Another New Poem
Revision 2: The Matt Revision
Early Sunday Light
Like rust I chew on steel, treat my liver as though it molted, bash
my body against itself and all creation as if it were a child’s
favorite toy. Some things are more perfect in decay and boy,
the world and I are holding hands and watching pieces of us peel
and fall toward that great black ice that’s welling up and mounting
the heads of stars on invisible walls. I feel ashamed, though,
how much I love this place, how every morning I’m surprised—
divined—to be, to drink hot bitter coffee, and to watch a jay
and know that it has broken eggs and eaten nestlings
from that finest and most beloved of baskets, woven from grass
and twigs and flowers and dung, that I’d plop the earth in
and roost upon. Or maybe, wear as a crown—as my conscience.
Archaeopteryx as Swatted Fly
Like rust I chew on steel, treat my liver as though it molted,
.....bash my body
against itself and all creation as if it were a child’s
Some things are more perfect in decay and boy, the world and I
.....are holding hands
and watching pieces of us peel and fall toward
.....great black ice
that’s welling up and mounting the heads of stars on invisible walls.
.....I feel ashamed, though,
how much I love this place, how every morning I’m surprised—
to be, to drink hot bitter coffee, and to watch a jay
.....fly from a nest
(that finest and most beloved of baskets, woven from grass and twigs
.....and flowers and dung)
and know that it has broken the eggs and eaten the nestlings
.....from a home
I’d plop the earth in and roost upon. Or maybe, wear as a crown—
.....as my conscience.
Early Sunday Light
..........Like rust I chew on steel, treat my liver
as though it molted, bash my body against
.....itself and all creation as if it were
..........a child’s favorite toy. Some things are more
perfect in decay and boy, the world
.....and I are holding hands and watching pieces
..........of us peel and fall into that great black ice
that’s welling up and poised to outlast fire.
.....I feel ashamed, though, how much I love this place,
..........how every morning I’m surprised—divined—
to be here and to see the jay I know
.....has broken eggs and eaten nestlings out
..........of the finest and most cared for baskets, woven
out of grass, twigs, flowers, dung, and spider-webs,
.....that I’d plop the earth in and roost upon.
..........Or maybe, wear as a crown—as my conscience.
L5: added comma after "boy"
L7: deleted a stupid typo ("the that")
Really good Andrew. I like the sturdiness of the poem's turn from the havoc that youth wrecks in stanza one to the sense of enlightenment and the acceptance of and the conversation with the world at large as it unravels -- or in your back yard at least. but I can't envision exactly what you've done to the nest and how it ends up on your head. It's partly due, I think, to the wording vs. the imagery so I will take a closer look and comment more if something specific turns up. Your conscience would be more accurately in your head, no?
Interesting choice of words to start the second stanza: "I feel ashamed, though,". I suppose it connects well with your crowned conscience you mention to end but in between I become a bit disoriented with the phrasing/wording.
I think the narrative needs a bit of shoring up in the second stanza and will look forward to how you revise. It's a good confessional poem that could get better here.
Maybe “fall into the that great black ice” needs repair?
Although the basic division seems appropriate, I’m uneasy with the visual presentation of the individual lines. I just don’t feel the justification. Not to overstep, but I wonder if further experimentation with the lineation might be fruitful.
Although the poem isn’t cast as “metrical,” the rhythms often delight, as do the internal rhymes, though sparse. What do you think of “Or maybe, wear as for a crown, my conscience”? Would that be less awkward—a smoother rhythm? But perhaps you prefer the much stronger full stop of the original...
Hi Jim and Jake,
Thanks for your thoughts!
Jim: I just imagine the N taking it down. There's something beautiful about a nest, made as it is from everything thrown away, the mixture of beautiful and ugly things. It is a fitting crown. The conscience is associated with the head, so I think I can get away with wearing a conscience. :).
I'm going to think about that second stanza some, especially if the language or imagery is confusing people.
Jake: You are not overstepping if you're telling me the lineation isn't work. I had it justified at first, but I didn't like the look. I'm not necessarily married to the jagged edges as they are now, though.
What I'm trying to convey in that last line is that the speaker first suggests wearing it as a crown, and then, only in saying that, does he come to the epiphany: oh, wait, not that, but as my conscience. I struggled with how to make that work grammatically, though I do think it needs a hard stop.
The poem was originally written as pentameter, I loosened it in parts as I struggled with the last line. Interesting that the rhythms still come though.
I don't necessarily think you're wrong on "fall into the that great black ice," but I'm curious what you're thinking about what's not working.
Just a fly-by for now, to say that, like Jake, I also noticed "fall into the that great black ice," and thought it needed fixing. If you don't see anything wrong with it, can you say how it's supposed to work? It looks like a typo to have "the that".
Also, I wonder if this is too metrical. Pretty much every line bar one in the first stanza scans as (loose) IP, as does most of S2. This means when the poem deviates from IP it sounds, to my ear, like the metre's lost. I'd say you might consider tightening the few lines that aren't IP, or loosening a fair bit of the rest of it. That's my first response anyway. Maybe I've just spent too much time here and I'm overly primed to try to scan things! I'll come back later and read it again tomorrow when I'm fresher.
In S1L5, do you need a comma after "boy"?
Thanks for your thoughts! Clearly I've run over "the that" a few dozen times and my brain has not noticed. Fixed it. (Jake, is that what you were talking about?)
The idea behind it is that everything will be cold dark nothingness, and I'm using "ice" as a metonym for that inevitability.
It's possible you're right on the IP. I think my hesitation is that last line that I can't get into a satisfying non-hex. But if it is distracting, I'm going to re-evaluate.
I took your suggestion of the comma after boy.
So I'm back for the poem itself. I like the theme here. The tension between nihilism and -- I don't know what to call it -- beauty, joy, something transcendent. The first stanza shows us the N abusing/neglecting himself and his body, living as if he's immortal, not thinking/caring about his future. Then we learn the world is also watching itself fall apart. The ice surprised me a little on first read, since the earth falling apart (plus lack of care for the future) is suggestive of environmental decline and increasing temperatures, though I guess, with the ice outlasting fire, the fire could be a reference to the temperature increasing (followed eventually by the heat-death of the sun). Or maybe you've no intention to reference global warming (though I think that might be hard to get away from).
In the second stanza, I did wonder what he's ashamed at. On first read I'd taken it that he's ashamed at destroying himself, given that he loves this place. However, it reads like he's ashamed of loving this place (I'm reading this place as: the earth, his existence), and I guess that's your intention. And I do wonder why. Also, given the close, the conscience would be the cause of shame. So if remembering what he loves is what prompts shame, it would seem like he's ashamed at how he treats himself and how he shortens his life, rather than of his love for "this place".
I like the use of "divined" to suggest both the divine, and divination. In S2L3, the enjambment initially suggests that it's the "jay I know" (a jay known to him) who has broken the eggs, but without the enjambment I'd read what he knows is that the jay has broken eggs rather than knowing the jay. I'm wondering if the wrong-footing adds here. It didn't really for me. The enjambment on the next line has similar effect on me, though to lesser extent. At first I read that the jay has "eaten nestlings out", then I need to reparse after the linebreak. Having to do this twice so close together had me stumbling though that long sentence a little.
I did wonder if "woven / out of grass, twigs, flowers, dung, and spider-webs" is adding much. I noticed my interest flag a little at this list (the only part of the poem where it did). I can see that maybe the contrast of dung and flowers is likely reprising the contrast between the beauty/joy of seeing the jay and its cruel actions, but I'm not sure if there's particular significance of the other list items, but if there is I'm missing them. Maybe you could just have "woven / out of dung and flowers" and not expand the list.
I think one consequence of this being essentially pentameter is that you have some sub-optimal line breaks. Another that I wondered about is "more" in S1. "more" doesn't strike me as a particularly strong word to emphasise with a line-break. Maybe there's a misdirect: "some things are more", but I'm not sure how fruitful that is.
Maybe you have the option of playing with/varying the line-lengths so as to strengthen the enjambments, and then you'd also have something that looked less like IP. Over against this, I like the jagged offsets, the seem to work well with the content, and they might not be so visually effective with greater variation in line length.
It's tough to come after one of Matt's thorough critiques and offer anything new. I like the first stanza more than the second--except for the boy/toy rhyme, which should go away. For my taste, the second stanza sort of takes refuge in some fairly generic and unconvincing nature cliches. As I read it, the narrator is able to every day see the eggs the jay has broken. Every day? I don't buy it. I don't mean to be overly negative. There is good stuff here and it's been pointed out. The opening description of self-destruction is strong. I just think the more upbeat S2 is over-powered by the more honest and realistic strength of S1.
FWIW, once I'd figured out the parsing, I'd read that he sees the jay every day and he sees it knowing that the jay has, at some point in the past, broken its own eggs and eaten its offspring, but I do see how John's reading it how he is.
I do like the contrast between the divinity/beauty of the jay and its acts of cruel destruction. I think now that I misunderstood the shame part. I think his shame is at loving this place (the world, his existence) even though there's destruction and cruelty in it -- he loves to see the jay despite it's cruelty. Or even, he loves it all, including the the cruelty and destruction. So the nest, and the act of building it, stands against this cruel, destructive, nihilistic force. It is emblematic of other-concern and care, and future-oriented action -- and this is why it's his conscience.
I guess what threw me off this reading (assuming it's what you wanted) is that when I'd read in S1 that the world was watching pieces of itself fall off, I'd assumed the world was something like the earth, the planet (and "the earth" does occur in S2), and as such was an innocent victim of the destruction wrought on it by others, rather than another cruel, (self-)destructive actor.
Andrew, As this distills further for me with each reading and crit, I am more and more impressed by the adroitness of the two stanzas as they rub against each other; they are “birds of a feather” in many ways. (It could even be the title -- “Birds of a Feather”. "Early Sunday Light" doesn't seem to do much...)
The wantonness of the actions of the speaker in his youth in the first stanza echoes the destructive nature of the jay in the second stanza, though exercised differently and perhaps for different reasons.
It is the conscience, however, that inhabits the poem and now controls it, for me. It (the conscience) is what enables the speaker to make sense of the seemingly incongruous nature of existence and even sees it as beautiful.
I think this might be my favorite of yours. I’m still not sure “ashamed” is the right word, but it might be…. : )
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