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Unread 03-15-2019, 01:01 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,783
Default The Numbers Speak

Statistically Speaking

April is not the cruelest month. We know
what records of mortality convey:
in January the greatest number go.

From June through late September, death rates slow,
and suicide most often peaks in May.
April is not the cruelest month. We know

diseases rise when temperatures are low.
Flu and pneumonia carry hordes away
in January. The greatest number go

in months most known for freezing rain and snow.
Deaths peak near New Year’s Day. It’s safe to say
April is not the cruelest month. We know

that March’s deaths are second highest, though
its Ides are not especially known to slay.
In January, the greatest number go.

December’s deaths rank third. Statistics show
that Christmas Eve is quite a deadly day.
April is not the cruelest month, we know.
In January the greatest number go.

S2L1 "through late" was "right through" was "until"
S4L2 "near" was "on"
S6L2 was "that Christmas Eve’s the second deadliest day."
S6L3-4 was "April is not the cruelest month. We know / in"

Note: I am trying to use the British pronunciation of "January" here, so if the meter doesn't work for a British ear, please let me know.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 03-16-2019 at 01:52 PM. Reason: Misremembered some details from a chart
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Unread 03-16-2019, 02:12 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 3,692

Hi Susan,

No nits really. Your work in formal verse here shows your chops as it usually does. January sounds fine to my semi-British ear. My favorite detail is the one about Christmas Eve.

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Unread 03-16-2019, 11:44 AM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is online now
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 10,670

Well done, as usual. This suggestion borders on the trivial, but I'd prefer the last two lines be be punctuated as:

April is not the cruelest month, we know.
In January the greatest number go.

It sticks to the repetend without being totally slavish, and gives a bit more oomph to the final line.

Last edited by Michael Cantor; 03-16-2019 at 11:24 PM.
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Unread 03-16-2019, 12:55 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,893

Very adroitly laid out, Susan

(Who speaks statistically here? Technically, shouldn't this be on the translation board?)

The numbers might add up but I'm sticking with April. I hate April Fools Day and dread April 15.

Always enjoyed.
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Unread 03-16-2019, 01:07 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 2,945

Hi Susan,

So, the original line is Eliot's, and the reason it's cruel, it think, is the arrival of spring, of beauty and light returning. Feeling and maybe hope come back where numbness was and it's painful. The poem shows that the stats say otherwise. Or at least that other months have a higher death rates.

Why is the N so invested in insisting that April is not the cruellest month, I wonder? And the repetitions inherent in the form do, for me, make it sound insistent. I'm wondering if she's getting hit hard by April and trying hard to persuade herself otherwise.

I did wonder who the "we" was in "we know". Does it include the reader? I didn't know all these things. Or is that "we" as in "we statisticians"? What would happen if it was "I know"? If she is trying to persuade herself, "I" might be more poignant.

"From June right through September"; the missing "to" seems odd to me, or American -- as if it's right through September, rather than right through all three.



Last edited by Matt Q; 03-16-2019 at 01:20 PM.
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Unread 03-16-2019, 02:08 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,783

Thanks for the feedback.

John, I was glad to hear that it worked for you and to know what detail you liked most.

Michael, I took your advice about varying the repetend at the end. I originally intended even more variations to the repetends, but that didn't work out as I was writing.

Jim, statistics is a foreign language for most poets. That is meant to be part of the joke, and that poetry is also a foreign language for statisticians.

Matt, I thought it was amusing to have a statistician try to rebut "The Waste Land" using statistics. So the "we know" is not just statisticians, but the assumptions of a statistician that facts are a universal language that everyone agrees with. Since I assume that the poem will actually be read mainly by poets, if at all, I think I can count on their knowing that Eliot was not making a statistical argument in his poem. The voice is meant to sound both pompous and insistent, and I hope that readers will see that there is some satire of the speaker, so I don't want to change it to "I know." I am trying for mordantly funny, not poignant. I wanted to indicate that September is one of the months with low mortality, and I thought "right through" suggested that, but perhaps that is an American idiom. Does "from June through late September" correctly indicate that September has low mortality too?

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Unread 03-16-2019, 03:31 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 1,852

[Mistake. Never mind]

Last edited by Erik Olson; 03-17-2019 at 01:32 PM.
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Unread 03-16-2019, 04:34 PM
Jan Iwaszkiewicz's Avatar
Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
Posts: 2,629

"June through late September" is a great improvement Susan. Enjoyed.

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Unread 03-16-2019, 07:53 PM
Daniel Recktenwald's Avatar
Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2019
Location: Louisville, KY
Posts: 17
Default Larkin would laugh

Hello, Susan.

Thanks for a great read and many laughs.

1. Praise.
I second all the praises in earlier comments. A few of my own to add, by way of gratitude:

I love the "we," throughout-- the we of solidarity, mortals all.

Each "April" repetend is a poke in Eliot's eye, which I love. Matt Q framed this Eliot/McLean exchange well in his comment above; your poem seems to say, "Well. . . Thomas, let's consider 'cruelty' by checking some facts about people who are actually--not spiritually-- dying. . . ." Mordantly funny is the bullseye you hit, indeed. And a kind of "market correction" for poetical excesses. Facts are a good tonic for that, ain't they?

Also S3L2: "carry away" is a phrasal verb I seldom hear;so it struck me as refreshing and antique at the same time-- a reminder of eras when the greeting "How are you?" was an earnest query after one's physical health! And with flu and pneumonia as the verb's subjects: it links this poem with many others in which Death was the literal, capital "D" topic. It is THE most important shared truth that is more euphemized, elided, and eluded than acknowledged. I do not find this N pompous at all; I think there's a generosity in this voice, using her humor to draw us around the great leveler (leveling in more ways than one); laughing about it feels just enough like laughing at it, that it's helpful-- disarming and reassuring.

S6L2: a laugh line for me, because I flashed on the publication date of Larkin's "Aubade." (It was the day right before Xmas Eve, I think.) Anyway, I enjoyed imagining Larkin was laughing along.)

And then, my re-reads and your "January" repetend brought out this other laugh: it's not just people; how many newborn New Year's resolutions don't survive their first month? So sad!

Overall and throughout, Susan, this villanelle is very easy on the ears, grammatical, witty, resonant and thought-provoking. Funny. A lyric triple-Lutz, and it's a pleasure to watch someone stick one this way.

2. Questions.

No confusions for me, but I am wondering: what is your source for your stats? (I bet you will get asked that, if you haven't been already. Have your answer ready!)

3. IMO, there is now nothing to improve, and much to mar, so I kinda hope you leave it alone. (Michael Cantor beat me to the suggestion on the last two lines, and I agree with what you've done; a grammatical potential made good use of!)

Thanks again and best regards,

Last edited by Daniel Recktenwald; 03-16-2019 at 07:56 PM.
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Unread 03-16-2019, 09:20 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,783

Erik, I don't think "convey" is particularly odd in the context in which I am using it.

Jan, I am glad you think the change is an improvement.

Daniel, I am glad to see that you enjoyed the poem. I don't insist on the voice coming across as pompous. It could, but it is also being slyly witty at other times, so it will depend on how the individual reader perceives it. Here are the sources I consulted:

Source of info on most fatal days of the year:

Source of info on most fatal months of the year:

Source of info on month of highest suicide rates (northern hemisphere):

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