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  #1  
Unread 07-08-2019, 07:18 AM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Default Reading James Merrill at Bedtime

Reading James Merrill at Bedtime

“For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.” Federalist No. 25, Alexander Hamilton (as Publius)

Among the fakers, this poem, “Mirror,”
seems no faker; more like myrrh
attempting not to shine
inside another day’s meconium.
To see its epidermis
suggesting and enforcing terms,
the fullness thereof, crawling with spiders
and a great deal of intentionality,
is to admit I don’t know jack.
Today has sickle
cell disease, and time is death’s
pituitary gland and feathers.
But in this poem, I see the naughty sister
of perfection prove a kiss
is always slightly monstrous.
For something sweet as kisses never known,
this poem auditions
thunder’s muted speech in history’s Audi,
one or two standard deviations above Jerusalem
it rides and rustles.
The hour women are getting late breaks
into my house. It’s one heckuva
hypothesis; this poem’s “Come over
to my Overton
window,” as nightmares break
into blossom. Unlike Hecuba,
this poem never seems less ridiculous
than when it speaks
from a place where nothing’s temporary.
Not that slutty city, Life – so far,
its capital is Death – where anger
loves cartoons and grief, not conquering
or conquered, is more like love’s
protagonist. Commercial waterways’ removal
of Of from depth perception’s seams
by day reflects how dreaming
darkens this poem and the door
like my father before me.
From such dissolution, much is solved:
my daughter, my revolver;
agitated distances coming to fruition
in the skies above Astoria: big fish
starring in the summer’s
of summers just war. At first blush, this poem
portrays an ass, expounding
with the always healthy sounds
of independence, don’t it?
Meanwhile, the donut of the mind –
rolling through this poem and uphill
to Philadelphia,
as if to feed whatever marmots
methought I heard in the wind’s revolting rhetoric –
suspects it tastes of truth and method.

Last edited by Jake Sheff; 07-08-2019 at 09:31 AM. Reason: changed size of epigraph to same as poem
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  #2  
Unread 07-08-2019, 11:30 AM
Allen Tice's Avatar
Allen Tice Allen Tice is online now
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Jake, I mean no harm, but I think you have more scattered precise details in one longish poem than I can pull together without footnotes. At present, I’m just baffled. Every other line, it seems, introduces one or more granular data point that clashes with what comes before.

What is a poem, if not language that is ordered in more than one way simultaneously? I have trouble finding an essential ordering.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 07-09-2019 at 03:54 PM. Reason: name errors must be fixed.
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Unread 07-08-2019, 04:13 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is online now
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Posted in error. Sorry.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 07-08-2019 at 06:27 PM.
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Unread 07-09-2019, 01:26 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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What Allen said. This sort of self-indulgent writing is ok for the writer’s notebook not for consumption by poor readers inferior to the task of reading it. From the poems I’ve seen, you seem to confuse chaotic and random imagery/wordplay with real (read: saying something about reality in its ontologically multiple dimensions) imagination. But then, this is a way of convincing oneself one is writing poetry when one is not.
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Unread 07-09-2019, 03:45 AM
Lee Meadow Lee Meadow is offline
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Archibald MacLeish wrote A poem should not mean/But be. which is certainly one way of defining how a poem should be, but seeing as braver men than us have faltered at the hurdle of restricting a poem to a single box perhaps we should rather ask - if the definition of a poem is - a piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery - then is this poem?

And the answer has to be yes. There is an expression of ideas, it is written in a form that is clearly not prose, i.e. it follows certain rules regarding the length of lines and other poetic 'rules'. There is both imagery and meaning. Therefore, this is a poem.

Is it a difficult poem? Yes. But then should all poems be easy? And the answer is no.

Is this delightful gem from Dylan Thomas also lacking in poetical merit (https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poem...a-hair-s-foot/) because it is difficult to understand and requires a certain degree of digging about for meaning? Or for that matter what about James Joyce? Must we throw out Ulysses as rubbish because the intellectual complexity of the work makes it difficult to follow?
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Unread 07-09-2019, 04:07 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I didn't say a poem has to be easy to follow. I love Paul Celan, for example, or Mallarmé or Robert Duncan.

The material does have to have imaginal integrity, however, and not just be the author's private associations and head trip. Certainly wordplay is a good thing, and that's the strong suit of this, I'd say. But I still think it is solipsistic and self-indulgent, and not a realized poem.
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Unread 07-09-2019, 08:18 AM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Allen,

It's Jake, not Jeff. I don't know if this slip is something worth reflecting on or not.

I appreciate your honesty and pulling the second response (which I did read before it was removed).

Andrew,

I appreciate your honesty. But I think you lack a certain sense I more and more (as years pass) suspect is inborn and cannot be taught. In my opinion, two things make highly imaginative work - let's take James Joyce for example - get a pass by readers such as yourself. 1) They are dead. 2) They have been labeled genius, which allows/permits the reader to sit back and enjoy, assuming all the heavy lifting and difficulty has already been accomplished/surmounted by someone before (and somehow better than) themselves? "I don't have to stop and worry about what Shakespeare/Austen/Cicero/Mark means here..." I've said before "Genius" is a form of amnesty.

Do you appreciate Wallace Stevens, or any poet writing in the oracular mode (which I kind of thing applies to this piece)?

The aesthetic sense seems to be a thing like humor but much more rare. I'm even growing to suspect true criticism (like Samuel Johnson's or Hazlitt's or Empson's or Bloom's) is a form of creativity/imaginative writing, but perhaps for the critic's muse (aesthetic talents) to take flight, it must follow a poet's imagination a la right hand man - not Quixote/Sancho, but maybe Daedalus/Icarus? Maybe I'm too quick to dismiss the Q/S analogy. A sort of discipleship? It's mysterious.

Lee,

I see things much more in line with your view (which I glean from your response). In other words, I feel simpatico with your take. Thank you for the feedback/response.

All,

My poem borrows the rhyme scheme of "Mirror."

John Hollander: "...form, for a true poet rather than versifier, is both generative and allusive, and that while students must learn that verse is not poetry - that poetry is a meter-making argument, as Emerson put it - the secret knowledge of poets is of how much argument-making meter there really, and almost inexpressibly, is. But this is such a personal and awkward matter that poets often avoid it or else say very misleading and often self-misrepresenting things about their private modes of voice when they do indeed consent to do so."

This is from his essay on Marianne Moore. His use of argument is in the sense of Milton's argument -- the poetic sense or content/creation -- and not a mode of persuasion (lawyerly).

Best,
Jake
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Unread 07-09-2019, 10:45 AM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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I didn't have any trouble reading the poem. I took the poem to be a response of to "Mirror" which is made explicitly clear in the first couple of lines.

The poem does play off of the style of Merrill's poem, or as I see it, it does. And I'm okay with the loose associations because I'm intrigued by the language and their whimsy. "Hour women" did give me pause and I thought this part was overwrought and (maybe) a little hard to parse:

To see its epidermis
suggesting and enforcing terms,
the fullness thereof, crawling with spiders
and a great deal of intentionality,
is to admit I don’t know jack.

There are places (and you'll know them) that probably need some tightening up here and there.

My biggest suggestion would be to drop the epigraph. I didn't find that it made me understand the poem any more with it than it did without it.

Also, I thought "revolting" in the penultimate line was tonally wrong.

Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed thinking about it.
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Unread 07-09-2019, 10:34 PM
Jake Sheff Jake Sheff is offline
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Andrew,

By “imaginal integrity,” I think you mean (to quote Frost) “coherence of content”? Would that be correct? I don’t think this is the essence of poetry, but it certainly makes it more appealing to a broader audience. But returning to Frost, I think he gets closer to the essence when he speaks of poetry as “a voyage of discovery,” where discovering is done by “saying one thing and meaning another.”

Wiman says somewhere the purest poetry is mute. David Orr calls it beautiful and pointless. Lerner wrote a whole monograph riffing on “I, too, dislike it.” In all honesty, as poets only Lerner approaches interesting.

These are just things that come to mind in our (unfortunately electronic) back and forths.

Ashley,

I appreciate your close read and comments. I’m also unsure about the epigraph, and can’t decide whether parts need tightening or are just over-Donne syntactically?

I will continue reconsidering those — thx for confirming my doubts

Jake
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Unread 07-10-2019, 06:06 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Jake,

Thanks for the James Merrill poem, I like it. I don't think I've read it before, though possibly. It seems like a companion to that Sylvia Plath 'Mirror' poem with the 'terrible fish' at the end. Superficially at least. You have clearly read extensively, both poets and critics, and are ready with your erudition to hand. I don't think I've ever seen as much name-dropping and appeals to poetic authority in defence of a posted poem before. I can sort of see why you're stung: Andrew more or less said this wasn't poetry, and that can't feel very good.

So, you've built this poem on the mechanics of the Merrill poem, the couplets where he rhymes with an earlier vowel sound from the other line's end word (gilded/will, arrangement/change etc), but you occasionally use consonants also (jack/sickle, break/Hecuba). The difference as I see it is that the mechanics in the Merrill are hidden, I didn't even notice them until you mentioned you were mimicking his rhyme scheme, whereas yours feel all on show and are cramping and dictating the poem.

I do really like the way this starts:

'Among the fakers, this poem, “Mirror,”
seems no faker; more like myrrh
attempting not to shine
inside another day’s meconium.'

That seems like a robust statement of intent, followed by an unusual but apt simile and I believe the speaker. I believe he has something to say about this 'Mirror' poem.
But I'm afraid a lot of the poem after that does feel to me like it's just skimming the surface of the mind, like automatic writing, -- though kept in check by the restraints of the rhyming tricks which means it can't ever truly free itself. It's hard to 'crit' writing like this, that feels like so much fleeting mental associations. Hard to offer suggestions. There's a lot of noise and words and static, but not much that is actually memorable (though I like 'as nightmares break / into blossom'). When it returns to the Merrill poem it loses the initial connection it had with it, for me, and I don't recognise the poem in your descriptions of it. Like here. Forgive me, but I'm going to lay this out as prose:


'Unlike Hecuba, this poem never seems less ridiculous than when it speaks from a place where nothing’s temporary. Not that slutty city, Life – so far, its capital is Death – where anger loves cartoons and grief, not conquering or conquered, is more like love’s protagonist. 'Commercial waterways’ removal of Of from depth perception’s seams by day reflects how dreaming darkens this poem and the door, like my father before me. From such dissolution, much is solved: my daughter, my revolver; agitated distances coming to fruition in the skies above Astoria: big fish starring in the summer’s of summers just war. At first blush, this poem portrays an ass, expounding with the always healthy sounds of independence, don’t it?'


I'm sorry, but robbed of the anchoring rhyme pattern, this does feel like the sort of stuff I used to scribble onto any available paper surface in my late teens after buying cheap speed from a guy called Evil Worm in the pub. It can be of interest only to the writer. It creates nothing memorable for the reader in the nature of image or emotion, it is just the sound of syntax happening.

You mentioned Wallace Stevens. I've been reading him recently, properly for the first time really. His notorious 'difficulty', even in the longer poems like 'Sunday Morning', is nothing like this surface-skimming verbosity. And there's nothing that you're doing that's even in the same ballpark as the quiet mysteries of his shorter lyrics: 'Snow Man', 'Anecdote of a Jar', 'The House Was Quiet and the World was Calm' and many others. And I can guarantee I'm not saying this because I'm in the grip of your 'genius' theory.

I'd like to see what happens when you try something quieter and less flashy, because I do think you can write.

Mark

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 07-11-2019 at 09:17 AM. Reason: cut some unnecessary peevishness
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