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  #1  
Unread 07-20-2019, 04:02 PM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Default Born Under a Bad Sign

Born Under a Bad Sign

Satan worked summers out of Arkansas,
my Papaw used to say. I do not fib
about the men who’ve raised a hand to me.
I suppose he saw how summer slacked its jaw
wider than the blast furnace in McNab
that killed those men as they were going home.
I do not make these stories up. What pales
to Gramma’s father being one of her uncles?
Beside my father stripping my sister’s panties
below her ankles before he broke her in
to welts with his belt? I come back here again:
Sweating beside the payphone outside of Smitties,
Mother scratching silver lotto circles,
hope disappearing beneath her fingernails.
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  #2  
Unread 07-20-2019, 04:51 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Ashley,

Whoa, that's brutal. I'm very sorry. It's hard to come up immediately with an aesthetic reaction - mostly, the feeling is, you survived - but this certainly hits the reader with a two-by-four. I think, then, that you've told this with a combination of concision and power. It all hangs together, and the last line is tremendous.
Arkansas. The state we drove through around 2015, past a road sign saying, more or less, "God wants you to beat your children."
The title is Albert King, I think?

Cheers,
John

Oh, this song might speak to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2apXO0RXYo
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  #3  
Unread 07-20-2019, 04:52 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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First impression is very strong, Ashley. I think it's a truly powerful poem. I wonder if from 'What pales' to 'belt' could be all one sentence/question. I'll try to come back.
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Unread 07-20-2019, 08:47 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
Hi Ashley, I hesitate to compare the tone of the speaker to anyone because he speaks emphatically for himself, but it brought back to life the riveting, suffocating character portrayal by Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. It's just a feeling, nothing more.

Both the first and last lines take my breath away. In between them is an airless accounting of survival in brutal, rural Arkansas, hauntingly told. The tone of the poem is electrified by the twice-made declaration of the speaker that what he is recounting is true, is accurate. As if he anticipates someone might rebuke him.

My only thought at this point is that it may help convey the time shift that occurs in L11 by arranging it something like this:

to welts with his belt?xxxxxxI come back here again:

It might give the reader a split second to catch their breath.


I want to ruminate on this awhile. Stark, beautiful work.
x
x

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 07-21-2019 at 05:01 PM.
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  #5  
Unread 07-20-2019, 11:28 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Ashley, this is so well done, both language-wise and in the choice of details. Brutal, as people here have said, but also measured, creating a powerful human drama/tragedy in the fourteen lines. The pacing is superb. I was especially struck by the gap between the opening image of Satan and summer, and the follow-up about summer slacking its jaw, with the comment about not fibbing about men who’ve raised a hand, sandwiched in-between. You could have laid things out in a more linear way, but the delay and disjunction increases the poignancy. Such strong writing and searching. Bravissima!
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  #6  
Unread 07-22-2019, 06:01 PM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Hi, John,

Yes, indeed, that's Albert King's classic. Thanks for stopping in with some kind words. Much appreciated.

Hi, Mark,

Yes, those two stacked sentences might be better as one. Good note. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi, Jim,

Thanks for stopping in. Sling Blade was actually filmed pretty close to where I grew up in Arkansas. Some place to catch your breath might be a good suggestion there at the end. Thanks!

Andrew, hi.

Thanks for checking in on this one and for the kind, kind words. I'm glad you found something to like here.
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  #7  
Unread 07-22-2019, 06:58 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is online now
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This is excellent. And disquieting.

I have one observation: every end-word rhymes with at least one other, except for “home.” I kept looking for its companion to no avail. Is there some other way to say the line in question so that the end-word rhymes with something? You may not be interested in such subtleties, but I just thought I’d mention it.

Added in: OK, I just noticed that "home" is a sort of eye rhyme with "me," which is clever! (And anyway, "me" would otherwise not rhyme with anything else either, except as a slant rhyme with "Arkansas," which I did notice.)

Best,
Martin

Last edited by Martin Elster; 07-22-2019 at 07:02 PM.
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Unread 07-22-2019, 08:39 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I like home / me as a rhyme as well.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 07-22-2019, 09:48 PM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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For the body of the poem, I can only echo the praise already given. The last line, especially, is devastating.

But I think the title is a double disservice. A disservice first as a reference to another work of art, because this poem is so thoroughly your own. And a disservice second because, once one encounters the details of the poem, it seems comically insufficient. It deflects attention away from the suffering itself toward an imagined cause (whether it's taken seriously as actually the cause is beside the point).
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  #10  
Unread 07-22-2019, 10:44 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Yes, I think I agree with Aaron. The Albert King is great, but it stands on its own, and this poem is so good it needs to stand on its own as well, not hang from Albert. I believe a title will well up inside you.

Cheers,
John
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