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  #1  
Unread 01-06-2020, 09:28 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Default Another whale poem

Whale, washed up (Back to original version)

What is this whale doing
in the Thames? Doesn’t it taste
the slurry of land

against the brine? Doesn’t it feel
the particulate of the city stripping
away the waterproofing
of its skin? Or is all this

about gradient? Is it the same
as the legend of the frog
in the saucepan of cold water?
You set the flame low enough
and it doesn’t notice itself
boiling to death. But then,

what about the ship-strikes?
What of the barnacled keels
ripping through blubbered flesh?
What is this whale doing
in the Thames? Why is it still

swimming upriver towards
an ending where the need
to breathe will suck it
from salt-tinged wetness

to a final stuckness
on the muddy edges
of a riverbank?




Whale, washed up (R1)

What is this whale doing
in the Thames? Doesn’t it taste
the slurry of land

behind the brine? Doesn’t it feel
the particulate of the city stripping
away the waterproofing
of its skin? Or is all this

about gradient? Is it the same
as the fable of the frog
in the saucepan of cold water
over slow a flame? But then,

what about the ship-strikes?
What of the barnacled keels
ripping through blubbered flesh?
What is this whale doing
in the Thames? Why is it still

swimming upriver towards
an ending where the need
to breathe will suck it
from salt-tinged wetness

to a final stuckness
on the muddy edges
of a riverbank?

------------------------
S2L1 against -> behind
S3L2, legend->fable
S3 removed explanatory sentence "You set the flame low enough / and it doesn’t notice itself / boiling to death" added "over a slow flame?"

Last edited by Matt Q; 01-14-2020 at 02:17 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 01-06-2020, 11:34 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Matt, I want to think about this more. I want to be careful to not critique it for not being what you never intended it to be. I do that at times. Something does stick out to be, though. The bit about the frog being slowly heated is something I've read and heard dozens of times. It's like the bit about Eskimos having zillions of words for snow, which is actually not true. That hasn't stopped me from encountering it countless times. Based on my experience, I can't imagine how the frog stuff could be made fresh enough to fit into this poem. I also don't think it adds much. I think just having the question end with the word "gradient" would be more effective. (If you do keep it I think the frogs would be "boiled" instead of "broiled.")

Best
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  #3  
Unread 01-06-2020, 11:49 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Thanks John,

I suspected the story wasn't true, hence "legend". I didn't realise how well known it was though (though now I see it has its own Wikipedia page!). I think I've only come across it once, it Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind where he's explaining information as "the difference that makes a difference". I did wonder as I posted it if the poem would work if I just cut the frog part, as you suggest, though maybe something else would need to be in its place to elaborate on gradient. I guess also that if the frog story is well-known, I could certainly lose the explanatory sentence about what happens to it. And yes "broil" is wrong, it doesn't mean what I thought it meant(!). 'boil' seemed too obvious. I'll play around and see if I come up something.

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 01-06-2020 at 11:56 AM.
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  #4  
Unread 01-06-2020, 03:09 PM
Roger Welsh Roger Welsh is offline
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I believe the frog part is excellent. Trust your initial instinct in this case. It not only sets up for the finale but also initiates and encapsulates the core of the poem.

I read Bateson years ago and still have my well worn copy. I'll go look for the frog and come back in a bit because I have seriously more to say in appreciation of this piece.
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  #5  
Unread 01-06-2020, 04:40 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Thanks, Roger, and welcome to the Sphere!

I may be misdirecting you on the book. I googled and found a frog-boiling quote from Bateson's Mind and Nature (pdf here, p 98), which is likely what I'm remembering:

Quote:
There is a quasi-scientific fable that if you can get a frog to sit quietly in a saucepan of cold water, and if you then raise the temperature of the water very slowly and smoothly so that there is no moment marked to be the moment at which the frog should jump, he will never jump. He will get boiled.
best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 01-06-2020 at 04:44 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 01-06-2020, 04:46 PM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Good subject, Matt.
Overall I like this one but it does make me think of Gumiliev said to Mandelstam after reading a draft. "This is a excellent poem, Osip Emilevich. But when it is finished none of these words will remain." Loose paraphrase. Not to say that none of this will stay but there is so much potential to explore here and I think it can push further.

Some general questions, not to be answered here necessarily but just to trigger ideas.

Are you committed to the whale's reason remaining safe in expected sea mammal behaviour. If you allow more personhood to the Humpback (a languaged and cultured species) there are so many reasons that could be suggested before maybe allowing the piece to then shrink back to the sad ending (which I read as a metaphor for our own beaching as a species.

Do you think you need to unpack the frog bit as clearly as you do? I think that is what tips into "been there/done that". You could leave it at asking if it is the same as the legend of the frog in the slowly boiling saucepan. Sure you risk some folks not knowing but they can find that easily.

What has been lost of the whales open sea life to force into up the river styx? The poem made me think of all sorts of possibilities that I could imagine entering a poem of yours (from memories of your past work).

On the particular nit pick I was unsure of the idea of slurry of land being tasted "against" the brine. Maybe a more inticate preposition? On that idea, whales may not taste much at all. Their taste buds, when they have them are often degraded. Maybe there is something to be heard felt on the Thames. I heard Ilya Kaminsky quote Lorca today: "Poet's are the professors of the five senses and must open doors among them." I have committed to remembering that and thought it relevant here. More so among a creature that probably relies on hearing and echolocation more than other senses though the humpack is a baleen whale and retains the sense of smell that the toothed whales have lost.

The ending run that moves from "salt-tinged wetness to a final stuckness" is unusual. It took some getting used to the wetness/stuckness polarity and I am not sure they are adequate poles. But fresh and cool. I think this one is good but its idea is so good that it outpaces the words a little bit. Just pushing for more but not in a negatively critical way.
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Unread 01-06-2020, 05:03 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I may have been unclear in my earlier post. I have no evidence that it isn't true a slow-boiled frog won't realize it's being boiled until too late. I meant the Eskimos having tons of words for snow isn't true. It was an extraneous sentence I should have left out. My point about the frog bit is that I've heard it and read it in dozens of places. I've seen more than a few Facebook memes that used it. A couple of years back it stood in for the "slippery slope" metaphor in political discussions. It has been used to death. Me pointing it out may come from a place that doesn't concern you. Sometimes cliches work. It may even be superfical to want to avoid it in a poem. I'll leave that up to you. I don't see it initiating the ending. You propose it as a metaphor "[b]ut then" with a couple of questions poke holes in it and return to "What is this whale doing/in the Thames?" You're back at the beginning. I like the fact you bounce back to the beginning. One theme in the poem is what I'd call "not knowing" and the only acceptable reaction to that is more not knowing. Actually, thematically, you could end with the repeat of "What is this whale doing/in the Thames?" I'm not so much suggesting you do that. I'm pointing out that the narrator moves no closer to understanding whale behavior, which is the only honest consequence. The last two stanzas inject a fatalism, a summary of the whale's end. That suggests the question, "why is the whale swimming towards its death?" If the whale know it's swimming to its end? I'm not saying don't ask it, only that it's a different question than the one raised at the beginning.

This is a comment full of questions as it should be since you've masterfully used questions to build your poem. I like "the particulate of the city" and the word "gradient" and "barnacled keels" and "final stuckness." I don't see anything to change about the language. It's well done.

I do hope this makes my point. Of course, you use what you can and throw away the rest.

I've enjoyed reading and thinking and writing about this poem.

Best


*Cross-posted with Matt and Andrew

Last edited by John Riley; 01-06-2020 at 05:06 PM.
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  #8  
Unread 01-06-2020, 05:35 PM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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John's post made me want to clarify that I like the language of the poem too. The Gumilev bit is just about broad changes even after a poem is already present in the writing.
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  #9  
Unread 01-07-2020, 10:39 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your comments and your reading of this and I'm glad you like the idea. I was thinking in more personal terms than global, but the latter works too. Interestingly enough, Bateson's next sentence after the one I quoted above is " Is the human species changing its own environment with slowly increasing pollution and rotting its mind with slowly deteriorating religion and education in such a saucepan?"

You're right that I could do less with the frog metaphor. It doesn't need to be spelled out as much. I've edited out the explanation for now, though I'm still looking for ways to lose the frog.

I went from "against the brine" to "behind the brine", mainly for the sonics. That help?

I guess the poem could do more to speculate on the whale's motives and goals, and even its evolutionary history (the move from land to sea, the problem of return) and use these to extend the metaphor. I wrote a longer whale poem for the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge last year, and was conscious of not wanting go over the same ground (or seabed?), but yes, maybe there could be more here. I'll also think on more sensory possibilities.

John,

Thanks for coming back. I'm glad you find things to like here, and thanks for the questions. I'd understood that your main point had been that the frog metaphor was a cliche, something I'd not realised. I'm stuck for something to replace it for now, and I think there does need to be something to elaborate on "gradient". I want the by-way -- maybe it's so gradual the whale doesn't notice -- to set it up and knock it down again. And the mention of the gradient seems too quick without pausing to elaborate. Anyhow for now, I've shortened the frog part, taking away the explanatory sentence.

Thanks again, both.

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 01-07-2020 at 10:58 AM.
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  #10  
Unread 01-08-2020, 04:43 AM
Bill Dyes Bill Dyes is offline
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Default Whale, washed up

Matt Q;

I would like to concentrate more on the tone of this piece.
The observer does bring a curiosity toward the subject and the event
but one could not call its questioning overly sympathetic.
The stance taken here feels to me like this:
“Well, would you look at that. That doesn’t make very much sense, now does it?.”
And one of the main ways I got to that assessment of the observer is the bringing in of the “fable” of the frog.
That reference is an essential contribution to the mood you have created.
The other contributors are some well-considered words: “slurry”, “brine”, “blubber”, “barnacled”, “suck” and my favorite “stuckness”.
It may go against what we are led to feel from the popular news stories and photographs of crowds trying to save beached whales
but I don’t mind that so much.
Besides, this is an honest assessment of the time before the actual beaching occurs.
The poem uses that honesty in order to pay closer attention to both craft and language as it presents what it feels.
A well executed poem is what I am trying to say.

Bill
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