, that my favorite part of the poem is the part where it says “throws into turmoil people, buildings, land” (line 11). When I first read it, I understood it as saying that buildings and land were going to be thrown into “turmoil-people” which is an interesting image, and works quite well. I had caught the intended sense of it by the time I got through the next line, but I think this double meaning justifies the inversion of using “into turmoil people” instead of the more correct “people into turmoil.”

I also like the use of unreconciling where the temptation might be to use unreconciled. The former seems to offer more hope for the future, and although the poem certainly ends on a downer, I think it is intended more to inspire awe than to act as a warning or doomsday type message.

“Yaddo” by David Galef (published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist) seems to suggest that feeling just before one writes of somehow having to do everything else possible before beginning, even though once the writing begins it is one of the most enjoyable experiences possible.

The short line length seems to accentuate the feeling of being on the cusp, which works with images like ledge, edge, trembling, encroaching, promise, frustrate, etc. The rhymes are not that original but are very pertinent in places, especially the emphasis that the rhyme gives to edge and ledge and the congruence that is made between sight and write. Even these rhymes are not uncommon, but they are used to great effect here.

My favorite part of the poem is the analogy between the glass of water and the man. It is set up as a simple simile, but it travels throughout the poem and becomes a metaphoric representation. It is half-empty, but has a promise of fullness. Its consumption is frustrating, yet filling–always demanding “one more sip have a peek at this web-site.”

The speaker of the poem seems to present a front of disinterestedness, but his subject belies the calm of the words. The cumulative effect is that the diction presents one emotion, and the content another. Both are valid, and they work together to create a picture of the writer who is objective, and yet somehow pours himself into his work.

“Lunar Study” by Ann K. Schwader was published in Volume 14 Issue 1 (2003) of The Formalist. It seems to have a somewhat gothic, ethereal, witchy tone that is produced both by the long lines and phrasing, the meta-female theme, the Greek mythological references, and words like ancient, legends, vengeance, moon, bloody, hunt, oak, sand, siren, tempting, wine, and wave.

It does not have the tightly controlled length of the sonnets that I have been looking at, but it does keep to its own rigidly formal structure of iambic pentameter divided into quatrains of crossrhyming couplets. One of the nice things about this is that it can spend time developing its themes, and has plenty of time to provide an engaging narrative that draws us in to the deeper complexities.

Although feminist in execution, this, much like Sexton’s poetry, speaks to universal feelings that transcend gender. There was one reference which I thought it might be unlikely that the average reader would be familiar with, and that was Artemis’s “bloody/Handmaids of the hunt” (Line 7-8). The other references are common enough that most people probably can grasp them without difficulty. So the question is, does the reference to Artemis stand without a knowledge of the background mythology? I think that although a knowledge of the mythology would probably heighten the enjoyment of the poem, the mythology is not so intrinsic that the poem fails without it.

I think that I would rather not have known that the poem was based on a photomontage because it seems to be a smoothly flowing narrative that does not require the apology or proviso of the note. I find that I rarely appreciate notes above a poem unless they are quotes from another poem that is being responded to. A footnote would, I think, be much more effective.

I love the final line of the poem, the books cresting in a wine dark wave just pictures for me the elegance of a private library with candelabra, a glass of wine, and Poe or Lovecraft on a dark night. To me it is that that the speaker is discarding, not literature per se, but academia and snootiness. She embraces her womanhood, her connection with the Virgin goddess, complete without any man. You know, on second thought, I think the reference to the mythology does require the background knowledge to be effective. That doesn’t mean I would change the poem though. I think it little enough to expect that the reader look up one semi-obscure (not really that obscure) reference in a poem this engaging, not interrupting the first read perhaps, but before the following reads which are sure to come.

“Silent Reading” by Deborah Warren was published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist. The first thing one notices about “Silent Reading” is that it references a fairly (though not unobtainably) obscure historical document. As such, it might limit itself to a more erudite audience if it did not, in the first stanza, lay out all the necessary details of the story. Since it does lay out all those details, the reference at the top seems rather superfluous, especially since it does not provide enough detail to be useful as a reference.

However, with that exception, this sonnet seems to be quite well crafted. It is an unrhymed Petrarchan sonnet (if that isn’t an oxymoron), but it keeps enough resonances of sound between the consonances the assonances and the occasional rhymes that it really retains the feeling of a traditional sonnet well. As someone who is perhaps overfond of rhyme, I didn’t even miss it, and didn’t realize that the poem was unrhymed until my second or third read through of it. I thought that made it really interesting from a formal standpoint.

This is one of those sonnets where the volta really stands out. The shift in thought from the octet to the sestet is almost jolting, which is appropriate for imagery of the earth standing still. The feeling of absolute shock and awe, of the paradigmatic shift that must have hit the Romans at Amrose’s reading is absolutely captured. I thought it was especially interesting the way that the octet provided a narrative, and the sestet a commentary by way of a single image, form and function working together dramatically yet again. One leaves the poem, like Ambrose, like the Romans, silent.

UPDATE:I went ahead and finished the sonnets for each of the standard forms Gave a presentation on Sonnets for a class. Wrote this while working on the 8.5×11 tri-fold brochure on sonnets that I created as a handout. It has examples of all the major types of sonnets, covers all the basics of the sonnet form, offers some options and alternatives to traditional sonnets, and provides some exercises in sonnet writing. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy, e-mail

If you would like to write Petrarchan then
You’ll need to learn your rhyme and meter well.
Your prosody should flow and weave a spell
That’s wrapped round mind by page, round page by pen.
You cannot write one with an ear of tin,
Nor can your import be an empty shell;
Your sounds should ring as lovely as a bell
And after you have eight lines written, when

You start the sextet, change your mode of thought,
Bring some new aspect, or new thought to light,
And change your rhyme to indicate that fact.
And also, to be great, you really ought
(If you would like your poems to take flight)
To end with something that the octet lacked.

Shakespearean sonnets are a different beast.
Their rhyme scheme is much easier to master.
One benefit of this (and not the least)
Is you can write Shakespearean much faster.
Each quatrain builds upon the last and so
You move more slowly to your final lines,
Which lets your poem have the ebb and flow
Of sinusoidal functions and designs.
Can this form be as potent as the other,
Especially using female rhymes as I,
Or is it time to move on to another
And let this humble sonnet justly die?
Well, not before the ending couplets written,
And you with Shakespeare’s facil form are smitten.

Of Spencer’s sonnets it is justly said
That interwoven stanzas keep it tight,
Although I think it hardly fair to wed
One tercet to the next. It is not right
And has somehow a quite incestual feel
And makes it hard to build a proper plight.
If you will try them I’ll make you a deal
That if you think it just cannot be done
And tempting it zaps your poetic zeal,
I’ll let you write one that is merely fun,
Does not have all the import sonnets should,
Just hums along until you finally run

Out of babbling words and find you could,
With no more effort, have made something good.

“Parallel Universe” by Marion Shore (published in Volume 13 Issue 2 (2002) of The Formalist) evokes the feelings of unrequited love in a unique and poignant way. It has a highly scientific tone that distances the feelings of rejection, holding them off until the antepenultimate line (And yes I do mean third from the end, not second). It is yet another sonnet (if you’d like to know why the sonnet is so perfect for the English language, see Mike Snider’s Formal Blog and Sonnetarium. Thanks Chris), which you may find will be a recurring theme in my analyses.

There are two blips on my rhyme meter. Slant rhyme is used in the L2/L4 rhyme and in the closing couplet. In this particular case, I think the slant rhymes work, though I would normally expect either all (or mostly) slant, or all perfect rhymes. Why does it work this time? Because in both cases, the slants are used to pick out a theme from the rest of the poem. It is the same theme in both cases, and the nature of the theme matches the technique used to highlight it. What I am talking about is the idea or feeling of being out of place, the idea that “time is out of joint”, the impression of imperfection and the placement of that imperfection at the universal level. The use of imperfect rhyme perfectly complements the meaning of the poem and puts me in awe. Although there is much else to admire in the poem, I think because it is so rare to see such direct cohesion between form and meaning even in the well-known poets that this may be my favorite part of this poem.

The poem, as its title suggests, posits a parallel universe in which an unrequited love is requited. It poses the reasons that the love is unrequited, and brushes them aside with a mere stroke of fancy. The speaker seems somewhat self-deluded and yet nevertheless does not strike us as hopeless, but instead as coming to grips with reality in a unique way which allows her love to exist on one plane while acknowledging its loss on another.

The theme of unrequited love is virtually a universal experience, and as such, the poem speaks to the rejected in all of us. It tells us that it is not our fault, and that had things just been different we might have triumphed where we have failed.

“Love Recidivus” by Lisa Barnett (Also published in the September 2003 issue of Poetry) seems to suggest images of adultery, of passion pushed beyond reason, of the failure of constancy, and inevitability. It succeeds admirably in this through the use of careful images, and the slow buildup of tension through the quatrains, leading to a sudden and truly unexpected release in the closing couplet. It is couched in the form of the sonnet, and adheres fairly strictly to the Shakespearean standard.

The quatrains and couplet are separated by whitespace rather than by the use of indention as is more common, but this may be the fault of the copy editor or print setter rather than the poet. Either way I think the sonnet too short and the ‘stanzas’ too integrated to suffer this amount of whitespace. The only other problem that I noted with the form itself was the use of sight rhyme between tries and fidelities. Although the British pronunciation of fidelities allows for the rhyme, nothing else in the poem indicates a British diction, and the poet is distinctly American, so I think this is a failure of craft. While it is not a formal problem, I also dislike the title. The use of recidivus (a word that does not exist in the English language as per the OED) seems blatantly obtuse. Why not simply use the correct word, recidivate?

However, despite all these flaws, some of which seem to me to be glaring, I did enjoy this poem, and can understand why it was included in a magazine as prestigious as Poetry. Perhaps I simply have a bias, but again I find the twist at the end to be the most satisfying part of the poem. The poem has been building a picture of faithfulness and virtue, and then introduces the spark that “tries resolve past all resisting.” We would expect the closing couplet to return to virtue, to offer a solution to the dilemma, but the solution seems to be to accept the inevitable–sometimes passion overrides reason and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t like it from a moral or philosophical standpoint. I don’t agree with it. But somehow in those final lines, I identify with it, and that is the transformative power of poetry.

The September 2003 issue of Poetry has William Walden’s “A Posy of Love” which contains a section entitled “18th Century.” Since each section stands on its own as a whole poem, I am going to look at this section. In my previous analysis, I had not had the guidelines provided by my creative writing instructor, Toni Manning, and so went through as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, time restraints prevent me from being able to offer such detailed attention to every poem that I analyze for the class. So I will give the Rubric by which I will be looking at each poem. For each poem I will be answering as many as possible of the following questions, as well as looking at other things that particularly strike my interest or that I think will help me to improve myself as a poet, though not necessarily in that order:

  1. Describe the style of the poem?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. What does the poem assume about the audience?
  4. What is the poems suggestion?
  5. What kind of poem is it? (i.e., narrative, descriptive, concrete, sound, formal)
  6. What is the best part of the poem?
  7. Where does it fail?

“18th Century” is, of course, formal verse, specifically, 4 rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. It has an archaic feel to it due to words like wantonness, lechers, and unsullied, and to overpoetic contractions like o’ervault and am’rous. The archaisms are probably the part of the poem that least works for me. Although I am departing a little from my chosen text here, I will go further and say that the archaisms might have worked had the series, which has a poem for each of several centuries, progressed poem by poem through the diction of the centuries, eventually approaching modern diction in “19th century.” Instead it seems that “18th Century” is the only poem that makes use of such overt archaisms, while the rest use, at least, an essentially modern lexicon, if not a completely modern grammar.

Well, that dead horse is thoroughly beaten, so lets talk instead about what does work. I think that the best part of the poem is the twist on the typical caution to maidens and lovers. Here we have a lecturer who suggests that the victim is more terrible than the foe and instead of letting the “ogling lechers” besmirch her virtue, will cause them to “flee in shame.” The images are delightful humorous, while at the same time injecting a serious note as well about the plight of womankind, who can be neither chaste nor unchaste without reproach.

It is obviously written for an educated audience (but what poetry isn’t these days), with its large vocabulary and archaisms. It expects a reader who is familiar enough with the history of fashions to be able to appreciate the predicament of the lady in question, and with it’s teasing and humorous approach to the issue seems likely to appeal more to a male than to a female audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and hope to see more of Walden’s work appear on the pages of Poetry. Even the archaisms cannot detract from the overall pleasantness and craftiness of the piece.

I am writing a series of poetic commentaries on various poems that strike my fancy for my Advanced Creative Writing: Poetry class. Hopefully, a deep exploration of the poetry of others will enhance my own poetics. I will be posting the analysis to the list, and if I can find a link to the poem already online, I’ll provide that as well. Otherwise I’ll let you know the source. Anyone who would be willing to point out devices in use in the poems that I have missed, or places where I have imputed intent or over-analyzed will be much appreciated.

A. R. Ammons’s “Clabberbabble” (85th2.gif Poetry 85th Anniversary Special Double Issue. Chicago: Poetry Press, 1997) is a delightful romp through the world of language usage and at the same time a poignant expression of nostalgia for a past in which people were closer to nature. The title of the piece is a newly minted compound word that both embodies the theme of the poem in its very construction, and leads into the poem both in content and in style. Clabber is something muddy, lumpy, and inconsistent. Babble of course refers to unintelligible speech, with a somewhat muddy etymology that places its source as most likely originating in the sounds of infants, but its senses influenced by the biblical account of Babel (OED babble). The change of language and the loss of understanding and connections seem to be the primary thematic elements of the poem, and so the title works well from that perspective. The title also has an onomatopoeic quality that matches its sense and makes it a pleasure to read, especially aloud. In fact, as mentioned earlier, babble’s etymology is strictly onomatopoeic. The first line of the poem begins, “How usage changes usage,” which seems to be a commentary on or specification of the previously mentioned new word, focusing the direction which the poem is going to take, while expanding from word to meaning. This idea of specification and expansion of ideas is then followed throughout the poem with the continual use of colons as its marker.

Made up of six unrhyming tercets with no established meter, but with a smooth unhurried rhythm, the evenness of the line length, the four to five stresses per line, the consistency of the stanza formation causes it to have an evenness of flow that accords with the implacable flow of the years, and the immutable laws of language change: “How usage changes usage.” Colons allow the changes in the stream thought to retain a level of connectedness that the finality of a period would not. Changes come gradually, just as they do in language. Other than this important shift in colon use, the punctuation of the poem follows for the most part standard English usage, and so does not distract from the ideas being presented.

The diction is earthy, as befits a poem nostalgically revisiting an earthier time. Phrases such as “something the w has been left out of,” “animals were television then,” and “high-billed meanies” place the reader as an equal and ameliorate the affects of the scholasticism of the etymological question, the use of a word such as anserine (gooselike), which has all but dropped out of the common lexicon (I know I had to look it up), and the implied criticism of modern technology. Because criticism is not the point: the point is to mourn the passage of both words and lifestyles while accepting and coming to terms with the inevitability of their loss. Another aspect of the diction is that onomatopoeic effect that I mentioned. It also persists throughout the poem with words like “swishing,” “hissing,” “shrieking,” and even “gaggle.” For me at least, these tie the highbrow idea of “language,” to the concreteness of specific auditory imagery. But it is not overdone either; so many poems that emphasize sound also overemphasize it. In this case, the sound gently and inconspicuously supports the theme of the poem while providing a subtle music to add to our pleasure.

The imagery of the poem is interesting, for a poem that purports in its opening stanza to be about language and word use, in its utter lack of linguistic events. It is this, for me, which brings out the more important nostalgic aspect of the poem from its pedagogical origin and makes it a poem rather than a lecture. The “English hamlet, houses clustered/at a bend in the road where a bridge crosses/a stream.” is perfectly picked for its balance of nature and humanity. The gaggle and the boy as well provide a balance between human and nature. “A gooseless world in no need of tending” ties the previous images to the deeper nostalgic abstract, making it immediate and real as we relate it to the real, though past, images. Interesting too, is the way in which the imagery in the 5th stanza, leading up to our return to language, and to the bereavement of the final stanza, begins to take a darker tone with the “dark lively trees the brookbanks had/spared and the shattering…” All in all, I don’t think Poetry could have picked a better poem for the opening of its 85th anniversary double-issue. It was a pleasure to read on so many different levels and in so many different ways.

Come, faerie, dance with me
Where shaggy sea meets rugged crag.
In mist by shores where fisher folk
Set out to see what fortune brings;
You slip through curtains of the mist
To dance away with me.
We dance to drums and pipe
By flickering light of bonfire brands;
We dance, ’til they begin to fade,
Together find a fresh-lit gleam
Of half forgotten dreams. And then
The music sleeps. I end.

In her poem “Her Kind” originally published in To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), Anne Sexton paints a picture of woman as an outcast in youth, marriage, and death. First, she presents the woman as a rebellious youth, “not a woman, quite,” “dreaming evil,” “haunting the black air, braver at night.”1 In the second stanza, she presents woman as a passive housewife.2 Still, at least for her speaker, there is no connection with society: Her house is found in “warm caves in the woods.” Her husband and children are “worms” and “elves.” She is misunderstood. Finally, in the third stanza, having survived adversity, she is at last “learning the last bright routes.” Approaching death, she is still separate and outcast from society, this time because of the path she is on (i.e., the cart she is riding), and can only wave “at villages going by.” In the end though, the poem transforms this rejection by embracing it in a sort of active passivity, “not ashamed to die,” and claiming it triumphantly, “I have been her kind.”

The witch, an archetypal feminine outcast, is presented boldly and possessively from the very beginning. “Witches (always female, of course) are by nature alienated, different, shunned by society” (Hall 90). The descriptions of an outcast pile up quickly. The speaker is “braver at night,” whereas most people are braver during the day. The speaker dreams of evil, indicating a rebel attitude, a desire to throw off the shackles of conventional morality. When she speaks of having done her “hitch over the plain houses, light by light,” we can see two things. First, she is not in the houses, and she considers the houses to be plain. Second, she is over them, above them, aloof from them. We begin to see a possibility that this rejection is not necessarily externally enforced; nevertheless, we are presented with a character that is not happy with her situation. She is “a lonely thing,” — desirous of company; she is twelve-fingered — different, possibly a monstrosity; she is out of mind — unattended, unnoticed, unworthy. Indeed, she is somehow less than a woman. Kay Capo notes, “Even amid cries for indulgence and passive imagery, a resistant tone keeps emerging” (26). This tension between helplessness or passivity and resistance or rebellion is mirrored in the rhymes (e.g., between witch representing rebellion, and hitch, a required term of service, representing passivity).

The second stanza describes a housewife who is so cut off from society that she places herself not in a house in suburbia, but in “caves in the woods.” It is important that we see that this is only a metaphor, so she tells us that she has all the trappings of civilization, indeed, “innumerable goods.” In this stanza the tension between passivity and rebellion is further heightened as passivity gains the upper hand. She passively conforms by cooking and cleaning, yet the resistance is still there, for she does not cook for her husband and children: She cooks for “worms and the elves.” Even the dominant vowels in this stanza have shifted from the hard resistant i and o of night, light, mind, quite, out, possessed, over, lonely in the first stanza to the softer more passive and i of woods, filled, skillets, silks, goods, fixed, worms, misunderstood in this one. It does not take much to understand how this woman is “misunderstood,” but it does require some work to connect her to the witch of the previous stanza. The relationship is certainly a temporal one, between the middle-aged housewife, hiding in fantasy, and the young rebel, flirting with evil; however, the relationship is also a progressive one as the passivity builds unacceptably. This connection is confirmed when we move on to the depiction of the woman facing (or flirting with) death.

In the final stanza, we see a woman who is “learning the last bright routes.” That is to say that she is facing death. Of paramount importance, and often ignored, is the question of the identity of the new character introduced in this stanza, the driver.3 This stanza differs from the previous stanzas, both in that it is directed at a particular recipient and in that it is projected as an outcry rather than as a passive description. The driver, I believe, is a symbol for society, which drives the woman to be something she cannot be in the first two stanzas, forcing her to rebel and live as an outcast. She is, of course, still an outcast. She can only wave her “nude arms at villages going by.” Now, though, she is stronger; no longer does she need to be “braver at night.” She has survived the aspersions of a society whose wheels have cracked her ribs. No longer does she seek to bring the trappings of society into her exile, or to pretend to be that which she is not. She will no longer fix “suppers for the worms and the elves,” nor can she any longer be misunderstood, for she is at peace with herself and with her outcast status, “not ashamed to die.” While society has not reconciled itself to her (“[its] flames still bite my thigh”), she has at last reconciled herself to society or, rather, out of it. The tension in the piece, built up through the first two stanzas between passivity and rebellion has reconciled itself into the ultimate form of passive rebellion, death.

Having examined the stanzas individually, it is necessary to examine the work as a whole. The poem begins with a very regular rhythm, though without a traditional normative meter. It is reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It has an accentual meter of four beats; the majority of the lines are broken up in to distiches separated by a caesura; and some of the lines even have the appropriate accentual alliteration (e.g., “black air, braver” and “dreaming evil, I have done”), further reinforcing the cadenced feel. “‘Her Kind’ employs a rhythmic, incantatory stanza and refrain” (Kammer 128). This chanting rhythm is quite appropriate considering the otherworldly topic. Although she loosens the strictures of the form very quickly, one is nevertheless induced to almost chant it in the mind as it is read. This meter, the end rhyme (i.e., ababcbC dedeceC fgfgcgC ), and the stanza ending repetends tighten the ties between the stanzas, and force one to examine the poem as a themed whole, rather than as several disparate pieces. Jeanne Kammer says: “The endings of Sexton’s poems are for the most part unmemorable, except for a few that set up a complex resonance and mark the best pieces” (130). “Her Kind” is one of those memorable “best pieces.” Additionally, the poem is presented in a temporal sequence, following the woman’s life from youth to death (or at least acceptance of death). The completed woman is presented as outcast and alone throughout her life. First “not a woman, quite,” then “misunderstood,” and finally “not ashamed to die.” In each summary line, the woman is presented as separate — from society, from her family, and from the world.

At the same time, there is a contrasting thread of unity that is brought out by the three distinct, though undifferentiated, voices in the piece. Many critics have noted this multiplicity of voices.4 Diane Middlebrook sees only two personas or viewpoints, the two Is, but I think that a case can be made for a third (“Poet” 114). The first voice is the voice of the outcast, the madwoman, a self-descriptive and self-abusive character who rants through the first five lines of each stanza. The second voice is the voice of judgment or conscience or society that makes a value call about the previously described woman in the sixth line. And finally the last line is the voice of the reader or the narrator or even, this being confessional poetry, the author, who ultimately identifies with the outcast. “‘Her kind’ contains its own perfect reader, its own namesake, ‘I'” (Middlebrook, Anne 114). In so doing, the poem creates a kind of society of outcasts of everyone who reads and identifies themselves with that line. It creates a synthesis of acceptance and passivity with rebellion and unconformity and announces this synthesis as survivorship. The ability of the outcast to come to terms with her own estrangement and to accept death “not ashamed” is in fact a victory of sorts over the repressionist society that has rejected her.

1 All quotes without parenthetical notation are from the primary source: Sexton 21.

2 Many critics interpret the second and third stanzas differently. For some of the more common alternative interpretations, see Colburn 167 and Johnson 85 (Speaker as a witch throughout), or George xiii and McCabe final paragraph (Speaker as poet: autobiographical interpretation).

3 For a notable exception, see Capo 36.

4 Discussion of the multiplicity of voices throughout Sexton’s work can be found in George 100-101 and Middlebrook “Poet” 72-73 and Anne 114-15. McDonnell 40-41 discusses the psychotic nature of these multiple voices.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Sexton Anne. “Her Kind.” To Bedlam and Partway Back. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. 21

Secondary Sources

Capo, Kay Ellen Merriman. “Anne Sexton’s Communal Voice.” Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton. Ed. Francis Bixler. [Conway, Arkansas]: Central Arkansas UP, 1988. 22-45.

Colburn, Steven E. “‘This Is My Tale Which I Have Told’: Anne Sexton as Storyteller.” Wagner-Martin 166-77.

George, Diana Hume. Oedipus Anne: The Poetry of Anne Sexton. Chicago: Illinois UP, 1987.

Hall, Caroline King Barnard. Anne Sexton. Boston: Twayne Pub., 1989.

Johnson, Greg. “The Achievement of Anne Sexton.” Wagner-Martin 81-93.

Kammer Jeanne H. “The Witch’s Live: Confession and Control in the Early Poetry of Anne Sexton.” Anne Sexton. Ed. Steven Colburn. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1988. 125-134.

McCabe, Jane. “A Woman Who Writes: A Feminist Approach to the Early Poetry of Anne Sexton.” Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics. Ed. J. D. McClatchy. N.p.: n.p., 1978. Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. 10 Feb. 2003 <http: // www. english. uiuc. edu /maps/ poets/s_z/ sexton/ herkind.htm>

McDonnell, Thomas P. “Light in a Dark Journey.” Wagner-Martin 40-44.

Middlebrook, Diane Wood. Anne Sexton: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

—. “Poet of Weird Abundance.” Wagner-Martin 72-80.

Wagner-Martin, Linda ed. Critical Essays on Anne Sexton. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Note: This is what happens when you pull words only from context, and learn from books without teachers… you write a pair of poems in which triolet rhymes with bet, rather than hay. Oh well, live and learn, maybe I’ll try to rework these sometime, maybe not.

I. Written
You try to write a Triolet
in a modern coffee shop. You do
not dare to rhyme. They will not let
you try to write a Triolet.
They see tradition as threat,
would ridicule if they but knew
you try to write a Triolet.
In a modern coffee shop, you do.

II. Shared

Card carrying connoisseurs contend
the triolet trespasses thought,
relays wrong word, wrong repetend.
Card carrying connoisseurs contend
all ears eschew each end-stopped end.
Regarding rhymed repeating rot,
card carrying connoisseurs contend
the triolet trespasses thought.