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Old 08-05-2017, 04:45 AM
Geertjan Geertjan is offline
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Posts: 1,130
Default Circus Act

Two apes came in alone, unaided,
great hairy ones with ugly mugs;
they lurched around as if on drugs,
their dark eyes sad and jaded.

They slowly started their routine,
lethargically they juggled balls,
then, to our laughter, cheers and calls,
bounced on a trampoline.

What happened next I won't forget:
they dressed themselves as man and wife,
then ate raw meat with fork and knife,
and shared a cigarette.

We stood as one to give applause,
for they'd amazed us with their art
–yet I alone saw, drawn apart,
the one who'd been the cause.

And she, their trainer, proud, withdrawn,
in long black dress, high-heels, and rings,
peeping out from curtained wings,
released a haughty yawn.

Those days come darkly back again:
she beckons coyly, wets her lips,
winks at me, then sways her hips,
and offers me champagne.

I drink. Oh God! I drink and drink,
and spinning, spinning, swoon, collapse,
then, after days (or weeks?) elapse,
awake, my mind a blank.

I see two apes, in straw and sand,
they shake their heads in sad dismay,
I lose my grip, I drunkly sway,
and raise my hairy hand.

My hairy hand? My simian shape!
In sympathy the others screech,
I join them, for I've lost my speech,
and turned into an ape!

Now three of us come in unaided,
three hairy apes with ugly mugs,
we lurch around as if on drugs,
our dark eyes sad and jaded.

Last edited by Geertjan; 08-05-2017 at 07:25 AM.
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Old 08-05-2017, 08:42 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 2,450

Hi Geertjan

The story here comes across clearly and is straightforwardly told. The direction it took was nicely unexpected

My biggest issue here is that the punchline is clear by S8: he's become an ape too. For me the last two stanzas are somewhat superfluous. I don't see what's added by spelling things out, which S9 does in particular -- spelling out the "hairy hand" thing and the man-to-ape transformation, just in case anyone didn't get it, and I'd be very surprised if any reader wouldn't. I can see merit in the last stanza mirroring the first, so bringing closure, but I do believe the poem would be improved by cutting S9, and you might consider cutting both. Alternatively, perhaps you could lose S9, find a way of making the clue in S8 more ambiguous, which would then allow S10 to confirm it.

The description of the trainer in S6 as "beckoning coyly" winking, licking lips and offering champagne seems to strongly contradict her being described in S5 as "proud [and] withdrawn". OK, so maybe she's come out of character for the seduction, but still it still jarred a bit, and the N seems unfazed by this sudden transformation. I also find myself wondering a bit what "proud [and] withdrawn" looks like and if I'd recognise it if I saw it.

In S1 I wonder if there's a less predictable modifier for "mugs" than "ugly.

In S4, I wonder how the N knows that no one else in the entire crowd has seen the trainer.



Last edited by Matt Q; 08-05-2017 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 08-06-2017, 03:11 AM
Geertjan Geertjan is offline
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Posts: 1,130

Originally Posted by Matt Q View Post
In S4, I wonder how the N knows that no one else in the entire crowd has seen the trainer.
Well, he's the ultimate unreliable narrator -- an ape.

Thanks for the comments, very helpful to have a different perspective to my own.

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Old 08-06-2017, 08:30 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 13,990

The pay-off here is rather minimal. The great surprise irony is, as Matt said, a bit predictable. And it strikes me as well as somewhat pointless, when push comes to shove. Or the point is a bit obvious and moralistic. Do not exploit others lest you be exploited, I suppose.

Technically, most of it is handled very well. The beats and rhymes, I mean. But to me it has a somewhat sing-songy feel, with every line ending in a stop and no syntactical unit extending more than one line. And some of the rhymes sound good, but seem to be odd word choices. For example, why "unaided"? One wouldn't ordinarily expect an ape to need assistance to come in. And once you say they came in "alone," it's already established that they are unaided.

Moving to the next stanza, "slowly" and "lethargically" seem (to me) to be padding things out unhelpfully. And lines like "What happened next I won't forget" seem to consist entirely of filler, adding nothing to the meaning but simply filling a line that needs filling. In that same stanza, "fork and knife" sounds a bit off (just a bit) because normally people say "knife and fork" (I don't know why) so reversing the order like that makes it seem rhyme-driven.

In the next stanza, "We stood as one to give applause" also sounds padded. It's a very long way to say "we applauded." I don't think "as one" does anything at all, and "give applause" seems a wordy way of saying "applaud."

I won't go through the rest line by line, but that's the kind of thing that bothers me here. It's all quite frothy, and while clear and grammatical, there are unnatural touches throughout that make it seem inauthentic in its language, all in the service of a sci-fi plot that doesn't have much resonance.
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Old 08-06-2017, 09:02 AM
Laura DiCarlo Short Laura DiCarlo Short is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2017
Location: Austin, TX
Posts: 1

To use meter and rhyme in a poem with such a dark twist creates a really nice tension. Meter of this sort (in which all syntactical units are contained within one line) often has a nursery-rhyme feeling to it -- which at first is supported by the images of apes and, one presumes, children watching them at a circus. So the turn to the seduction and transformation of people into apes is a pleasant surprise.

While generally very smooth, I do agree with the previous critic that some of the rhymes feel forced by words that feel out of place. The one that stood out to me was the word "cause" in stanza 4. Because you had not yet introduced the idea of a trainer, a mere allusion to her felt unclear and caused me to pause.

In stanza 8 you have a line that says "I drunkenly sway" -- I tripped here because "drunkenly" breaks the beautifully consistent rhythm. Could you change it to "a drunken sway" (or some such) to maintain the iambs?

I also agree that stanza 9 should be cut or re-worked to refrain from the bluntness of its final line. What if you expanded stanza 7? I am curious to know more about the experience of that transformation. Can you let us see it more fully, spend more time in that moment?

Speaking of the transformation -- I am curious about the speaker. Why was the speaker singled out? Why was he/she (?) susceptible to being seduced? Was this a child or adult? I am not necessarily suggesting that your poem needs to answer these questions, but they are ones that you at least should know the answers to (and maybe hint at for the curious like myself!).

Man, this poem would be a cool children's book! Well, maybe not. But I think it needs illustrations! I think this is a really cool project and that that the final image of the poem has a very haunting effect. Don't give up on this -- revise it and let it shine!! Thanks for sharing!
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Old 08-06-2017, 11:49 AM
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Richard Meyer Richard Meyer is offline
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Minnesota
Posts: 2,914

Hello Geertjan:

The narrative in this poem reminds me a bit of the scene in Homer's Odyssey where Circe, the goddess of magic, uses a magical potion to turn Odysseus' crew into pigs. The female trainer in your poem exhibits the beguiling traits of an enchantress or sorceress.

In S8, L3 you use the word drunkly, which many readers automatically and mistakenly read as drunkenly. I suppose you’ve done so to preserve the meter of the line; however, drunkly is not a word, and I find it to be a diction stumble.

I agree with much of what Roger has to say in his critique. You do have a sound grasp of the fundamentals of the craft, and that is saying a lot.

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Old 08-08-2017, 05:42 AM
Geertjan Geertjan is offline
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Posts: 1,130

Thanks all, for the comments, lots of food for thought and great to have the weak areas identified.
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Old 02-11-2018, 04:37 PM
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Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 671

I agree with some of the comments above. The poem was fun and moved nicely. I tended to prefer your polysyllabic rhymes. I also felt that the two final stanzas were unnecessary--didn't have faith in your audience to get it from the hairy hand of the third to the last stanza. If you do stick to your guns, I recommend at least cutting the second to the last stanza, which isn't up to the others--repetitive and expository.

Overall, though--very cool, and I enjoyed the read.
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