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  #1  
Unread 06-21-2019, 06:02 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Default Briefs

Briefs

I was strolling along the edge of the field
over on the other side of Melody Road,
thinking my brain is a lawyer in prison.
It's no joke. I am full of briefs.
Briefs float in my head in a giant vat
of water dark like black bean soup.
It would be fun to cut my head open.
We would have a good time pulling the briefs out.
Millions of roots crawl out of the bottom of the vat
and attach to the skull walls.
These are the ghosts of all the thoughts
that keep me awake at night.
If I opened my head there are people
I would like to be there.
I imagine them pitching pennies
against the wall of the old barn,
the one we used to slip into and smoke cigarettes,
with no concern for all the moldy hay
that could have easily caught fire.
So many of my mysteries are as hollow
as the thud of rain on the barn's tin roof.
This I have learned. They are only mysteries
because I don't look at them squarely.
I should treat them like single green peas
alone on a tin plate,
not the mush of a melon or the twinning of roots.
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  #2  
Unread 06-23-2019, 07:22 AM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Hi, John,

I hate to see a poem slip down without comment, so I thought I'd take a stab at this one.

I suppose I'm not sure what to make of the poem. The images seems to move in all directions without really adding up to a succinct metaphor. I'd like to see the language push a little harder to make connections. Like, I don't see how peas lined up on a plate are akin to mystery. I just can't make the connection. I also don't see how the foods and barns and briefs and such work together.

Sorry that I couldn't be more positive here this morning. Maybe another pass will right the ship on this one.
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  #3  
Unread 06-23-2019, 12:37 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
I know your poetic voice and this is -- and is not -- that voice. Being familiar with the way you usually anchor to a central image and use sparse (but starkly vivid) images to buttress that image, I was surprised to see the poem veer off in a few different directions (as Ashley points out) without much to connect them.
You had me primed for a metaphoric legal trial of some kind that would hold the N accountable for his thoughts or even perhaps for his actions way back when he was a child. But that became scattered after four or so lines and then things went astray.
It is clear that the N is fighting to open his head and set free the interior mush and detritus that clouds and even creates a kind of internal pressure cooker. I just don't hear anything coming together.

I'll be back to provide some specifics. Just wanted to check in.

But it is your distinct poetic voice speaking and it's good to hear it again.
x
x
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  #4  
Unread 06-23-2019, 01:22 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

It's good to see you. I like the green peas. As I read it you're saying that if you were able to look at your 'mysteries' (tangled memories, the hidden stuff that makes you 'you') separately, scientifically almost, then they wouldn't be mysterious. And this would be freeing. Although there's an ambiguity there in the idea that your mysteries are 'hollow', so 'solving' them might also be somehow revealing of an emptiness.

The poem stopped me in my tracks at 'It would be fun to cut my head open', because I had the same recurring fantasy about five or six years ago, just when I started to write with a vengeance. It even found its way into a couple of poems that I've never posted here. I remember one describing a trepanning as a 'slow ecstatic hissing of air'. I was depressed and I think discovering poetry, becoming obsessed with it, went a long way to saving me. Or keeping something at bay. There. I've never said it so bluntly. Ahem, sorry for the oversharing digression.

Here, it's the lawyer and 'Briefs' stuff that doesn't quite do it for me. I might be missing something important, but I wonder what would happen if you started on that line, with a substitute word for 'briefs' (and a different title)


It would be fun to cut my head open.
We would have a good time pulling the (stuff) out.
Millions of roots crawl out of the bottom of the vat
and attach to the skull walls.
These are the ghosts of all the thoughts
that keep me awake at night.
If I opened my head there are people
I would like to be there.
I imagine them pitching pennies
against the wall of the old barn,
the one we used to slip into and smoke cigarettes,
with no concern for all the moldy hay
that could have easily caught fire.
So many of my mysteries are as hollow
as the thud of rain on the barn's tin roof.
This I have learned. They are only mysteries
because I don't look at them squarely.
I should treat them like single green peas
alone on a tin plate,
not the mush of a melon or the twinning of roots.

Again, good to see you. I enjoyed this a lot.
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  #5  
Unread 06-24-2019, 08:05 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Hi John,

I enjoyed reading this. Like Ashley, Jim, and Mark, I feel like this is a bit discordant, and it needs a little tweaking. Primarily, like Mark, I don't see the lawyer part coming back at the end, so it strikes me as something that can go. Unlike him, I'd like to keep the bean soup because it comes back a bit with the peas at the end.

I'm thinking you cut the lawyer part, make some of the similes metaphors, and condense some later.

My thought for something it might look like:

Thoughts float in a giant vat
of black bean soup.
Millions of roots crawl out of the bottom of the vat
and attach to the skull walls.

If I opened my head there are people
I would like to be there
pitching pennies
against the wall of the old barn,
the one we used to slip into and smoke cigarettes,
with no concern for all the moldy hay
that could have easily caught fire.

So many of my mysteries are as hollow
as the thud of rain on the barn's tin roof.

This I have learned. They are only mysteries
because I don't look at them squarely.
I should treat them like single green peas
alone on a tin plate,
not the mush of a melon or the twinning of roots.
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  #6  
Unread 06-24-2019, 12:36 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi John,

I liked the briefs, which I associated with the idea that the N's head is full of legal-type arguments and the making of cases: against himself, against the world. The lawyer being in prison makes me think he can't actually do anything about his briefs, can't action them, just goes through them over and over. I like that the N thinks all this on the edge of a field -- a field being an open space, and spaciousness, as I read this, is lacking inside his head. However, after spending the first 8 lines on the briefs, they don't come back. Instead we move on to mysteries, which are rather different from briefs (as I'm interpreting them anyway). So, I'd like to see the briefs recur later in the poem, or at least have a call-back to them at the end.

best,

Matt
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  #7  
Unread 06-24-2019, 03:38 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,006
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I want to think each of you for commenting and say I can't disagree with what has been said. I posted this prematurely and that is assuming it would have ever matured. It doesn't cohere. I wanted to do something different than my usual. This may be as unusual as it is premature.

Thanks to each of you for taking the time to comment.

John Riley
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  #8  
Unread 06-24-2019, 04:55 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
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x
Hi John,
It occurred to me out of the blue that the scattered quality of this might well be intentional to echo the N's skull being opened and the resulting fireworks of a mind that has for too long been confined. Scattershot. I really like that idea, if it's what you want. I haven't looked to see how I could suggest you change anything to make that image (the exploding head) more controlled, but thought I would mention it.
x
x
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  #9  
Unread 07-04-2019, 10:03 AM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 195
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John,

I suppose this is a sort of dramatic monologue. In the mode of Browning. It almost feels more like a flash fiction.

The metacognition of L3 makes the metaphor feel like a simile...the meaning of the line seemed to be "thinking my brain is like a lawyer in prison." It's an odd effect when you say "thinking my" before a metaphor instead of just "my brain is a lawyer in prison." Is the lawyer visiting with clients, or actually a prisoner?

I guess I agree with Auden about poetry being "memorable speech." This isn't condensed enough (and I don't agree with Lorine Niedecker about "condensery" -- but maybe she was partly right).

You have some interesting imagery and metaphors, but the speech is not catchy -- I think Frost in an interview or essay somewhere says something about catchy-ness.

The folksy phrasing is charming (Jonson says something about charm's importance in poetry), but the poetic phrasing isn't there.

"Strolling along the edge
of the field on the other side of Melody
Road, my brain is a lawyer - I mean
it! - a lawyer in prison. My brain is
full of briefs: briefs floating like black
bean soup; briefs crawling from a bottomless
vat of thoughts; briefs rooting in the walls..."

Maybe by condensing you'd find musical qualities to help with the memorability of it i.e. anaphora (repeating briefs) and the back to back usage of brief (like Dickinson's because I could not stop for death, death kindly...). And just directly call your brain a lawyer. There's also the possibility of repetition (music-like) with "a lawyer, it's no joke, a lawyer in prison."

Cheers,
Jake
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  #10  
Unread 07-05-2019, 02:47 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I don't think this matches most of your other work, John. Pulling briefs out of your head seems lazy to me. There are good things going on here, but there needs to be more voice, and/or a serious trimming. Good to see you back!

Added: Didn't read any of the comments. I'd see if whittling this down a bit helps, John. Make it direct, image and emotion. It does feel like an early draft, but imo there's something here.

Last edited by James Brancheau; 07-05-2019 at 03:06 PM.
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