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Old 05-29-2018, 08:56 PM
Mary Meriam's Avatar
Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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John, I think you edited the poem into your rhythm and style. Perhaps Andrew did that, too. What I find extraordinary about Jim's poem is how smooth and cohesive the voice is, how it flows so naturally, by line and stanza, with just the right amount of alliteration and assonance. The poem sings! Along with the breathlessness and joy and excitement, this is just how a boy would talk:

and we couldnít hack another one up anymore

I like the progression of little objects: candies, pennies, stones, magnifying glass, sticks, leaves - these are all childhood treasures. I could see Ted Kooser picking this poem for American Life in Poetry. I could see it in Rattle. You're not required to like the poem, John, because other people do. You probably know a lot more about boyhood poems than I do, especially in free verse. But for me, this poem fulfills its premises soundly.
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Old 05-30-2018, 12:02 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Andrew, I think your suggested format changes are an option for giving the day-long poem some space to reflect that length. It is something I want to come across -- that this was a single day's worth of memories, largely sequential from mid-morning to late afternoon, and that it was a full day of being in the wilds as a boy.
I'm thrilled that you picked up on "swinging silly" because there really was no other way to swing from monkey swings! Once you released the rope you had about three seconds to do your silliest air-borne dance before hitting the water. I'm so glad you connected with that.

Mary, of course, your bead on it is truest. I wanted to write it as if I was a boy again and was being asked "what is it that you did when you went down to the river?" I just wanted it to come out in some boyish detail without any sophistication to muddy it.
So I must look at it and decide...

As I said earlier, it's just an ordinary day in the life of a boy growing up, but I wanted my poetic voice to take that ordinariness and make it sparkle a bit. Catch fire. I'm working on my voice.

Still working on revisions. Thanks everyone.
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Old 05-30-2018, 02:12 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Revision posted.
Because Aaron thought it might be better without it, I wanted to see if I could do away with the opening line without it feeling truncated or losing itís simple voice. Instead of just dropping the first line I replaced it with a simple, ďBack then.Ē

I trimmed words throughout as a matter of good housekeeping : )

I tried to stay as true to the boy as I could. If anything, I think I actually improved it. Thatís a first! For example, I do have a great recollection of the act of setting (tiny) fires with a magnifying glass. We could even get a fire going on a cloudy day as I recall. We were good.
The mention of it in the last stanza felt incomplete without mentioning that you had to bend down with your lips pursed below the magnifier and blow ever-so gently. It was a skill. I wanted to say that you really had to bend low to the ground.

The one important aspect in the poem I havenít touched yet but want to is the connection to the historical milieu within which this all took place. I mention it, but it may be lost on some who arenít up on the American history. I want to embolden that part. Make it more connected to my personal experiences at that same spot.
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Old 05-30-2018, 07:01 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Jim,

I've been following this thread with great interest. I don't know if what I have to say is going to be any use to you with this particular poem, but it might be some kind of help so here goes...

You crit frequently on the sphere and your crits are generous, warm, eloquent and without pretension. This poem is that voice. Just as many of your poems, where you've experimented with shape/concrete-poetry/symbolism/overly 'poetic' diction, haven't been. I'm with Mary here. The voice in the poem is joyful and utterly natural sounding. It sounds like your poetic voice.

On the other hand I can see where John is coming from. There's something of the box-ticking exercise, perhaps, about the sheer amount of boyhood 'nostalgia-triggers' you include here: spitting, rope-swinging, pennies on tracks, jumping freight-trains, playing at soldiers, lighting fires (check, check, check). All delivered at the same register of breathless but placid wistfulness. John said two interesting things
My point is memories are memories and poetry is poetry and they are not always the same thing
The subject is so prevalent it's the first thing many of us think about when we begin writing.
I agree with both. But I kind of think you are just beginning to write. I don't really know how much you write, Jim, but you post (poems that is) fairly infrequently. My advice would be to take this voice and run with it. Write write write. Dig deeper. Get more specific. Find the unique experience under the generic memory nostalgia and the poetry will get stronger. That may mean darker, but not necessarily at all. Didn't Rilke say something about childhood being one of the inexhaustible wellsprings of poetry? I know this area well, as you know, so I'm certainly not criticising it as subject matter: I've posted poems about skimming stones, crawling on sewer pipes, lighting fires in the woods. I think this is a poem you had to write to find (or re-find - because I remember a very early poem of yours about 'the nuns' having a similar natural quality) your voice.

So. I think you've got a nice poem here. But more importantly perhaps, a catalyst.

Edit: re-reading this, I really hope it doesn't come across as patronising. It's meant to be positive!

Edit edit: Mary's allegorical reading below is awesome!

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 06-01-2018 at 12:24 PM. Reason: added an edit
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Old 05-31-2018, 11:36 AM
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Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
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I am with Mary, Jim.

Maybe not something for all but here, for me, there is truth in your voice and poetry in your execution.

I thank you for this window.

I thoroughly enjoyed your remembrance and I loved your somewhat Promethean conclusion.


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Old 05-31-2018, 12:08 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Jim, your revisions, I think, were all for the better. Still, I would suggest cutting even "Way back when" and just starting: "We would. . ." The reader will infer easily what the poem is about.


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Old 05-31-2018, 12:24 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Originally Posted by Aaron Poochigian View Post
Jim, your revisions, I think, were all for the better. Still, I would suggest cutting even "Way back when" and just starting: "We would. . ." The reader will infer easily what the poem is about.


I Second this.
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Old 05-31-2018, 01:35 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I'm also pretty much with Mary on this one. The first read or two, I did have a reaction similar to John's, but swung the other way pretty quickly. I don't necessarily think you should leave it as is completely-- I would be too tempted to sharpen a couple areas. Fwiw, I loved the Revolution coming up~ and, you know, that's early education also, so love that. But maybe play with how you express that, for example? "We were revolutionaries in (or without ?) triangle hats" was something that came to mind that l liked, but that's me, at this moment, ha. I adore the close. This sneaked up on me. Fine work, Jim.


Excuse me, Jim~ wasn't quite accurate "We were a pack of ragtag/revolutionaries..." Also, I guess I feel it's consistent enough with the voice here, and it's just a touch more provocative.

"We were a pack of ragtag/soldiers, revolutionary,..." Another jab at it...

Last edited by James Brancheau; 05-31-2018 at 03:06 PM.
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Old 05-31-2018, 02:00 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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I've been working offline on responding to Mark and John and am now ready to post it, but now see there have been a few more posts since Mark's...
Rather than read those additional posts and incorporate them into this response I'll post this and then get back to Aaron, Jan, James.
Confusing I know.

Thanks Mark.
Rilke said so many prescient things I'd be hard-pressed to to find which one fits the exact one to which you refer. There is no doubt in my mind that childhood is an inexhaustible wellspring of poetry. it is the time in our development when our innocence allows us to live the poem. Kind of like those lilies in the field that "toil not". But then we move on and are left with memories to decipher. Picasso's assessment that "all children are born artists. The trick is how to remain one when grown" for me, is pretty close to a perfect definition of an artist.

I don't want to ramble on about my intentions for writing the poem and the relative merits and pitfalls of writing poetry about childhood. I appreciate beyond measure your observations and suggestions and encouragement. They are, more than you know, what makes me so happy to be writing again and posting here on the Sphere.

This poem's subject matter either appeals to the reader or it doesn't. The subject of boyhood experiences may very well be too travelled down to find anything of any worth for some. A good poem can be written about a falling leaf. It's not the subject as much as it is the imagination hidden in it that the poet ferrets out. I had not intentionally written this poem to say anything revelatory. I thought maybe my childhood recollection in and of itself might provoke a revelation for the reader. But I wasn't thinking of that either. I am, as you mention Mark, trying to hone my poetic voice and this was an exercise in which to do that. Working on the craft, you might say. I'm happy with the voice that is coming through in this one. I've made some progress at digging it free of all the debris. It's there. I can hear it. It's mine.

John, earlier I said ďIím going to disregard most of your comments until or unless others chime in with similar concerns.Ē That was dismissive. You have consistently given me unvarnished advice and direction that has changed how I approach writing. I'm indebted to you. Sorry for being snippy.
I take absolutely no offense to your critical assessment of the poem's conceit. It is indeed a poem about a snatch of boyhood, one that virtually every poet writes at some point. When written well, I find those poems to be transcendent/revelatory. I absolutely love when a simple accounting of a childhood memory juxtaposed with the poet's present state of mind enlightens the reader. By and large, this poem of mine doesn't do that, I'm sure. But I don't care really. I just want the words to come out of my mouth to be my own. No embellishments. No frills. No allusions to Jesus walking on water. You know, that kind of stuff!

That you said poems of this genre are not your favorite gave me pause. It didn't occur to me as I was writing it that someone would read it and dismiss it as a tired conceit. But I do see your and Mark's point that it, in fact, is inescapably that kind of poem. So I'm glad to have gotten it out of my system. I've written others like it before but not in the same voice. I will continue to mine the genre for more but I hope to find a richer vein and speak with a clearer voice and perhaps find something revelatory. That would be nice.

I cannot emphasis this point enough: the inspiration for this poem (not the subject itself but the way it's expressed, in a voice that is simple and forthright and detailed and interesting) came out of a chance spark of imagination that flew from one of Mary Merriam's recent poems, coupled with my struggle to write a poem in my true voice. Together things quickly coalesced and I wrote this simple boyhood poem as if my imagination had been un-gagged. For this one poem at least, I want to essentially ignore the elephant in the room (the "here's another poem about my childhood" elephant) and instead focus on the boyís voice. As Mary noticed, it is the boy speaking. He's come back to tell. That's the important thing. As I was writing I was was less interested the subject and more interested in the expression of it being undeniably my own. Nothing fancy, just a voice that I recognize as my own.

I have indeed rambled on... Editing is so tiresome
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Old 05-31-2018, 06:23 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Jim, all's good. I did say that more than once. That I was speaking for myself. I'm not always correct. I can live with that. I operate under the idea I will write much crap and maybe one worth keeping will slide out of the mud occasionally. I have one here now that is apparently not good. I hope there aren't other reasons people are ignoring it. Truth is, no matter how much we try poetry critiquing is a feeling business. That is why I justify my thoughts. I've seen all sorts of waves and pack mentalities, shaking my head in wonder at poems condemned and poems celebrated. It was 90% emotions usually. A strike back at a previously negative comment, etc. It is the way of people.

I understand what Mary and the others are saying--I think. It is warmly written and has clear imagery and doesn't overly sentimentalize. I should have considered that more. The third line still turns me off. It simply seems such a rookie mistake to say it is a "hot summer day." That is close to "dark and stormy night." It's redundant and overused beyond being overused. That hits me hard and it doesn't others. Now I know. Maybe I'm too hard on myself. Candies don't actually wet the mouth, rust on iron is always red, etc. "Lazy current" is up there "hot summer days." The fact you played cowboys places it in our time. We've both seen "creaking" to describe a train car many times. The last two stanzas work better, for me. I also live in a city with a Revolutionary battlefield. But, finally, I saw the cover of a movie just last night that has boys looking through magnifying glasses. It's pretty Rockwell.

This is what I look for while critiquing a poem. I don't know what else to focus on. But this is why I'm writing again, to say: I CAN BE PUTTING TOO MUCH FOCUS ON THOSE THINGS, ON ORIGINAL USE OF LANGUAGE. There are other values and the emotion this conjures is touching many readers. It may be my loss that I can't see around some of my hangups with the language to see what others like. That is mostly what the discussion of your poem has made me think about. We are both taking something away.

Happy writing.
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