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  #1  
Unread 10-21-2020, 02:40 PM
Simon Hunt Simon Hunt is offline
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Default For Thought

For Thought (Revision 1)


That question children love:
What would you eat
if you had to eat
just one thing for the rest of your life?
It's easy to say ice cream,
to order a million pizzas,
or to load up drybox mac and cheese,
case after case...

But what of the child
who craves the unusual?
My son at nine, persuaded
that a boy must find a sport,
chose golf for its ratio of walking and talking
to actual activity.
At sixteen he prefers fishing,
ideally without bait.
He picked the harp
when asked to choose an instrument
because even beginners can make pretty sounds;
but now he craves revolution
and cannot hear the politics in the Undertones--
"Too many songs about girls and jackets."
He prefers the propaganda rasp
of Stiff Little Fingers...
which may be who he's always been:
At four, on his first ambulatory trip to a city,
this child demanded that his parents
empty their wallets
for the homeless and sobbed
as he filled his pockets
with San Francisco's litter,
even after being threatened with time-outs
and worse if he didn't stop.

That same family vacation,
his sister grilled him in a restaurant.
My son knew what his answer was,
how to flavor the world,
and replied without hesitation: "Sauce."


For Thought (original)


That question children love:
What would you eat
if you had to eat
just one thing for the rest of your life?
It's easy to say ice cream,
to order a million pizzas,
or to carboload with drybox mac and cheese,
case after case...

But what of the child
who craves the unusual?
My son at nine, persuaded
that a boy must find a sport,
chose golf for its ratio of walking and talking
to actual activity.
At sixteen he prefers fishing,
ideally without bait.
He picked the harp
when asked to choose an instrument
because even beginners can make pretty sounds;
but now he craves revolution
and cannot hear the politics in the Undertones--
"Too many songs about girls and jackets."
He prefers the propaganda rasp
of Stiff Little Fingers...
which may be who he's always been:
At four, on his first ambulatory trip to a city,
this child demanded that his parents
empty their wallets
for the homeless and sobbed
as he filled his pockets
with San Francisco's litter,
even after being threatened with time-outs
and worse if he didn't stop.

That same family vacation,
his sister grilled him in a restaurant.
My son knew what his answer was
and replied without hesitation: "Sauce."

Last edited by Simon Hunt; 10-24-2020 at 05:22 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 10-21-2020, 03:13 PM
Yves S L Yves S L is offline
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Hello Simon,

My main issue with this is that I find it very, very prosaic, which makes me want the whole thing to be more compressed, to reach its turns and climaxes much faster. Now the whole thing the poem appears to aim at is the following passage:

At four, on his first ambulatory trip to a city,
this child demanded that his parents
empty their wallets
for the homeless and sobbed
as he filled his pockets
with San Francisco's litter,
even after being threatened with time-outs
and worse if he didn't stop.

However, for me, the set up is way too long, and the bookending with the first and last strophes appears a formal contrivance given continual winding garrulous nature.

Cheers!

Last edited by Yves S L; 10-21-2020 at 03:24 PM.
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  #3  
Unread 10-21-2020, 03:35 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Simon

It is prosaic, but I'm charmed by this anyway. The chosen details for the sketched personality of the son feel authentic, too unusual to not be real. I like it and find myself liking him. I wonder why sauce. Because it brings out the flavour, the best in other foods?

Btw, even the Undertones admitted as much in their 2nd album with "More Songs About Chocolate And Girls"
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  #4  
Unread 10-21-2020, 04:32 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Simon,

I enjoyed this, but I'm not quite sure if it comes together. Or at least, I'm still trying to work out how fit the component parts together.

The choice of sport and musical instrument suggest a child with a desire desire not to work hard. Now, it's fishing; again with the low activity levels. The anecdote of him at four explains why he's a revolutionary. But in terms of putting things together, I wonder how to connect his fondness for doing very little with the revolutionary/compassionate side of him. Is the point that his fondness for revolution manifests in inactivity. Listening to SLF, rather than go out and doing something about?

I do like the call-back at the end to the opening question, but like Mark, I also wasn't sure why "sauce". Some wordplay on sauce as impudence? But that seems unlikely for 4-year old. Some connection to inactivity or revolution that I'm missing maybe?

A couple of more specific points:

I'm not sure why the choice of harp is followed by "but now it's revolution". It would make more sense to me if that semi-colon were a full stop. Currently it reads like revolution is now his preferred instrument. Is that the intention? Or maybe you intend he now prefers punk to harp music? But the poem tells us about his choice of instrument (the harp) not the style of music he likes. And punk, too, is pretty easy to play.

"carboload" seemed a little out of place to me in the context of answers children might give (even though it's an adult N speaking here).

best,

Matt
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  #5  
Unread 10-22-2020, 04:15 AM
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Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
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Default Green Peas

Reading this, I imagine I’m at a cafe table as a dad tells me with wonder about his son. I hear a meandering anecdote that expresses his wonder and affection. I like that sense of reverie and reminiscence, it’s descriptions of the boy’s particular growing up.

But I’m distracted by the man’s curiously 18th century diction. Is the poem also meant to be a portrait of the speaker? Only a dad in thrall to Jane Austen would say “persuaded that a boy must find a sport”, or “now he craves revolution “, or “ambulatory”. Perhaps it’s to indicate that the speaker feels so much older, failing comically to keep up with the carboloaded times.

Perhaps it’s meant to suggest the unity of father and son. Yes, that makes sense! They both seem to live at a slight angle to the universe. It feels deeply shared. And see how they arrive from different points in time to that shared Punk moment when The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers ruled the earth!

I think the irregular line breaks were meant to represent the meandering voice, but they make that voice sound oddly jerky and bumpy. Something more easy and open would suit the speaker’s voice better, I think.

Just as the title: “First Thought” sounds clipped, terse...I’d look for something more expansive there.

I’d also like some detail of the boy’s appearance, which would help a reader’s imagination latch on to and develop the portrait of this independent boy.

Finally, I’d choose fresh sweet green peas shelled from the pod. I might need a little sauce with them later.

Steve.
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  #6  
Unread 10-22-2020, 05:05 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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The word "carboload" is so unfamiliar to me that I read it several times as "cardboard" - and did again when I read it in Matt's post. I would find "carb-load" less visually unwieldy.

I also laughed aloud at "his sister grilled him in a restaurant", especially when he asked for "sauce".

I'm sorry about those first two remarks. I was not trying to be flippant; the reactions were genuine.

I am having to talk myself through the time frame of it. He is still four at the end, has been reported at nine and is now sixteen.

I don't relate to The Undertones or Stiff Little Fingers, though I know the names, but I am picking up "undertones" of Greta Thunberg in this young man, whom I rather like.

The poem feels sticky to me, with its threads tangled, but I am intrigued enough to stick with it, to find what it is that this father is trying to tell me about his son but is too (embarrassed, tongue-tied, ashamed?) to tell me straight. I need to level out the slant.

I like the pun in the title.
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  #7  
Unread 10-22-2020, 09:03 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I'm not interested in labeling a poem "prosaic" or any of the other terms that seek to undermine its existence as a poem. I tend to be carried away often by the sounds in the poems I'm writing, sometimes to the detriment of the poem. I like this in general. It's charming and the love implicit of a father for his son is front and center and strong. After reading it, though, I still feel as though I've read an anecdote more than a poem. After thinking for some time it occurred to me that the poem is the middle, long stanza. Yes, the ending is wry and I like it and perhaps it could be incorporated a bit more into the revision. I do think that, for me, the poem here is the direct revealing of the son without the more self-conscious attempt at humor. Start with

What of the child
who craves the unusual?

The question sets us up better for what is revealed about the boy's nature. IMO, any revisions should start from there. But, as always needs to be stated, this is my reading only. Others may have better ideas.

Enjoyed.

Best
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  #8  
Unread 10-22-2020, 01:47 PM
Simon Hunt Simon Hunt is offline
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Thanks, everybody! Yeah, prosaic. This is by design a rambling, shaggy-dog thing. The ideas I'm getting here are paradoxical--to make it more concise, but to flesh out some specific connections. Thinking...

Yves--Thank you. The question and answer format is important to me, but I see what you mean.

Thanks, Mark. I'm glad you're charmed. I'll add a little bit about sauce, I think. I love the SLF, but I love the Undertones even more. "Wednesday Week," "It's Going to Happen," every second of the first three records!

Thanks, Matt. Good specifics to think about there. I will think...

Thanks, Steve. I see your point about green peas but not your point about 18thC diction. None of the phrases you cite seem particularly antiquarian or mannered to me. I'd say any of those things out loud, and I'm reasonably unfusty. Also, the title is "For Thought" with, I hope, a pun. Some more good specifics for me to consider, though.

Thanks, Ann. I'll think about carboload, but the pun on grilled was as deliberate as the one in the title. I'm glad you laughed at it. I'll have your thoughts in mind as I work on a revision.

Thanks, John. I do think I want to stick with the question-answer format, but I will think about what you say on where you find the crux of the poem.
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  #9  
Unread 10-23-2020, 07:00 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
.

Hi Simon,The territory you are exploring here is nutrient-rich!
Mark McDonnell wrote a poem recently (Letting Go) about a father's emotions stirred watching his children growing up to become a more mysterious version of themselves. Your poem seems to be poking around the same territory but doesn’t cross the threshold, instead taking a somewhat arms length approach to the mystery that is his son. That approach, too, can work and does to an extent here. But I think you can continue to tighten things up and deepen the emotion without losing the anecdotal feel of the voice.

Speaking of anecdotes... Garrison Keillor (Remember him? He was banished in 2017 for alleged sexual misconduct with a freelance writer) made (and still does) a living mining the dark veins of family dynamics. A favorite book of mine is his “We Are Still Married”, a collection of stories and poems about family life. I still listen to his daily 5-minute radio broadcasts The Writer’s Almanac found here.
Today’s featured poem is one by Richard Wilbur entitled, “A Pasture Poem”. Keillor is as good a reader of poetry as anyone I’ve ever heard. It was a five minute broadcast that always ended with him reciting a favorite poem of his.

I mention him because You might find some inspiration for this poem somewhere in his musings. Just a thought.

As for revisions, one tactic might be to decide if you want this to be about the son or about the father. I know at this point it is about the son, but it may very well be more compelling if you flipped this to be as much about the father as the son — if not more — I’m just thinking out loud wearing a critter raccoon hat, a sleeveless sweater and a pencil behind my ear : )

Some have zeroed in on the term “carboload”. I think it would would be more readable/understandable with a hyphen (carbo-load). Or I would consider doing away with it altogether. By including “carboload” the father is inserting his particular bias that is likely not the son’s (sort of what Matt said). I doubt you want to say that he (the son) is motivated to carbo-load vs. simply enjoying the gastronomic pleasure of mac and cheese.

I might, too, revisit your list of “easy” food choices in S1 and make it more a list without extraneous information i.e. why include the mention of ordering a million pizzas? Why mention the fact that pasta is loaded with carbs?

I don’t feel as strongly as Mark that, as is, it is believable. I think you could find ways to make it more so.

Hope this gets you to thinking.
.
.
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  #10  
Unread 10-23-2020, 08:30 PM
Coleman Glenn Coleman Glenn is offline
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Hi Simon,

I resonate with some of Matt’s thoughts and questions here. The set up has me anticipating the son doing & saying the unexpected, taking things sideways when the choices seemed to be up or down. The first anecdote does that - both in his deciding to choose a sport because it’s the thing that’s done, and in choosing golf for reasons that are not the usual ones a nine-year-old boy might choose a sport. But at this point I’m trying to get a more concrete image of the son, and when the next anecdote is about fishing without bait, the dots are connecting to emphasize the characteristic of not wanting to waste any effort, rather than making sideways choices. Because those two dots are there, it’s easy to then see the choice of the harp as another decision along the same lines.

That might be what you’re going for, but to me it doesn’t jibe with the rest of the poem, which seems more to be about the unusual, the sideways, and the unexpected than the idea of conserving energy. I think dropping the lines about fishing might be enough to keep the emphasis on the former things. If that’s what you’re going for, of course - I’ll be the first to admit that I might just be missing something in how that desire to not waste energy connects to the other characterizations.

About carboload - I don’t mind it as a concept, but that particular word sounds very dated to my ear. “Carb-load” is much more natural in my dialect. The Ngram is interesting on this - it looks like “carboloading” was the more common term until 2004, when “carb-loading” skyrocketed past it. For what it’s worth.

Last edited by Coleman Glenn; 10-23-2020 at 08:42 PM.
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