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Unread 11-23-2019, 02:14 PM
Phil Bulman Phil Bulman is offline
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Location: Maryland, USA
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Default flight

EXODUS

Our souls withered when the sands of Egypt
seared our songs; elusive straw fled the land
as our strength decayed in the stubble God
left as a sign. He concealed his right hand,
hiding the blazing desert bush. The Lord
sent blistering winds that we could not eat.

We asked Pharaoh for our time. Let us eat
in the wilderness, sacrifice Egypt
for solemn days; our feast before the Lord
shall release blessings of peace upon land
scorched by slavery. The works of our hand
will free fathers from our furious God.

What serpent is this slime you call a God?
You shall indeed have bitter sand to eat
in the desert; my scorpions will hand
you no straw as you bake bricks for Egypt.
Fire will consume your flocks and your land
when you cry out in anguish to the Lord.

A strange darkness fell upon earth; the Lord
sent plague after plague. Dunes wailed, and our God
was deaf to the rising cries of a land
ravaged by drought and locust swarms that eat
everything but the burning sand Egypt
held blazing in its charred, remorseful hand.

We harvested flocks; each family’s hand
shared an unblemished lamb whose blood the Lord
passed over when death rained upon Egypt.
Curses and wailing pierced the night of God;
He made us gorge on bitter herbs and eat
unleavened terror when He struck the land.

After the desert flight, we faced a land
of waves, thundering foam that stretched its hand
toward a shore of distant brine. Walls that eat
the sea arose from the staff of the Lord,
and we raced through swirling red streams as God
hurled surging swells on the men of Egypt.

In the milky land the dew of the Lord
moistens our hand with the honey of God.
We eat manna to remember Egypt.
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  #2  
Unread 11-30-2019, 11:50 AM
Mary Meriam's Avatar
Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is online now
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Hi Phil. Wow 120 views and no crits. I think the sestina form may be killing the poem. There does seem to be a poem in here, surrounded by filler. I like some of the ideas, such as "winds that we could not eat" and " land scorched by slavery" and "Dunes wailed." This stanza is dramatic and well-put:

After the desert flight, we faced a land
of waves, thundering foam that stretched its hand
toward a shore of distant brine. Walls that eat
the sea arose from the staff of the Lord,
and we raced through swirling red streams as God
hurled surging swells on the men of Egypt.
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  #3  
Unread 11-30-2019, 08:07 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I do find this difficult to write about. I agree with Mary that there is a much smaller and more effective poem inside of this one. I suggest taking a version and begin stripping it down. Show us the bones and let us participate.

Best
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Unread 12-01-2019, 04:18 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Phil.

Welcome to the Sphere! I'm going to agree with Mary and John that there are some striking bits in this, but lots of it feels quite padded, and that much of that is down to the sestina form and its obligation to hit those same words each stanza. There is little variation in the way you use the words: 'land' is always a noun, for instance. And I find it an off-putting choice that 'Lord' and 'God' are two of your words, as it often makes it sound like two separate entities are being referred to. Also, the language seems to sustain the same portentously dramatic note throughout, without ever becoming very human or specific. It never feels like I am absolutely 'in the moment' with these people. That they are real. Basically, it feels too Biblical for me and I think it would be more interesting, in terms of tone, to step away from the source and closer to the human to retell this story.

I admire the ambition. Sestinas have to be very special to avoid sounding like an exercise, I think. I attempted one once and abandoned it because my brain told me it was solving a puzzle rather than writing a poem. There's always that element to writing in any form, and that can be a pleasure, but it seems particularly easy to get the balance wrong with this form.
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  #5  
Unread 12-01-2019, 02:21 PM
Phil Bulman Phil Bulman is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2019
Location: Maryland, USA
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Mary, John and Mark,

Thanks for stopping by!

Mary, I'm glad you found some of this arresting. Pondering your comments, I have come to agree with you. Unfortunately, I'm a sucker for certain forms such as the sestina because they present such a challenge and are a lot of fun to experiment with, but in this case it overwhelmed the text, so I think I will try this again without that structure and see what happens.

John, good suggestion on stripping it down; I will give it a shot.

Mark, thanks for your critique of the tone. I think I can introduce more variety in a revision.
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