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  #11  
Unread 07-26-2020, 07:44 AM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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There is an obscure saying in Karate, "It takes twelve years to get into the box and the rest of your life to get out."

You seem to touch that here.
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  #12  
Unread 07-26-2020, 03:57 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks, Nemo, for showing me how much a cage and a sieve have in common. Both are full of holes and meant to keep some things on one side while allowing other things to pass through. The way I read your poem, the first stanza is about an effort to capture and construct, the second about erasing, letting go, unbuilding. You remind me of an insight I had once, that an eraser is erasing itself as it erases other things. In the last line, I get the sense that you are free to write and have no wish to write.

Susan
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  #13  
Unread 07-28-2020, 06:28 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
What Susan said (and how she said it). She grapples with expressing what I've been unable to in my attempt to respond to this poem. It's the mechanical magic of erasure that shows us through to... to... ... You see?

Here's all I've come up with (I'm slipping it in here because the poem, too, is quickly, erasing itself from the board):
The early crits felt hasty, too quick to make the poem into something that has already been, ironically, sieved out. The sound and meter of this is music. You are a song and dance man.
I imagine all these posted critiques piling up in the margins of the page and, one by one, you erase them even as you take them to heart and fine-tune the words of the poem. They, the crits, are fleeting. The poem itself is lasting.
.
.
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  #14  
Unread 07-28-2020, 07:05 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Nemo,

This one took me a good few reads to grasp, but it's been worth it. It is centred on argument rather than image and when there are images, apart from those in the casually chatty opening, they are in the realm of metaphor to further pursue the argument. I don't mind the telliness or the knottiness of the argument. I don't mind being told things in a poem if I feel they are interesting things to be told.

I'm going to jot down my interpretation just to get it clear in my head. The speaker remembers marking passages in books when he was younger, in order to 'reconstruct the edifice', to capture the feeling of entering an impressive, overwhelming space, that he experienced when he first read them. He felt it necessary that his memory should preserve and 'cage' the words and passages that affected and impressed him.

Now he sees this as 'naively over-zealous' and his memory has matured to something 'seive' rather than 'cage'-like. "Matured" is an interesting word because it has the positive connotations of something reaching the optimum state of development, but its also used euphemistically to describe someone middle-aged or old. I like how the poem is kind of reclaiming the aging brain's natural tendency to forgetfulness as a positive thing! Images like "the silenced thunder of a thought erased" and "it overwhelms with emptied space" sound like experiences that carry their own version of awe, along with the more negative frustrations of "at times it leaves a wound, the paper blistered".
The ending seems to reach that kind of Blakean 'deeper innocence'. The sense of having unlearned and the freedom to start afresh.

I do question the slight judgemental tone of "naive" and "crime". Would the mature speaker (OK, well, it’s you isn't it?) be who he is now if his younger self had not been so zealous in his hunger to capture and 'cage' the language that so affected him? Isn't it all to be accepted as part of a natural process, rather than seeing it as a mistaken way of approaching literature that has since been happily corrected?

Anyway. I love the poem. It's careful and controlled and, dare I say it, mature. It's a real thinker.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 07-28-2020 at 08:54 AM.
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  #15  
Unread 07-28-2020, 02:49 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Well, when I just checked in at the Sphere, I notice that the two poems at the top of the board were Word and Erasure—ha! That comic coincidence of terms exhorted me to finally get cracking at my reply, which has been getting more complex as so many engaging comments accrue.

Cameron, you have objected to the change in rhythms in the couplet. Actually that change comes right after the volta, for the whole sestet is somewhat "bluntly end-stopped". I assure you that is by design. When I began writing formally, it was in Pope's heroic couplets, and he taught me how dramatically one can alter the rhythms of couplets in order to avoid monotony. Like Bill, I find many sonnets mired in "sameness", and I know what John means by the creaking of a sonnet. What you call consistency I often find excruciatingly dull. Given the limited space which a sonnet affords one to develop an idea, I've found that the sonic pattern is an effective way to slip in musical alterations in perspective which cannot be spelled-out otherwise without spilling over the boundaries of those precious fourteen lines. I am always amazed at how tiny a concept must be to achieve a sonnet, how quickly the ramifications of what one considers a small scrap of thought can expand during composition and prove too large for the container of the sonnet to hold. That was much the case here: I had to surrender many of my thoughts, ones I considered crucial to the subject. It's why, Orwn, I settled on that "too on-the-nub" title. It seemed an unequivocal nod to my own experience in writing the sonnet: how I had to erase around the edges of my head to isolate the heart of the poem. In a half-conscious way, the rhythmic changes in the sestet kind of reassured me that I had discovered that heart through it's heart-beat. What had been erased from the huff-and-puff of thinking simply vanished without a trace once those repeatedly end-stopped nuggets hurried me toward conclusion. I guess I've always liked my couplets heroic and conclusive, even when they speak of (or to) the inconcludable. The title is also tidy, much like a sonnet; and yet at the same time it opens in a variety of directions, like any word when simply isolated on the page. I worked for a long while without a title, until the word erasure just settled there like a fallen leaf. I will let it lie there, gathering weight.

So, Jan, the style of the octet you are unsympathetic towards is very much the style I used to write in. Even when I was writing surrealistic youthfully wild-verse, people would accuse me of being dryly discursive in my delivery. I was always puzzled by such critique, but I did learn something about that style of my voice. And my voice has changed much over the course the years (and it is perhaps only this moment's voice that you know as my own), but I still have access to all the other voices I have played ventriloquist's dummy for. In this poem, the change from octet to sestet is not so much a "disjunction" as a reflection that parallels those changes in my own maturing voice—changes that begin with a prayer and will one day conclude in silence & death. That is the larger theme here (and everywhere, ha!), though it is overlaid with a mosaic of variously shifting elements.

That clump of descriptors which Cameron and Matt and Andrew F. have objected to seems to embody the "naively over-zealous memory" of that moment: stuffing the memory as full as that line is full of modifiers, holding too tightly to all that is deemed so essential. I knew it was somewhat awkward when I wrote it, but I became attached to it for that very reason—and its technical weaknesses seem to make it more vulnerable to reconsidering the attitude that congealed it as a description.

And, Mark, you are right that this is an idea poem, rather than a more sensual one like the poems about objects I have been writing and posting lately. Just like my long-held but since long-broken vow to eliminate the first person singular from my poems, the "I" — I also (under the spell of Rilke's Dinggedichte (thing poems), rejected idea poems for a long while, seeking my subjects outside my head, out in the tangible world. One can take the tangible and etherealize it with one's own ruminations, or one can gel the ethereal world of thought into the ding of the thing of a poem—it's only a difference of focus and direction. So I've never really lost my taste for thinking in verse, just as I have never really repented any of my own past voices.

That brings me to the repentance of the poem. And to the nature of the crime. Really, the interpretation of my book-scribbling as a crime is coming from outside of me, at least initially. When you were a child, was there no stern twenty-foot librarian to impress upon you the heinousness of the act of filling the pages of a book with your blasphemous crayon-scribbles of a thought? It was one of school-and-library's capital crimes, no? One of the things that did not make it into the poem was coming upon the notes or underlinings that others had made in used books I was reading. That made the crime more personal, putting me on the other end of it. Still, the book-defacing crime specified becomes ultimately more sarcastic in light of the far vaster crime of erasing the entire volume, of writing with an eraser, even of erasing the eraser (as Susan prophetically suggests). The original crime seems too "rudimentary," too crass, too petty, in light of the huger crime of the inevitable vacancy of the utterly emptied memory. And yet that crime is entirely natural, as is death, and many writers disappear every day along with all they have written and also all they have never written down. If my repentance begins with erasing the little penciled-in marks from the margins of books, it ends with something more calmly catastrophic.

The poem had not been about writing until that closing couplet. It had been about memory's grasping, and so it needs to be read mostly in terms of memory's attachments, and only about writing at the abrupt conclusion. The books in question were most of them not poetry at all, but volumes of the religious Hermetics I was making a study of. Among them was Francis Yates' book The Art Of Memory in which she discusses at length Renaissance scholar/heretic Giordano Bruno's development of early Greek memory systems. Memory is posited as a place that one can return to, in order to pick up things which one had earlier deposited in deliberate spots. Memory is a walk through a familiar place, where every landmark suggests something which might otherwise have been lost without its spatial co-ordinates. I made a study of this and other "memory theatres", some of which pre-determine later centuries' computer design—albeit in far cruder form. Living as we do in the age of information, the crime of erasure takes on new supernumery proportions, no? I remember some executive at Google saying that in x number of years (the number was a small one) a small chip in your pocket could hold every book ever written. But so what, if no one ever reads any of them? Yet my underlinings in books were an attempt to create such a system for myself, and each book I read was like "a place I'd entered once, on turning that first page" which I was thus trying to "reconstruct" at will by the utilization of key sentences and phrases. I did this, Matt, as I read, so the selections were inflected with emotions that had not yet passed, and which, later, sometimes, left the words stranded high and dry and out of context (as if they been marked by someone else). Eventually I entered thousands of them into a database which I have since lost track of in my move from computer to computer. Ahh, information for its own sake is the real crime somehow, is insanity even, the insanity that we are beginning to live through right now in our Information Age.

But the whole world is information, every bird-wing-flit and leaf-drop, every car-engine-rev and person-speak, every wind blowing voices away, it is all information. And we can't grasp after it, we have to just let it flow through us. Why should texts be any different? So the poem is really about the nature of memory and mind. It's "a life full of holes", and it is our relationship to those holes that is crucial, as crucial as our relationship to what those holes are in. The poem is only incidentally about writing, because it is about living, and so much a part of my life is writing. Will my voice change again given my ever-changing views? Will it simply fade away? (Given the verbosity of this post, apparently not. )

Ah, the dam of the sonnet has apparently created quite a reservoir of thoughts in the mind behind it, yes? But erasure will do that, leave a blank space, and so much will rush in to fill it. That may be how an author survives his or her physical death, by leaving a drained lake bed (or one of J.G. Ballard's drained swimming pools). Andrew M, has the the space one leaves, even when something is erased, still been indelibly altered? Like "silenced thunder", might it still thunder, the silence, to those ears so attuned? It isn't that I repent of my past processes of life. But neither do I shrink from my anonymous future as a handful of dust in the wind.

I love that quote, by the way, Daniel.
And Susan, you cut right to the chase.
And Jim, yes I have been collecting the remarks, revising the poem, erasing the revisions.

Freedom from attachment means freedom from all attachments, or else it will merely mean attachment to unattachment. Yeah, I know, sounds Buddhist, and I guess it is...but passed, as in the game of telephone, through the thousand whispering lips and curled-in ears of my own soul experience.

This has been, somehow, the most engaging thread I have every posted on the Sphere. Thanks all.
As for revisions, well, if I do any, my thought was to give this a go as a crown of sonnets.
But that may be too tall an order at this point in the life of an invisible man.

[Cally, I erased my comment to you.
Silence is so often enough for us.]


Nemo

Last edited by R. Nemo Hill; 07-28-2020 at 05:35 PM.
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  #16  
Unread 07-28-2020, 09:01 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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I love
All of the above.

Love,
Down Under.
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  #17  
Unread 08-01-2020, 08:59 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Nemo,

Quote:
I did this, Matt, as I read, so the selections were inflected with emotions that had not yet passed, and which, later, sometimes, left the words stranded high and dry and out of context (as if they been marked by someone else).
I used to mark up books with felt-tipped pens,
sometimes in different colors—the emphasis
designed to capture words, lines, specimens
with which to reconstruct the edifice
I’d entered once, on turning that first page.

Here's how I read it: You switch from past tense "I used to mark up books" to past perfect, "I had entered once". This seems to place the entering something had happened and end before the marking up began, and makes marking up a part of a concurrent attempt to reconstruct a formerly visited edifice. Mark appears to have read it the same way, I think.

Now that you tell me how you want it read, I can read it "specimens with which to reconstruct (at some future date) the edifice I'd entered once". In which case, I guess, the past perfect is relative to that future reconstruction.

So, I'd say this is opening is ambiguous. I don't see any way to distinguish between the two options.

A further source of ambiguity is whether "once" is to be read as "one time only" or as "at some point in the past".

best,

Matt
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  #18  
Unread 08-01-2020, 02:18 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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I see what you mean, Matt, though I am not sure how to alter it to remove that impression for you. I do want to retain the idea of entering a book-place, with the first page as a door, because it ties in with those "memory theatres" I riffed on in my long comment. And I think that the word reconstruct kind of has the notion of the future within it, because it means constructing again, and that repetition must take place in the future, based on a memory of the original construction. Perhaps if I hyphenated the word, re-construct, it would emphasize that fact...?

As for the ambiguity of the word once, I don't find that a problem for either way works.

Thanks for coming back to clarify,
Nemo
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  #19  
Unread 08-01-2020, 04:32 PM
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Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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Early this morning, I bought a pint of blackberries at the farmer's market. The farmer said it was the last of his blackberries. I said they look like gems. He liked that. (They were incredibly delicious.) I used a sieve to clean them, which may be why, as I read your poem today, I think of how my sieve "erased" the dirt from the blackberries. I'm pretty sure this isn't what you intended, but I suppose it's my "soul experience" -- erasing "information" and lies, searching for a gem of truth. I read so many books, searching. Now I just listen and... well, do what your especially gorgeous sestet says. My only nit is with L13: "I know now how." It's ok, but I wonder if it could be a bit smoother.
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  #20  
Unread 08-04-2020, 07:47 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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What characterizes "a gem" is how light passes through it. So in a way, Mary, I am speaking of invisible gems, gems of the-pure-state-of-passing-throughness. They seem self-erasing, and can't be grasped at (since it is the self that does the grasping).

I like the bit that seems unsmooth to you, that triple rhyme/slant rhyme: know now how. It rolls off my tongue quite easily, but has also the kind of proverbial stately rhythm to it that I associate with a certain kind of heroic couplet.

Mmmmmm, blackberries.

Nemo
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