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  #1  
Unread 05-21-2019, 03:15 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Silenus

Silenus: Version II

My torso bellies out to hold the gut.
My laugh comes easy, and a cup of wine,
a grape, a leg of chicken in my grip
will surely disappear. My gait is light;
I am inclined
to dancing. In my hair,
don’t be surprised to find a wreath that speaks
of holy festival – for it is holy
to lift wine to the lips, to eat the grape.
You’ll find me a companion to the god
who drinks the wine, who ambles through the world.

***

The dead return and they inhabit us –
a cause for lamentation, if a man
clings to himself, for he'll die in the mix.
The gods are of that number in the end.
This is the world I know. The day a god
or prophet steps between our ears, the mind
is hollowed out, the tongue is stirred, the hand
does what it’s told; and what the eye can see
is not quite what is out there. Those who watch
cannot see, those who hear will not hear you.
Communication fails. The dead are not
unduly troubled. They have work to do.


Cut: And thus the day / is spoken for, for life has day and night.


Silenus: Version I

My torso bellies out to hold the gut.
My laugh comes easy, and a cup of wine,
a grape, a leg of chicken in my grip
will likely be consumed. My happy face
has weight and presence in the cheeks; my gait
is lighter than you might expect; I am
not disinclined to dancing. In my hair,
don’t be surprised to find a wreath that speaks
of holy festival – for it is holy
to lift wine to the lips, to eat the grape.

You’ll find me a companion to the god
who values wine and easy living. I
might lift my voice in happy song; I might
venture a step or two. I cannot say
where you might see me next. Perhaps a town
will greet our company; perhaps a field
or vineyard will trace out our path from A
to B to C, our amble through the world.
Life has its daytime and its night. I speak
for the bright daytime and for pleasure’s cup.


The dead return and they inhabit us –
a cause for lamentation, if a man
clings to himself, for that dies in the mix.
This is the world I know. The day a god
or prophet steps between our ears, the mind
is hollowed out, the tongue is stirred, the hand
does what it’s told; and what the eye can see
is not quite what is out there. Those who watch
cannot see, those who hear will not hear you.
Communication fails. The dead are not
unduly troubled. They have work to do.

Cut: My happy face / has weight and presence in the cheeks
who values wine and easy living. I / might lift my voice in happy song; I might / venture a step or two. I cannot say / where you might see me next. Perhaps a town / will greet our company; perhaps a field / or vineyard will trace out our path from A / to B to C, our amble through the world. / Life has its daytime and its night. I speak / for the bright daytime and for pleasure’s cup.

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-24-2019 at 09:57 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 05-21-2019, 05:54 AM
Bill Carpenter Bill Carpenter is offline
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Hi John,
I was interested from the first line, but my interest petered out with the somewhat prosy self-description that wasn't going anywhere fast enough. I pictured a Silenus painting, and Silenus describing who he is and what he does. "My happy face" and "happy song" seem slack. So I skipped ahead to the last strophe which has a lot to say.

You might consider just cutting the first two strophes and keeping the title. It is quite mysterious how you end up in the busy forum of the dead from the drunken procession, but the first two strophes do not really prepare for it and explain it, so you could just as well do without them. Another approach would be to compress the first two into one and amp it up so it leads more interestingly into the lessons of the third.

While the first two strophes seemed tedious to read, I think I would have been receptive to them in an oral performance, where more scene-setting and repetition, and mere entertainment in the moment, are appropriate.
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  #3  
Unread 05-21-2019, 06:43 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Bill,

And thanks for the nudge. Yes, the first two stanzas did amble along. The happy song was Keats's, but it's gone now. In fact, both happys are gone; I've cut a line from the first stanza, and almost all of the second. I appreciate the suggestion - it seems to me the second stanza wasn't doing much that the first hadn't already done.
I do value the contrast between my new S1 and S2, so I'm inclined to keep it. What do people think? Is there a story told here? Does the piece work as a unit? It's a format I use a fair bit at the opening of this MS., to produce a kind of double narrative.

Cheers,
John
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  #4  
Unread 05-21-2019, 11:19 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Overall, I so want to nudge this in another direction, and discuss other rotund and laughing male figures, such as Chinese folk god Budai (often confused with the Buddha of Buddhism, which leads to some interesting cognitive dissonance between the obese, grotesque, laughing Budai's material abundance/indulgence and the slim, elegant, serene Buddha's non-attachment/asceticism). And Falstaff and Santa Claus, too, might be other incarnations of the undying Silenus.

In the second half of the poem, I can't help thinking that the main connection of Silenus to death would be through poor judgment and coordination (e.g., automobile accidents) and drunken brawls/suicides when lack of emotional control prompts someone to produce a weapon. But that would take the poem in a much darker direction.

And if that were the poem you wanted to write, you would have.

More focused comments:

I like the "grape"/"grip" chime (twang?) in L3. But "will likely be consumed" in L4 seems glaringly obvious. What else would we expect to happen to the foodstuffs in someone's hand? Throwing?

I wonder if the first of the two "holy"s might be better as "sacred."

I have problems with the whole day and night thing. In the context of the Greco-Roman pantheon, I associate day with Apollo and night with Dionysus/Bacchus...and Silenus is definitely in Dionysus/Bacchus's earthy entourage, not the intellectual Apollo's.

I also don't understand the second stanza's apparent conflation of the notions of possession by the dead and possession by a god (the literal meaning of "enthusiasm"), which are not the same thing.

(Unless you are saying that the gods are dead; if so, there's probably a less confusing way to communicate that. And Silenus himself is an immortal figure, which is problematical if that's the message. But I'm probably misreading that.)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 05-21-2019 at 11:22 AM.
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  #5  
Unread 05-21-2019, 12:31 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

Aha! Good to hear about Budai, and to think about the traditional Buddha figure in Chinese iconography. But I do think Buddha does not have to be slim, and that he is only an ascetic to an extent: after all, the subcontinent was full of fakirs seeking liberation from samsara, and it was after trying that path and rejecting it that the Buddha sat under his bodhi tree.
Beyond that, you'll see I've taken most of your suggestions: what happens to the chicken leg is perhaps better expressed; day is gone, though I've always thought Silenus diurnal; there's a new line in S2 working to link the pagan gods to the unnumbered dead. But maybe I just need to drop the dead altogether and replace that word with "gods" in S2? It would certainly be more straightforward.
I've kept the repetition holy-holy, which I quite like.

Thank you Julie,
John
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  #6  
Unread 05-23-2019, 09:39 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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John, this poem has a lot of sonic play in the opening lines, and I like that very much.

I must say that the second stanza seems only very tenuously connected to the first. To me the two stanzas seem to belong to different poems.
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  #7  
Unread 05-23-2019, 10:31 PM
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Nicholas Stone Nicholas Stone is offline
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I agree with Aaron. The two stanzas belong to different poems. In fact they could be individual poems as they are. Companion pieces on nearby pages, perhaps, but not two halves of the same poem.

I quite like them. The first poem flows naturally enough from line to line, but comes to an appropriate halt at the end of the first stanza. It's a cheerful vignette, and the title "Silenus" expands its horizons nicely.

I'm not altogether happy with S2L3 - the word "mix" seems out of place and the dehumanized "that" doesn't seem in keeping with the rest of what the stanza seems to be saying - if it refers to the self, which is not clear from the syntax.
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Unread 05-24-2019, 02:25 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Aaron, hi Nicholas,

Thank you for bumping my poem! I was thinking it had gone the way of all flesh, with I guess two reader comments in total. It's pleasant to get a bit more feedback.
So yes, the two stanzas here were written as two separate poems. I have a series of these in this MS., Ice Cream and Talmud, hoping to sustain a sort of double narrative. They had been separated by rows of asterisks, but I removed those; might returning those suffice, or can the two not coexist on the same page? Do we need more organic unity, is there an intent at totality the two deny? It's one reason I posted this, to find that out. If asterisks work, i have a bunch to restore; if not, maybe some significant editing to be done.
Aaron, I'm glad you enjoyed the opening sonic play; I had fun working on that.
Nicholas, thank you also for your kind words about S1. In S2, I'd intended "that" to refer to "himself," not yet seeing a better syntactic way to refer back to it, and "mix" I'll think more about at your suggestion. The line made sense to me, but that of course does not mean it makes sense to others.

Cheers,
John
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  #9  
Unread 05-24-2019, 04:14 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

I'm looking just at S1. For a persona poem in the voice of a drunken Dionysian sage, this feels a little tame. And very much like your voice. I wouldn't have imagined all the second-guessing of the listener's reaction from Silenus, for example ('as you can't have expected' and 'don't be surprised') or the litotes ('not disinclined to dancing') or the passivity of the voice ('a leg of chicken in my grip / will surely disappear'). I would have imagined something a bit more roaringly active and alive.
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  #10  
Unread 05-24-2019, 06:08 AM
Nicholas Stone's Avatar
Nicholas Stone Nicholas Stone is offline
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I assumed that it was an ironicized narrator imagining himself as Silenus.
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