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Old 09-01-2018, 09:54 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Default Farmer

Revision 3

Impact

The earth sucks as we move, church
shoes thick with mud, slacks now black

bells banging silently. For harvest we unplant
our steps and the corn that still stands

dead and undressed, maybe like backbones
of scarecrows, the tough stalks of their souls--

corn's what they're made from, then raised
in our clothes. We leave them unshaken,

heavy at the root, to give our slings hurt--
both belt and steel toe--enough weight

to reach Joe, hopeless, born slow, half-sunk
in mud. Not in him to mind us, that dirt's

today's first rain, that the tails of our comets
wag as they fall. And so after we all lose

a good shoe and our spit and sweat turn
to drizzle, we go for heaven like answering

a dare--underhanded and harder, death
slipping in our fists, we wing our grip

at father, our weather from his furrowed
brow, the rough knuckles of his prayer.

********
Notes: Still trying on new titles. Good chance I'll go back to Up to Heaven.
L16: Changed "clouds" to "heaven."
Title change from Inclement. I will I think need to also nudge the poem here and there.









Revision 2

Up to Heaven

The earth sucks as we move, church
shoes thick with mud, slacks now black

bells tilting silently. For harvest we unplant
each of our steps and the corn that stands

dead and undressed, as if backbones of
scarecrows, the tough stalks of their souls--

what they were made from, and then raised
in our clothes. We leave them unshaken, heavy

at the root, to give our slings momentum,
to crush Joe, born slow, and half-sunk

in mud. Not in him to mind us, that dirt's
today's first rain, that the tails of our comets

wag as they fall. So as spit and sweat turn
to drizzle, we go for clouds like answering

a dare--underhanded and harder, death
slipping in our fists, we wing our grip

at father, our weather from his furrowed
brow, the rough knuckles of his prayer.

*************
Notes: Last two lines changed from "at father, our weather in his furrowed/brow, from the knuckles of his prayer."




Revision 1

Up to Heaven

The earth sucks as we move, church
shoes thick with mud, slacks now black

bells tilting silently. For harvest we unplant
each of our steps and the corn that stands

dead and undressed, like backbones of
scarecrows--the tough stalk of the soul--

maybe what they were made of, raised
to protect. We leave them unshaken, heavy

at the root, to give our slings momentum,
to crush Joe, born slow, and half-sunk

in mud. Not in him to mind us, that dirt's
today's first rain, that the tails of our comets

wag as they fall. So as spit and sweat turn
to drizzle, we go for clouds like answering

a dare--underhanded and harder, death
slipping in our fists, we wing our grip

at father, our weather in his furrowed
brow, from the knuckles of his prayer.

*********
Notes: Still deciding on whether or not to go with "to crush" or "to pound." Or something else.



Original

Death of a Farmer

The earth sucks as we move, church
shoes thick with mud, slacks now black

bells tilting silently. For harvest we unplant
each of our steps and corn that stands

dead and undressed, like backbones of
scarecrows--the tough stalk of the soul--

maybe what they were made of, raised
to protect. We leave them unshaken, heavy

at the root, swing them free for distance--
to hit Joe far behind, born slow, half-sunk

in mud. Not in him to mind us, that dirt's
the day's first rain, that the rotten tails of

our comets wag as they fall. He'll bloom
into a well or castle. So after we all lose

a good shoe and our spit and sweat turn
to drizzle, we go for clouds like answering

a dare--underhanded and harder, death
slipping in our fists, we wing our grip

at father, our weather in his furrowed
brow, the rough knuckles of his prayer.

*************
Revisions: Mud Field (title) changed to Death of a Farmer (placeholder title). L4: added "and" and dropped "still." L12 changed from "the day's only real rain, that the tails of"

Last edited by James Brancheau; 09-28-2018 at 04:05 PM. Reason: L1 & 2 have gone through a brief process of revision. The original had "cuffs now church bells" cuffs wasn't accurate, so...
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  #2  
Old 09-02-2018, 01:28 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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I like the very earthiness of this, James, and it's full of pithy and interesting phrasing, but I'm not sure I could say exactly what it's about. That feels more like a failure on my part than on yours - but is it? (Probably.)

Still, I wonder if a different title would be more helpful.

Cheers

David
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  #3  
Old 09-02-2018, 04:50 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi James,

I read this about a failed harvest and a failing farm. The field is muddy, and there's a rain metaphor that runs through the poem.

I like the opening image of the slacks as black bells (playing off the church shoes) and suggesting doom, and the line-break on "black".

I found the second sentence difficult to parse and hence ambiguous. I take it the dead corn is the steps they unplant. Steps forward that that failed. I can follow it fine up to here: "For harvest we unplant / each of our steps, corn that still stands, / dead and undressed, like backbones of / scarecrows --the tough stalk of the soul--" then it makes less sense.

What does "they" refer to in "maybe what they were made of"? Something was maybe made of "the backbones of scarecrows", but what? Not the corn, since that's singular. The steps then? Also, does the end of the sentence mean "what they were made of [and] made to protect"? But if so, it seems instead that it should be the scarecrows that were made to protect something, so what were they made of? Do you intend that it's the tough stalk of the soul that the scarecrows were made of and made to protect? The punctuation says otherwise though. "tough stalks of the soul" is an interjection, so I could remove it and not alter the sense of the sentence: "corn ... stands ... like backbones of scarecrows, maybe what they were made of, raised to protect.". Alternatively, is "raised to protect" a separate clause, so that I can read "like backbones of scarecrows ... raised to protect"?

So, I reckon the structure of the sentence could be simplified/clarified, or the sentence split in two somehow.

The question of what "they" refers to also arises for "them" in S4L1. The sense of it suggests the corn, but the preceding plural is "steps" (or the "backbones of scarecrows"), I think. So, they pick the corn and throw it at Joe, who I take to be their brother. "Father" at the end makes me think that "we" are at least N and another family member. Father is there but not part of "we", since "we wing our grip at father".

Joe doesn't mind "that dirt's the day's only real rain". I get the image -- he's being showered by dirt -- but why would he mind the absence of real rain if there's been lots of rain, as seems to have been the case? Why would he want more rain. It would make more sense to me if this were a drought.

Later they aim for clouds, I think, throw underarm and high. I didn't understand what "wing our grip at father" means. My best guess is that it means "throw what we are gripping".

I wonder a bit about "prayer" at the end, whether there's a different, less obvious way to show the father's desperation/hope, especially given the freshness of what precedes.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-02-2018 at 05:00 PM.
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Old 09-02-2018, 10:12 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Thank you David and Matt. I'll be back with more of a response, but for now wanted to address one of Matt's grammatical concerns. This may depend on which side of the pond you live on, but where I'm from "corn" is uncountable and the verb that follows reflects that. I did add an "and" between "steps" and "corn" (and dropped "still" as it's unnecessary).

Last edited by James Brancheau; 09-02-2018 at 10:27 PM.
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  #5  
Old 09-04-2018, 11:08 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Default Revision Posted

I spent a lot of time on this poem before I posted it, but I think it still needed to be cut down a bit more. There were a couple of things here that might have been too much of a distraction. Hoping it's now leaner, meaner, and clearer. Or, at the very least, improved.

I'm very pleased that you liked it, David, and hope the revision makes it at least a little more accessible. And I think you were absolutely right about another title (whether the new one works or not). Thanks a bunch.

Yes, the scarecrows are the "they," Matt, and I will continue to think of how to make that clearer. Also, I agree that "only real rain" makes it seem like he wants/needs it to rain more, which I did not intend. I hope the revision gets that straight. I'm pretty attached to the close (but very open to adjustments to make that more effective). I'm glad that there were bits here that you enjoyed. Thank you.

JB
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Old 09-04-2018, 01:36 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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I like the offness of this, it's propulsion. Starting with a sucking earth is great. I do like the opening. I like it but am not convinced by it. For some reason, and I know this is vague, it doesn't have the grip on me, doesn't enchant me or force me along. I can easily stop reading this one. I hope I'm making sense because I think the poem is almost there. Maybe it's all the similes that undercut its theme. Too many of them and you're a wise guy more than a farmer.

I know this is vague but it's a hard point to make. There is, simply put, something in this voice that keeps it from doing its job. I don't know how to fix it. It's one of those things that have to be noodled out.

John
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Old 09-04-2018, 08:03 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi James,
This is earthy rich, as David says, and full of mud and soil and corn and desperate actions. A distinct feel of vintage American Gothic. There's a farm, and perhaps a church. The skyward imagery -- clouds, rain, comets -- all add up to...... a death? I just can't put it all together, though the overall feel and imagery is one of emptiness. I like the mood but don't know what has happened. Even Matt's parsing didn't get me any further -- and that's saying something!

I like the fragmentary nature of it but could you add some glue? That is, something that better connects the pieces?
x
x

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 09-05-2018 at 07:12 AM.
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Old 09-09-2018, 09:21 AM
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Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
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I, too read this as a funeral, hard scrabble and close knit. You have captured much here James and it has brought me back a time or two the flavours here are long.

Very good.

Jan
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Old 09-09-2018, 10:43 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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James, it takes a closer read than I gave it to recognize the funereal reality and mood of this -- Thanks to Martin and Jan for pointing it out.

Sometimes a critter's (my) crits reflect a failure of the critter to see what is plainly there, like the nose on his face : )
x
x
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Old 09-12-2018, 01:28 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Default Revision 3 Posted

Thanks much, Martin and Jan. I was thinking the kids right after the funeral, but I'm very pleased that you picked up on that. And glad you liked it, Jan. Hope the revision isn't a step backward.

No no, Jim, you weren't the only one having difficulty. Thanks for taking another look. Hopefully the revision is better/clearer.
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