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Jake Sheff 07-15-2019 10:28 AM

The Queen of Bohemia,
The Queen of Bohemia,

remembering Châteauroux, drinks a
milkshake at McDonald’s on
Ash Avenue. Red shadows
the town, like velvet
gallantry or a shave.

Briefly, a bulb burns
out. Music, the greatest
barfly, guards the queen.
Autumn reveals it all
goes. According to plan,

broilers sizzle and pop
in back. Another satisfied?
Does she taste somewhere
a prince, too far
to grab and small?

Pressure-sensitive and dismal;
is her screen dawn’s
last dance or dismissal?
Someday spills all over
my quiet traitor, weakness.

Aaron Poochigian 07-15-2019 11:10 AM

I like the theme of "fallen majesty" among Americana.

The language is charged and fun.

I think I would prefer it if you took out the period and went with:

Autumn reveals it all
goes according to plan.

You lose me in the first three lines of the last stanza:

Pressure-sensitive and dismal;
is her screen dawn’s
last dance or dismissal?

The fragments in the first line are too much for me, and I don't know what the next two lines are saying.



A. Sterling 07-15-2019 12:19 PM

Hi Jake,

My first thought on seeing your title was: “Hey, could this be a poem about Libuše?” Guess not.

I’ll give it a critique all the same, but I’ll want to spend some more time with it. My first impression is that some parts could be pruned to good effect, but I’m not entirely sure yet which ones.

I wonder at that bulb burning out “briefly” in stanza 2. Bulbs can go out briefly, but burning out is permanent, no? I also find the likening of “red shadows the town” to a shave somewhat counterintuitive, as I think most people associate shadows more with a lack of a shave. And, like Aaron, I find the first part of S4 a bit bit opaque.

R. Nemo Hill 07-15-2019 01:41 PM

I think this is gorgeous, Jake. It has the playfulness of language which is evident in other poems you've posted here, but the sparer architecture is more seductive to the reader—it's a quieter invitation to ride your riffs. The tension here between majesty and the banal is so well played throughout that the bridge that connects them, the bridge of the fallen, or of the long-falling, become a quietly vibrant oxymoron, the mysterium coniunctionis of irreconcilable opposites—of the royal and the real.

That rhythm of conjoined opposites helped me to parse that final stanza, which I love. For me the pressure sensitivity could be a positive attribute of royalty (like when people say admiringly of a poet, "He's so sensitive."). But then it is partnered to a negative, the word dismal, which kind of steers the mind back to the more negative aspects of the sensitivity (i.e., "Get real. Don't be so sensitive.") In the following clause we again get two terms, dawn's last dance and dismissal. The last dance certainly evokes the regal hypersensitive mood, while dismissal brings in the unadorned dismal again. What I like most is that both of the second terms are still sad somehow, both are marinating in the act of falling. And yet the crucial tension of opposites is still at play within that one mood.

I also love that a poem 'about' royalty ends with the word weakness, which might be either the antithesis of queendom, or the secret at the core of it, the germ in its nucleus.

You do things with punctuation and lineation which definitely slow me down as a reader. Aaron mentions one, the insertion the period that interrupts the well known phrase here . . .

Autumn reveals it all
goes. According to plan,

Another is the lineation here . . .

is her screen dawn’s
last dance or dismissal?

. . . which made me think at first of one compound noun, screen-dawn, instead of the other, dawn's-last-dance. The line break could be considered a self-indulgent tease.

Yet, ultimately, I kind of feel these devices that slow the reader down work well here—they make one read with exceeding care, lingering over each word and how it is used or manipulated. This may indeed be what you want people to do in your longer/denser poems as well, but that is not the sort of treatment they elicit. They conjure momentum, a momentum which swallows up all their explicit wordplay. In this poem I think you gotten the balance just right, and written a memorable piece.


Andrew Frisardi 07-16-2019 01:11 AM

I like this a lot, Jake. Your knack for wordplay, surprise turns of phrases, and a crisp texture of sound has a more spontaneous feel in this piece. I can’t tell if this is because the gently playful tone of this poem simply appeals to me more than the belligerent stuff, but in any case, this one has a nice flow to it. There’s more breath between the noises, more artlessness with the art.

Your pairing of contrary levels of diction works well. E.g., I love “like velvet / gallantry or a shave,” or the wine/milkshake combo before that. I also enjoy your clever use of line breaks and punctuation, as in “Autumn reveals it all / goes. According to plan.”

A couple things I think might be tinkered with:

In the last stanza, I don’t have a problem with “Pressure-sensitive and dismal,” but should the semicolon there be a comma? The phrase seems a lead-in to the next line, not so removed from it as the semicolon implies (although I suppose it’s like the “screen” in that sense). I do like those lines a lot, “is her screen dawn’s / last dance or dismissal.” That’s lovely, there’s a has-been melancholy to it that fits the Queen of Bohemia at McDonald’s.

The sudden introduction of the first-person adjective in the last line is the one thing in the poem that throws me off completely. The poem had seemed so pleasingly free of the lyrical I. Maybe just “the” there?

But overall this strikes me as an accomplished and well worked-out piece. Beautifully made, economical and subtle. Nice work.



Jake Sheff 07-17-2019 08:37 AM


Thank you for the helpful feedback. I'm still unsure about the "it all goes. According to plan" portion, so I'm grateful to know your preference.

I think, perhaps, the opening lines confuse if not reading the title as their beginning? It's why I included the comma (which I was also unsure of).

A. Sterling,

Appreciate the comments. I was imagining "red a shave" to imply the bleeding that can result from shaving.

I think a reader can plausibly say, "a bulb can seem to burn out briefly," whereby it buzzes back to life after a momentary dark -- but I'm unsure about this line also, so appreciate your attention to it.

I look forward to your future comments, if you have time to come back.

R. Nemo,

I'm really honored by the kind words. Doubly so for the time you took to mention particular parts that worked well, and how.

After my last two pieces, I really tried taking a lot of the feedback I'd gotten from Erato members and put them to use in this poem. So credit is due to the community here for many of the strengths you pointed out.

I'm hoping future pieces continue to reflect the lessons learned so far. And I appreciate you showing me where this was effective :)


My comments to R. Nemo above would apply to you as well. You've been frank with your criticism, but it's been consistently constructive. A lot of what you see working here came about from suggestions and observations you've offered me recently, so thank you :)

You pointed out a couple areas I'm still thinking about as well -- the sudden change to first-person at the end and the punctuation in S4.

Do you think even a comma would suffice (in place of the semi-colon)? My intention was for that opening clause to modify "screen." But this might be an instance where no choice would be the obviously correct one (or where none would be blatantly wrong), in which case I like your thought about the punctuation mimicking a screen...


James Brancheau 07-17-2019 12:30 PM

I like this a good deal, Jake. Nemo pretty much stated my feelings on how this poem contrasts with the last couple you posted. I'm fond of the pressure you put on individual lines/line breaks, which can be confusing the first couple of reads. But the poem, for me, is a camera lens slowly getting into focus, drawing the reader into careful observation. I do have some thoughts/nits. I'm not sure what "screen" means exactly in that last stanza. Maybe it's something obvious, but for the life of me I can't get it. For the longest time, I also wanted "her quiet traitor," but I'm starting to like "my" there more and more as I see it as the speaker identifying with this woman. And, I have to say, that makes it a lot more powerful for me (even if I'm wrong). Not the biggest deal, but "greatest" seems a little flat. I thought perhaps "loyalest" might be more interesting? Anyway, I might look at that again. Very fine, sharp work here.

John Isbell 07-17-2019 03:23 PM

Hi Jake,

Lots of people like this poem, so take what I say here for what it's worth. At the end of the day, I see the work of making here, but plenty about the poem bugs me. Hence my delay in commenting, it's my usual method.
So here goes nothing.

I don't like ending a title with a comma. I've done it once, and still hesitate about that. FWIW, Bohemia (capital: Prague) ended as an independent kingdom in the High Middle Ages, though monarchs in Vienna maintained the title. It's perhaps like saying the Queen of Scotland? So to me, her being a literal queen seems far-fetched. Consequently, I read Bohemia in its figurative sense and am less surprised than others, apparently, to find her in McDonald's. Your contrast fails for me. Also, putting a monarch in McDonald's seems a bit cheap and jejune - done already in Coming to America, for instance. Lastly, I don't see how she remembers Chateauroux. I assume that's a wine? The town is far from Bohemia and doesn't draw foreigners. OK, hey, she has no wine, if I do a little violence to the syntax, but a milkshake instead. I'm not bowled over.
Closing out the stanza, I want "red shadows the avenue" to have literal meaning. Is there a red light somewhere? Is she reminded of red wine? I got your hint at blood in the flattish "or a shave," not sure how that escaped others, but don't see the implicit threat as earned. In Plath, it feels earned by madness, to me, but here, your tone does not seem unified. I do like "velvet gallantry."
Second stanza. Your enjambment doesn't feel earned for me in any way, as I think they should be. I want "out" on the previous line. How does a lightbulb briefly burn out, as noted upthread? I'm unconvinced. I googled music in McDonald's - I've never noticed any - and found out they play it. OK, how is it a barfly? Does it drink? How does it guard anything? Humpty Dumpty says, "The question is - who's to be master - that's all," and these statements of yours remind me of him, I don't yet see that they have any actual meaning. Also, I don't like the period in "goes. According," the violence it does to obvious syntax reminds me of what I did to create "poetry" on the page when I was about seventeen. Einstein writes, "Be as simple as possible, but not simpler," and I find that a worthy goal for us all.
Third stanza. I like the broilers, they seem lived and earned, and they are fun as music. Another satisfied seems a bit easy, as MCDonald's references go. I find it underwhelming. "A prince, too far to grab and small" is neat syntax, I like that. As for meaning, see my hesitations about your queen upthread. Is she time traveling? OK, so be it. Is she Austrian and imperial? Is she figurative? Your words raise these questions. Because the options seem mutually exclusive, I have trouble locating the prince you'd like us to find on your page. I think he deserves to be located.
Fourth stanza. So her (computer? smartphone?) screen is various things. It is, I think "dawn's / last dance or (dawn's) dismissal," where I don't enjoy the violence you do to syntax, notably in your enjambment, nor do I see another way to recuperate your meaning. Again, Einstein. The last two lines I find lovely. I'm not sure what they mean.
Bottom line: plenty of folks read this and say "Oh yes, poetry." They see the work done to make what is clear, opaque. They see play. It rewards people who like to get their money's worth on the page, the way Dali rewards the eye with draftsmanship and brutalizes the senses. But to my mind, Dali will forever be minor, and that is the choice he made. It's not my cup of tea. I'll add that plenty of people are writing and publishing this sort of stuff, and have been for some time. It bores me, and I feel doesn't reward the work it requires of me (the screen's syntactic attributes, for instance). I don't find that it earns my time, nor does it leave me feeling I have enjoyed, say, a nice wine rather than a high-sugar McDonald's concoction. So much for the syntax. As for the conceit or premise: I could care less about McDonald's. Again, the demotic has been in vogue for decades now, and will continue to be. People see McDonald's and go "Oh yeah, this is clearly a modern poem." To me, that is cheap, it's been done before - Ginsberg's superb Whitman in the supermarket - and I don't feel this adds anything useful to that rather nonce tradition.
I don't expect this poem to stand the test of time. Sorry. I agree, you'll find happy readers these days. Dali finds happy viewers. But he's not Picasso, he's not even Braque. There is a dullness, a lack of center, at his core. At the end of the day, there is no there there. I think you can do better.
OK. I took the time to comment at length here because plenty of poems like this are out there. I hope to speak my piece here about the genre, for what it's worth. Call it a manifesto.


Ashley Bowen 07-17-2019 05:53 PM

Hola, Jake,

I suppose that my response will be the outlier here as I don't really see what the more-positive responses to this have seen.

This has a Wallace Stevens-like feel to me, and I'm not much of a Stevens fan as his works always strikes me as overly self-satisfied and smirkingly clever.

To my mind, I feel like I'm being asked to decode something without the kind of clues that I need to get what's going on. Perhaps it's my lack of education on such matters and manners.

I feel like I remembering feeling the first time I attempted The Waste Land. So you could very well be in good company with this one.

Mostly I feel this is overly compressed and coded.


ETA: I just read John's crit. That's what I was trying to say.

Jake Sheff 07-18-2019 09:49 AM


Appreciate the read and comments. Thank you giving me some things to think about. I'm also on the fence about "my" at the end, and "greatest."

John / Ashley,

I appreciate your feedback, getting insight into the effect the poem has on you. It's certainly true that "you can't please them all." I'm not sure it's a good idea for someone to try. I appreciate seeing why/where/how this piece might have failed so I can try something different in the future.


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