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Unread 02-16-2020, 01:08 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I think this is terrific, Ron, and it seems to get better the more I read it. At first, I thought that you might be referring to a specific dance, but now I'm understanding it in more general terms. That their actions are a kind of dance. Perhaps I was thinking of something more specific because of the title, which I now see as possibly referring to common themes/situations in country music. At least that's what came into more focus for me as I read it over and over again. Quiet and descriptive with the door left ajar for interpretation. Whether I'm right or wrong about my particular take, I think this is fine work.
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Unread 02-16-2020, 02:29 PM
Ron Greening Ron Greening is offline
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Unread 02-16-2020, 04:01 PM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Hey Ron. I think this piece gets stronger as it goes because it relaxes the language as it gets absorbed in the real poetry of the image/moment which maybe doesn't need the moon-gleam bit or the hazes which pushes to hard compared with the rest. I often like pressed language but I would clear it out here. As an aside is twat really a working term on farms. It is only a slang here so it grates a bit. Fair enough if so. The end is just the right amount of open ended freedom.
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Unread 02-17-2020, 07:19 AM
Morgan Strawn Morgan Strawn is offline
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Hi, Ron, thanks for this rich portrait of detailed scene from farm life. I especially like the image in the last line: ďTheir panting paints the air with ghosts.Ē Terrific metaphor!

There was one moment where I stumbled a bit, though, in reading the piece -- the last line of the second stanza: ďĎthis night is much too cold for you or I to die.íĒ In what sense would the low temperature make death more unlikely/unwanted. Wouldnít one be more likely to die in cold weather? Perhaps, though, Iím reading this with too literal an eye?
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Unread 02-17-2020, 10:29 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Overall, I like the idea, Ron, although I have some picky little problems with the logic, which I'll detail later.

I'll postpone that discussion because the main thing that concerns me here is whether the iambic hexameter form is doing you any favors.

The choice of hexameter rather than pentameter seems deliberately chosen to mess with the reader's instinctive sense of a line. The poem is also heavily enjambed, and the line units are further de-emphasized by avoiding line-end rhyme.

Given all the trouble you've taking to interfere with metrical expectations, I really can't see the point of keeping it lineated it at all. Why not just let this be the prose poem you seems to want it to be? You'd have a lot more freedom that way, and the poem's main theme is freedom.

Alternatively, you could do more with the idea of trying to corral the skittish poem into the rails of lineation. But in order for that to work, I think you will need to emphasize the restrictions of lineation more--probably through the use of rhyme, at least at the closing of the poem.

Logical nits:

I had the same "Huh?" reaction to "this night is much too cold for you or I to die" as Morgan just mentioned. And I sure hope this guy called the vet and started heating some water before he started chasing the heifer (without a rope, for reasons that are unclear to me--if she's this skittish, how is anyone going to be able to reach inside her unless she is tied up?). Time is of the essence. The drier that birth canal gets with each passing minute, the harder it will be to push the protruding foot back inside so that the missing front foot can be located and properly aligned.

I've never seen a barn with a "hedge" outside--why provide cover for rats?--and I wonder why its inside is described as "railed" when its outside is not. Are half-wild heifers near the end of their pregnancies allowed to wander around this barn with no fencing? Doesn't seem like the textbook way of doing large livestock husbandry.

Also, focussed --> focused. Pedantry follows: The rule is that the final consonant gets doubled before "-ed" only if the accent is on the syllable before the "-ed." (Which is why "offered" has one "r", but "preferred" has two.) Exceptions for words in which the pronunciation might seem changed if the consonant before "-ed" were not doubled: e.g., "kidnapped" rather than "kidnaped."

I hope something I've said here is helpful, even if only to make you more certain that what you're doing is what you want to keep on doing. (I always consider that to be a helpful outcome.)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 02-17-2020 at 10:35 AM.
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Unread 02-19-2020, 11:57 AM
Ron Greening Ron Greening is offline
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Hi Mr. Gwynn, James, Andrew, Morgan and Julie,
Thank you for your responses to this. An Internet cafe and a phone make a fulsome reply to your questions and suggestions more thumb challenge than I can manage. I appreciate the encouragement and all that youíve given me to think about.
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Unread 03-14-2020, 01:35 PM
Ron Greening Ron Greening is offline
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I hope it is okay to drag this back out of the basement. I spent some time thinking about the very spot-on comments it received a few weeks back and have tried to apply many of them to a new version posted at the top.

Working upwards:

Julie Steiner:
Your comments were very helpful, including in ways that may not show up in the revision.
focussedto focusedó Alas, Iíll probably never remember that rule and the exceptions, but I will try to, and I appreciate very much that you have tried to explain to me how it works.

Animal husbandry nits-- It wouldnít be without fencing, but in a paddock located close to the calving barn and holding all the cows that are starting to show. There would be a rough system of gates and fencing through which a farmer can herd individual cows with progressively narrower choices for the animal. This system would end at a headgate, inside the barn, which catches the animal so it canít move forward or back and is set beside a hinged panel with a ratchet latch that can squeeze her against a wall to prevent her from swinging around. Ropes would not be used. The location of this poem story is at the entry to the containment run where there is still enough freedom for an animal to be difficult for one person to push, and persuasion must be applied carefully.

There wouldnít be blankets or hot water, but there should be a hot box (like an incubator for a calf) and one or two small, insulated stalls for the cow and calf to bond while it dries. Calving in late winter is usual here, so that the calves are old enough to make good use of the grass when it comes in June. However, cold is a killer for a wet calf and the farmers are up all night checking through the herd to see who is starting. Vets arenít called until the farmer is certain that the calf canít be delivered without a c-section. Vets are expensive. Dryness in the birth canal hasnít been a big factor that I recall in calving, but a bucket of warm soapy water might be nice. That would involve a trip back to the house. This might be one of several calves born this night. Farmers have limited holding space in barns and try to keep cow/calf pairs in stalls for just the critical times.

Rail, hedge-- I admit that I didnít like the hedge idea either, but I thought it might pass. It was one of those rhyme or meter choices that hurt me. In terms of local legitimacy, it is sort of true: Manitoba maple are weed trees that grow up in almost every fence and quickly get out of control. When they are cut, they act like hydras, with dozens of shoots sprouting from the stumps. So, while no one plants a hedge near a barn, they do happen. Anyway, the hedge and rail are both gone now.

Too cold a night to die-- I also wasnít very happy with that, but it seemed plausible as something that I might mutter to a cow without worrying much about the logic. The intention was to emphasise that the farmer was out working alone on a cold night with an animal that could be dangerous. Iíve taken a different tack with that now.

Iambic hex was a product of the first line which formed the poem in my imagination. Iíve stuck with this meter out of sheer stubbornness, but I have tried to work some end rhymes and stronger line breaks to bump the form more into play. I do wonder if it is better or worse for these efforts. Iím uncomfortable with additional line-end emphasis on ďtwatĒ and that will likely disappear. I am trying to learn to write in metrical forms. It seems a more difficult, if less dangerous dance to learn than the dance presented in this poem. I will only learn to hear the music through practice, and I may find that Iím forever somewhat deaf to it. Iíve tried to create and to defeat some six-beat rhythms in these lines, but I hope eventually to achieve a more deliberate control of this.

Morgan Strawn:
Thank you for your kind words. And yes, as I responded to Julie about the too cold night, you caught me being lazy. I appreciate your time and your encouragement.

Andrew Mandelbaum:
Relaxing the language into the poetry of the image/moment-- That is a very interesting insight that Iíll hang on to and probably use in time. I may not change the start of the poem just now because Iím still quite attached to it. Your comment reminded me of a horse that my wife kept. She was very heavy in front quarters and very light in her hind end. It was almost as if she was made of two different horses put together. She didnít have a conformation that could ever win a race, but my wife loved her.

Twat-- I may need to dump that word, though it feels half right to me. It is just as crude a word in local Manitoba diction as it is anywhere, and belongs in farmyard more than a house, but it seems a step softer than ďcuntĒ and I feel it is less connected to misogyny. A veterinary word would seem quite out of place to me.

James Brancheau:
Title-- My title was clearly a mistake. It sent several people in the wrong direction and the dance is silent. Iím considering using a date and ear tag number instead. Thanks for thinking about this and Iím sorry that I mislead you at the start. I will be more careful in the future. Your comment was very kind.

Jim Moonan: (twice, bless you)
Title-- Yes. As with James, Iím very sorry to have set you up like that.
Hexameter-- You and Julie are likely right that the hexameter is hurting this. Iím going to try to get it to work for me. Iím not sure that Iíll succeed but I think Iíll learn something from the effort.

John Riley:
Iíve done some work to try to better meld the lines into the meter and remove weak enjambments. I donít know that the meter is serving me yet, but I wonder if it is any smoother now. Certainly, Iím still counting feet as I write, which is probably a sign that the meter is far from natural to me.

Matt Q:
I think I took each of your points and used them in thinking of how to re-work this. Your comments really helped me see the flaws more clearly, though Iím not sure Iíve fixed them all.
Iíve changed most of the enjambments and Iíve tried to get the language to be less hard-driven by meter. I may have swapped meter-driven to rhyme-driven. I pulled one of the Hís from the string of alliteration. That was, indeed, a bit thick. Excess alliteration is such a seductive vice for me.

Angry eye-- My exception to accepting your advice was the angry eye. I changed angry to evil which, I suppose, doesnít address the issue of show-donít-tell. I may yet find a better path for that. However, one eye is accurate because, if you can see both eyes of a cow then it is facing you, and if you are pushing a cow which faces you, things may be about to change suddenly. An energy would exist at that point of the dance which the farmer is trying very hard to avoid.
Ha, now Iím thinking more about thisÖ

Thank you so much for such specific and insightful comments.

R. S. Gwyn:
Thank you, Sam! I feel very encouraged by your comment and I appreciate that very much.

Rick Mullin:
I agree with each of your comments and I have tried to address the meter and, more easily, the enjambments in my revision. Iím glad that you see some value or, at least potential value, in the hexameter. The massage is underway.

Ann Drysdale:
I was very pleased that you recognized the moment so clearly. That is the poem, so therefore it has succeeded at least once.

I donít think a dialect of rural Manitoba can cut me slack for unnatural language, but I thank you for your generosity in suggesting it.
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