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  #11  
Unread 09-12-2019, 01:44 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi Aaron,

Once I had it parsed this, I liked it a lot: you have great word choices throughout, especially 'smur' as others have said, also that the sky 'alleges' its presence behind the clouds, and what that tells us about the weather within.

That said, I first read this as John and Mark did, as sentence that ends before an object for the verb "finds" appears. I read that the heavens are within the murmurs of concord with downfall. I puzzled it out in the end. But neither the time spent puzzling or the original misreading seemed to add anything meaningful or positive to my experience of the poem.

I'd think about putting a comma after "finds" and another after "within". That way your readers will be able to parse the sentence straightforwardly on their first reading, and begin enjoying the poem from the outset. The alternative is to risk losing their interest before they've solved the puzzle, as you have here.

Alternatively, it's possible that removing the comma after 'sodden' might help. The comma there tells me that you're using punctuation to aid parsing -- and in a place where it's absence wouldn't really cause confusion -- which I reckon makes it more confusing when you eschew it later.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-12-2019 at 02:00 AM.
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  #12  
Unread 09-12-2019, 05:23 AM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Andrew, thanks for the suggestion. That spacing doesn't feel right to me: the poem is a compact thing, and that makes it baggy. It makes the reader want to slow down too much.

Matt, thanks for your thoughts, which are always valuable. I finally understand why some have had trouble parsing the poem—I admit I had not realized the double way of parsing "within". Adding commas would eliminate the ambiguity, but would—not to be dramatic—ruin the poem. For as much as I want the reader to take it slowly, the poem should, after the first word, go by in something of a rush, the outer and the inner weather sliding seamlessly into each other. Losing that is too high a price to pay for clarity. Given a choice between losing the poem and losing some of its readers, the latter seems like the lower cost.

Both grammar and rhythm seem to me to demand the initial comma.
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  #13  
Unread 09-12-2019, 06:53 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi Aaron, I'm a little late to this one, not sure how I could add to the comments already made. It is a fine minimalist image without color.

Your defense of the absence of commas that Matt suggests is a good one, I think, and got me thinking about how you might rid the poem of the comma after "sodden" while still maintaining that one initial pause that I agree needs to be there.
Could you replace it with some white space?

sodden........the sky that with

My thinking is that it would preserve the pause while ridding it of it's only smudge mark : )

I wonder why the couplets. Why not a full cloud of sky affect with no white space?

sodden, the sky that with
....skulk and
falter alleges its
....presence
overhead finds in the
....muffled
smur of the heavens with-
....in the
murmurs of concord with
....downfall


(I'm just musing a bit on the formatting.)

Nice sonics and imagery. A dressed down feel to it.
x
x

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 09-12-2019 at 07:07 AM.
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  #14  
Unread 09-12-2019, 07:21 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Aaron,

I like it. I did have the same trouble as others until I read your reply to the other Mark in post#5. I was reading "smur of the heavens (pause/comma) within the murmurs..." which leaves the sentence sort of grammatically hanging and unfinished and left me wondering what the sky found. I quite liked that though, in a strange way. I realise I should have been reading it "smur of the heavens within (pause/comma) the murmurs...". I see that Andrew F seemed to get it immediately, with his comment about 'outer and inner realities' though. I think the lack of punctuation makes it like the 'candlestick/faces in profile' illusion: it's kind of 50/50 which way one happens to read it first. You could do something like this, which might give a hint:


Rain

sodden, the sky that with
....skulk and

falter alleges its
....presence

overhead finds in the
....muffled

smur of the heavens with-
....in
........the

murmurs of concord with
....downfall



You'd have a little 'downfall' going on in the formatting then. Or it could be a terrible idea...
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  #15  
Unread 09-12-2019, 08:02 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Am I right to assume that "smur" is your own coinage, a portmanteau of "smear" and "blur" perhaps? At any rate, Google is unable to supply me with even a single prior use of the term. I like it. It's always surprising to me when simple, easy-to-pronounce one-syllable sounds have not been claimed before as a word.
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  #16  
Unread 09-12-2019, 08:19 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi Aaron,

Ah, I'd thought you'd put the ambiguity there intentionally, and I couldn't understand your motivation for doing so.

On the assumption of standard punctuation, the way that most of your readers have read the phrase is the correct one, I think. Here's the phrase:

"finds in the muffled smur of the heavens within the murmurs of concord with downfall"

I'd say that to punctuate this so as to give it the sense you want minimally requires a comma after "within". I'd suggested two commas, but if you're concerned with speed, a single comma avoids making "the muffled smur of heavens" into sub-clause, and avoids adding a pause after "finds".

The pause after "with-in" is there whether you put a comma there or not, once the phrase is correctly parsed, since at that point the reader will "hear" the pause. I can't see how this can be read aloud (or "aloud" in one's head) so that it has the sense you want it to without there being pause after "within". So, a single comma would be an option that would eliminate the ambiguity and wouldn't slow the poem down. Or it wouldn't for me.

If you don't punctuate the phrase at all, the reader is required to deduce that you're not using conventional punctuation, and that the conventional reading is to be ignored. However, as I said, this is made harder by the comma after "sodden" at the beginning, which suggests that you are using conventional punctuation (at least within the line). Incidentally, I like that I can read the title running into the opening line ("rain sodden") or as separate.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-12-2019 at 08:43 AM.
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  #17  
Unread 09-12-2019, 09:06 AM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Jim, thanks. I have considered using white space for a comma in the first line even before your comment. It has considerable advantages. It also, at least for the moment, feels wrong. Similarly for the couplets—making it compact feels wrong. I couldn't give an explicit justification for why, but I trust the feeling.

Mark, thanks for your comments and your suggestion regarding the quasi-line break in S4L2. I kinda like it, but not enough to pull the trigger just now; need to sit on it and see how it feels.

Roger, thanks. No need to be surprised: it has been claimed. I got it from Scotland; it means a drizzly, misting rain, the sort that likes to sit on Pittsburgh (where this poem was written) for days at a time. "Smir" may be a more common spelling. But it is not a coinage, much as I wish it was.

Matt, thanks for pushing back. We've disagreed about commas before, and undoubtedly will again. We have, I think, basically different philosophies of punctuation, and of commas specifically. My view is that (at least in poetry) commas are required only if the sentence cannot parse without them; if the sentence can parse without them, they are to be inserted only where a pause is wanted. In this case, the only options are two commas or no commas; the one comma option inserts a pause I don't want and fucks up the grammar. You are right that the reader must deduce which of the two possible readings I intend. I think it's an easy deduction, since one parses to produce sense, and one does not. Hence why I think the commas are optional, and why the need to avoid any post-'sodden' pauses is paramount.

I hope it's clear that in reacting strongly against your suggestion here I'm not at all trying to suggest that I'm not glad to hear it (and would like to hear it again the next time you find my punctuation choices frustrating). The last time we disagreed, you did in the end win me over (though after the poem slid down on here, so you wouldn't have seen it). But, in this instance, I'm afraid the task of convincing me is a hopeless one. There's just no way I'm putting a comma anywhere after the first line. I'll lose as many readers as I have to to avoid losing the poem.
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  #18  
Unread 09-12-2019, 10:27 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Ha, well, I'm glad I won you over in the end that time

Looking at it again, you're right that the single comma is incorrect punctuation. Consider that suggestion withdrawn.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post
I think it's an easy deduction
I don't know if I agree with that. The feedback so far seems to suggest otherwise, anyway. Two readers didn't get there at all. Mark M got it when he saw it explained by you. I was stumped on my first visit, and wouldn't have persisted puzzling at it if this hadn't been a workshop situation and I hadn't suspected, knowing your work, that you wanted it to make conventional sense and weren't going for something more obscure that I might have been missing. That the operative word "within" is hyphenated across two lines doesn't help, I think, in terms of comprehension. But maybe you're right, maybe I just think it's particularly confusing because it particularly confused me.

Matt
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  #19  
Unread 09-12-2019, 06:37 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Thanks, Aaron. I found it under "smir," with an entry that gives "smur" as the Scottish word. The dictionary entry gives an audio pronunciation that surprised me, sounding more like "smit" than a word that might rhyme with blur or sir. Do you agree with that pronunciation?
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  #20  
Unread 09-12-2019, 06:57 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Roger— As a hopelessly American-accented person, I pronounce it like it rhymes with "blur". I do hear the "r" in that audio, fwiw, though a fairly clipped one, which gets it closer to a "t". But I attribute that to the accent more than the word itself.

Matt, thanks. My default is always to look for grammatical sense until forced to do otherwise, which is why I think of it as an easy deduction. But it is perhaps harder than I'm giving it credit for.

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 09-12-2019 at 06:59 PM.
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