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  #1  
Unread 09-03-2019, 01:27 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Default Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling: Version IV

The clouds are salmon-pink. Beyond
loom up the singing centuries.
Birds swim off through November sky.
Beneath our huddled roofs – not made
for flight – folk dream the day away.

For now the day’s chores will begin.
Is there some entity to watch
upon us all, and say that this
is good? Is there some route from A
to B our stupid hopes could catch?

Work leans you to the future, and
the past builds slow, through fifty years
of daybreaks. Yet you may see times
the absolute comes crashing in
like some great storm into the dawn.

Its incense-heavy atmosphere
oppresses. All the things that die
confront what doesn’t. Now our soul
leaves its warm nest for empty air,
that opens up to set us free.


Fear and Trembling: Version III

The clouds are salmon-pink. Beyond
them loom the singing centuries.
A clutch of birds swims off across
November air. Our huddled roofs
won’t climb the heavens. People now
dream in the pillow’s arms.

Is there some entity to watch
upon us all as night dissolves?
The day’s chores are begun. Is there
a being to say: This is good?
There is no path from A to B,
yet we live on in hope.

What I have learned, in fifty years
of daybreaks, is that work will lean
into the future. And the past
takes generations. But at times
the absolute will crash into
the now, like some great wave.

Its incense-heavy atmosphere
oppresses. What is mortal comes
to know what isn’t. Now our mind
leaves its warm bath of adequacy.
The air won’t speak or lend a hand.
It springs us like a seed.


Fear and Trembling: Version II

The clouds are salmon-pink now, and beyond
that space they fill, the singing centuries
loom into view. A clutch of birds swims on
through the November air. The huddled roofs
that fleck our neighborhood have no design
on flight. Folk are asleep beneath their shelter.

Is there some entity to keep a watch
upon us all? As day dissolves the night,
the chores that fill our in-tray are begun.
Is there a being to say: This is good?
There is no path from A to B; and yet
the eye lifts, and we live in stupid hope.

What I have learned, in half a century
of daybreaks, is that work will lend a man
a window on the future. And the past
will stretch through generations. But at times
the absolute will crash into the now.
It is quite alien. You cannot breathe

its incense-heavy atmosphere. In fear
and trembling, what is mortal comes to know
what isn’t. And the meeting pulls our mind
from its warm bath of adequacy here.
The air won’t speak; it will not lend a hand.
It springs us like a seed, and we are clear.


Fear and Trembling: Version I

The low cloud to the East is just beginning
to catch the light. Now I have drawn the blind
to witness daybreak. As my weary head
lifts from my legal pad, it stills my mind –
as if I were an intricate device
some kind soul had switched off. No common measure
will tell my span and tell the span of dawn.

The clouds are salmon-pink now, and beyond
that space they fill, the singing centuries
loom into view. A clutch of birds swims north
through the November air. The huddled roofs
that fleck our neighborhood have no design
on flight; folk are asleep beneath their shelter.
Is there some entity to keep a watch

upon us all? As day dissolves the night,
the chores that fill our in-tray are begun.
Is there a being to say: This is good?
The whole machine of stars and galaxies
cannot attend – cannot commiserate.
There is no path from A to B. And yet
the eye lifts, and we live in stupid hope.

What I have learned, in half a century
of daybreaks, is that work will lend a man
a window on the future. And the past
will stretch through generations. But at times
the absolute will crash into the now,
as waves will draw you under. Take a look;
it is quite alien. You cannot breathe

its incense-heavy atmosphere. In fear
and trembling, what is mortal comes to know
what isn’t. And the meeting pulls our mind
from its warm bath of adequacy. Here
at the mind’s envelope, we take a step.
The air won’t speak; it will not lend a hand.
It springs us like a seed, and we are clear.

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-05-2019 at 12:26 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-03-2019, 11:40 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Hi John, I think I’ve seen this poem in an earlier incarnation, maybe a year ago or so.

I must be honest that I still find it slow-going. The prolix description in the opening stanza already sets up the expectation of taking a while to get to the point, and what follows confirms this impression. For instance, instead of saying that a cloud comes into view at dawn, the qualifiers “low” and “to the East” are added—which is already implicit in dawn light. And the third sentence gives even more minute detail ("As my weary head / lifts from my legal pad") that is too drawn-out and slows down the poem’s main thrust—which, I think, is the intersection of the absolute with the quotidian.

So, what I come away with is that you have something worthwhile to say but the verbiage and prosiness are getting in the way. I think this could work with some major pruning, aiming to keep only the details that set things up for the reader to have a participatory experience of your insight. Which, as I say, is certainly worth saying.

A start might be trying this in tetrameter, or even trimeter, to set artificial limits on your descriptions and narrative.

Best,

Andrew

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 09-03-2019 at 11:43 AM.
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  #3  
Unread 09-03-2019, 01:07 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Andrew,

You're quite right, it was a bit windy. I'm cutting the entire first stanza and one line from each thereafter, at least to start with. I'm also interested in your idea of tetrameter, but not there yet. I'm reminded of Dr. Johnson's advice to a young writer: "Read through your writing and whenever you come to a passage you think particularly fine, strike it out."
I don't think you've seen this piece before, but as you may have surmised, it's from my religion MS.

Many thanks,
John
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  #4  
Unread 09-04-2019, 01:20 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi folks,

I should perhaps point this out for readers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Trembling

Cheers,
John
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  #5  
Unread 09-04-2019, 11:12 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I still find this too wordy. I tried out a version of the first stanza in tetrameter:

The clouds are salmon-pink, and past
their space the singing centuries
appear. A clutch of birds swims on
through autumn air above the roofs
flecking the neighborhood. With no plans
to fly, people sleep in their shelters.

I don't know if this is any good, but maybe it shows how many unnecessary words or bloated phrases you use to fill out the pentameter:

now
that space
they fill
loom into view
on
that fleck
beneath their shelter

I did get the Kierkegaard allusion, but the poem needs to be leaner and tauter to match that intensity.
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Unread 09-05-2019, 12:08 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Andrew,

And thanks for coming back. You've persuaded me to give it a go. I've posted a new version in tetrameter, with a trimeter line to end each stanza. I'd be curious to know what you think. It lacks some of the flow of the pentameter, but maybe that's OK.

Cheers,
John
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  #7  
Unread 09-05-2019, 12:16 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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It's not working for me like this, John. The enjambments alone give it the appearance of what it is: pentameter chopped to tet, not reworked into it.

But this isn't surprising, since I doubt anyone could do an effective recasting so fast.
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Unread 09-05-2019, 02:01 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi ANdrew,

Yes, exactly. It doesn't flow. I'll print out what I've got in tet and work on it some more. At the moment, the pent version is still sitting in my MS.
Thank you.

Cheers,
John

Update: Version IV I think is quite a bit better. Posted now.
Update II: I've incorporated some more off-rhyme.

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-05-2019 at 05:45 AM.
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Unread 09-05-2019, 12:29 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Another revision posted. A bit tighter, I think.

Andrew, you inspired me to take the whole religion MS. and hammer 6-8 pent poems scattered through it into tet. The thing should be less repetitive, and I hope less dull, in consequence. The poems also sound a bit more like magic spells, which works IMO. Thank you!

Cheers,
John
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  #10  
Unread 09-05-2019, 01:33 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Well, "hammered into tet" seems the right way to put it. The meter seems violently imposed with no regard for elegance of line. You naturally, for better or worse, have a long-winded style, John, and I just don't think a quick butchery of it will yield anything but an awkward cut of meat. Meter is not about hammering and cutting words to fit a preconceived notion. It is not created by such violence to language. Rather it is discovered in language and then released onto the page.

Nemo
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