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Old 01-31-2003, 10:24 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Almost Forgotten Etiquette Lesson, Circa 1945

He thinks it probably happened in the fall.
"Or early Spring," he told me. "A time for sweaters.
Too soon--or late--for wasting coal. I recall
the chill. And my mother's reading Daddy's letters,
bare feet on a bare floor smelling of yellow soap.
I see the dust-motes twinkle around Mom's head
and I turn away, face sooty windows, and hope
she'll turn from her reading to slice that warm rye bread
before the train goes past our house: As I waved
to the man who always waves back, tooting his horn,
he smiled. Uh-oh! A passenger misbehaved
in the dining car, sticking out his tongue in scorn:
'How funny,' Mom says. 'That kid is going places
but ain't been taught to eat without making faces.'"
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Old 01-31-2003, 04:59 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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I'm not sure of the ettiquette of commenting on poems outside the poetry forums (or fori?), but this is too remarkable to pass up. How delightful that a poem that is in various ways about "forms" should wear its own form so gracefully; like a person truly graced with good manners, it behaves without seeming to fuss or force itself into a pattern. Everything is so well mannered, in fact, that I am willing to live with my puzzlement about the connection between the set up, that is, the wonderful, evocative home scene, and the image of the misbehaving child and the mother's comment (with its wonderful play on "going places"). Even without my being able to explain it, the poem coheres.
Richard
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Old 01-31-2003, 05:25 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Let me see if I can divine what happens in this divine sonnet. Patricia's brother is our protagonist, recalling their mother reading their father's letters in 1945, letters from guess where. The train roars by, the child in the dining car misbehaves, and Mom pronounces her lesson with Mother Wit and very folksy grammar. I am just thrilled that Patricia has finished this in time for the Wilburs.
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Old 02-06-2003, 01:12 PM
Richard Wilbur Richard Wilbur is offline
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Here's another set of comments from Parnassus South:

I think the title of Patricia Marsh's poem is good and useful because in specifying "1945" it makes it clear in line four why mother is reading daddy's letters. He's away at the war.

I have two questions about the poem. I ask myself why, although the sonnet's rhyme pattern is fulfilled, the poem needs to be written in the form of a sonnet. The masses of material actually make a 12-2 pattern as I read it, so that the sonnet form seems less necessary than if the material organized itself as 4-4-4-2, for instance. But that's not meant as a harsh criticism. The poem does fulfill the sonnet's rhyme pattern very satisfactorily.

My other question is more serious. I would ask why is this poem narrated by somebody to the poet, as the first line clearly says. The poem to me does not communicate in the manner of an anecdote. What I get from it is fragmentary recollections of a particular day which don't come at me as I would expect a story to do. However it seems to me that the recollections are very good and vivid and specific. I especially like the dust motes around Mom's head, but there's muich else to admire. As Tim and I were agreeing last night, this poem is an example of successful loose iambic. Its rhythms hop like nobody's business, but one isn't derailed by them.


RPW
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Old 02-07-2003, 11:20 AM
R. S. Gwynn's Avatar
R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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I wonder about the need for some of the anapests. Nothing is lost by dropping the article in the second line, and it seems to me that the poem could be metrically tightened in other spots too. To my ear, "loose iambics" don't mesh that well with heavy enjambments. Another personal quibble is with the enjambment between lines 3 and 4. I have a personal dislike of enjambments that hit a caesura one or two syllables into the next line. I don't see the need for the period after "chill" and would prefer no punctuation there at all.
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Old 02-08-2003, 12:17 AM
Patricia A. Marsh Patricia A. Marsh is offline
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Dear Mr. Wilbur,

You'll never know how very appreciative I am to read your critique and questions on this poem of mine and, when you agreed with Tim Murphy that "...this poem is an example of successful loose iambic.", well . . . can you see me smiling?

Although the poem took the form of a sonnet, I think that the material might be better organized in a 5-4-3-2 pattern . . .though I'll keep the same rhyme scheme (out of plain ole laziness at this point).

When it comes to the poem's narrator--after see-sawing between the first and third person viewpoints through seemingly endless revisions--I might finally decide on the following:
I know it probably happened in the fall.
"In early Spring," she argues. A time for sweaters.
Too soon--"Or late!"--for wasting coal. I recall
the chill; and my mother's reading Daddy's letters,
bare feet on a bare floor smelling or yellow soap.

[etc.]
Many, many thanks for your warm comments, Mr. Wilbur. I'll cherish every one of them. God bless you, kind sir!

All best,
Patricia

[This message has been edited by Patricia A. Marsh (edited February 08, 2003).]
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Old 02-08-2003, 12:28 AM
Patricia A. Marsh Patricia A. Marsh is offline
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Dear Mr. Gwynn,

When I began working on this poem, I made a decision to include at least one metrical substitution in each line . . . a deliberate attempt to "loosen up" the sonnet form. If I went back now to rid the poem of its pesky anapests and, thus, "metrically tightened" the poem . . . well, let's just say that I wouldn't be able to say that I'd taught my old dog a new trick. ;-}

As for punctuation after the word "chill" in Line 4, I'm considering a semi-colon rather than a period. Would that work for you? [You are, BTW, the second person who questioned my use of a period after "chill".]

All best,
Patricia

Thus poetry was tamed, content to trail
Behind the god, dog-like, with lowered tail,
Its meter trained and broken to the page,
A muzzle cast about its lupine rage,
A good companion and a loyal pet
So docile that its owner may forget
That hidden somewhere in the head he pats
Still lurks the wolf who would chase more than cats.
<blockqoute>

from The Narcissiad by R. S. Gwynn
[/indent]
;-}


[This message has been edited by Patricia A. Marsh (edited February 08, 2003).]
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Old 02-08-2003, 12:31 AM
Patricia A. Marsh Patricia A. Marsh is offline
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Dear Mr. Wakefield,

So happy that "the poem coheres" for you . . . especially knowing that you, too, are working with loose iambics! Fun, ain't it? ;-}

Thanks for commenting.

All best,
Patricia
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Old 02-08-2003, 12:40 AM
Patricia A. Marsh Patricia A. Marsh is offline
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Dear Mr. Murphy,

"Divine"? That and a buck-ten-cents'll get ya a cuppa coffee in these here parts! And . . . thanks again, Tim, for providing me with the opportunity to have my poem read and commented upon by Mr. Wilbur. I'm sincerely grateful.

All best,
Patricia
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Old 02-08-2003, 05:56 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
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Patricia, putting "at least one metrical substitution in every line" is almost as rigid an adherence to meter as not putting in any. I'd say loosen up the "loose iambics" just a little and leave out substitutions that aren't really helping the flow. In other words, use them where they seem most natural rather than setting a quota in advance.

In my opinion the poem is hurt by too many caesuras, some of which are intensified by punctuation and visual clutter, resulting in abrupt interruption of the meter that seems overly dramatic and fights the narrative flow you are going for with your enjambments. Starting off with a third person who is never introduced and then letting the rest of the poem be a direct quotation by that person makes it necessary to put quotes within quotes.

In the first line, the adverb "probably" is misplaced, because the point is not whether "it" happened, but when "it" happened. In addition, an expectation is created by the construction "it happened" that something more earth-shattering than a passing remark is going to be related, however profound that remark may be. In my opinion the poem would be served better with an opening like this (which still contains a trochaic substitution):

He thinks it must have been late in the fall

Well, not to critique the poem here, just echoing Sam Gwynn's reaction to substitution for substitution's sake.

Carol



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