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  #21  
Unread 09-16-2019, 01:30 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Sure, John! I enjoyed our conversation, and I'm glad the give and take was helpful in helping you feel more certain about where you want the poem to go.
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  #22  
Unread 09-16-2019, 01:56 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I like the latest two-stanza version.

"where the ram and bull", is much stronger I think, especially the enjambment, ending on a nice sold noun. Plus it calls back the opening, ties in the rams horns.

I'm still not understanding the smoke part. It now sounds like there are practitioners of the ancient religion there, making sacrifices. And in the case, it's not so clear why this prompts the question of why all the god's work has disappeared. If you want the reader to think that these people are Muslims, I'm not sure how your reader will get that. If it's the latter (and I think you said it was), is there a way to make this clearer? For example:

persist, the smoke of sacrifice
climbs to another Heaven. Is all

(or, "another's Heaven", or "a newer Heaven" -- maybe it should be "heaven" rather than "Heaven")

You still might consider losing "we say" and maybe adding a word to the bird's line. I did like Julie's suggestion of silt. So maybe, going with "silt", you could go with: "Like river birds we greet the day". 'river' seems to evoke time, somehow, a continuity -- and the Nile, of course. Or maybe "Like birds we rise to greet the day". Or something.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-16-2019 at 02:02 PM.
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  #23  
Unread 09-16-2019, 02:53 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie, hi Matt,

Julie, thanks for the input! It made the poem better and more fun.
Matt: I've taken a bunch of your new suggestions. Thanks again. Yup, I prefer ram and bull, and I'm also working with multiple off-rhymes here (hence I'm keeping soil, not silt).
Yes, as per Julie, I'm arguing that Muslim burnt sacrifice may continue in Egypt - pretty obscure, but I've switched the verb to may, and it's followed by a question left unanswered. I kind of like the hanging chads there. I also killed "you say," which was needless, and adopted your line "Like river birds we greet the day" wholesale - thank you very much for the suggestions! End-stopping is always pleasant.
Nothing else much. Just about every comment in this thread has visibly improved the piece, I am insanely lucky, thank you all.

Cheers all,
John
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  #24  
Unread 09-16-2019, 09:01 PM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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Growing steadily tighter, better...

Now the nit-pickiest from out of the blue:
"In Egypt, where the ram and bull
persist"
is that true? In a literal sense, I suppose there are statues there; however, the poem does not seem to be talking about statues at all. And I don't think, Islam being what it is, ram and bull persist.

For having said that, the real story is the ending, which resonates on something I can't quite name.
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  #25  
Unread 09-17-2019, 03:19 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good evening Daniel,

And thank you for your comments! Glad you see the poem steadily improving.
You may well be right that statues of bulls or rams are in short supply in today's Muslim Egypt. I was hoping folks would think instead of actual rams and bulls, which I imagine like any livestock would be around in a country of that size. Muslims will not of course touch a pig, but would have no objections I know of to either of the other two animals.
Also, I'm very glad you like the ending. I like how you phrased your reaction to it, and am glad some mystery is coming through. That was my goal.

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-17-2019 at 05:59 AM. Reason: am
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  #26  
Unread 09-17-2019, 05:35 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

Coming back to this, I wondered about the use of the definite article in both "the ram's extinct" and "where the ram and bull / persist". It makes sense, but there's also a sense in which "the ram" might seem to be the same ram in both, giving rise to the apparent paradox: "the ram's extinct", "the ram persists". So I just wondered about "This ram" in L1. That also kind of gives you the reading of "Khnum's extinct" -- a dead god, which plays into the poem's theme, I think. It's not a biggie though, just a wondering.

Just to come back to S2's smoke and heaven. You want the reader to associate the smoke of sacrifice with Muslim religious practices. I really don't know how the reader is to make this association. First we're told the ram and bull persist. I did think of real livestock, but it's a suggestion of continuity. There are still rams in Egypt, and we're talking about a god with ram's horns, and the smoke of sacrifice still rises, so then it seems to relate to honouring Khnum: The practice of honouring him also persists. To read it as you want we need to know about a particular religious practice which seems relatively unknown. I wasn't aware of, and you weren't aware of either, until Julie mentioned it. Not knowing this, it's unclear why the next sentence begins "so ..". It seems to read, I think, that the ram and bull persist, Knum is still honoured, and then the questions is posed: is all Khnum fashioned lost? Which would make sense if no one was still worshipping him, but makes much less sense if the reader takes the smoke of sacrifice to refer to the worship of Khnum. Putting 'may' into the line doesn't seem too much for me. Except that I think it now reads as something like: there may still be some people worshipping Khnum. But this reading still weakens the question that follows in my view.

So, I think what you're after is obscure, as it currently stands, and that's a shame because the rest of the poem is so clear. Obviously that could just be me. Maybe capitalising 'Heaven' is enough for readers to assuming this is the monotheistic heaven of Islam. Still, I think a hint for the reader would help. Hence my suggestion of, "climbs to another heaven" ("another's heaven", "a newer heaven" etc). This makes it very clear that the sacrifice is not to Khnum, and that other religious practices have taken its place, and sets up the question as to whether all that Khnum has fashioned has disappeared. I guess another option might be:

In Egypt, where the ram and bull
persist, the smoke of sacrifice
now climbs to Heaven. So, is all

which might make clearer the discontinuity (now it climbs to Allah's Heaven, but previously it climbed elsewhere). That and the capitalisation of 'Heaven' might be enough. Though I think that's a smaller hint though. Incidentally, if you don't know about literal sacrifice in Islam, I don't think that's a big deal. There are figurative readings that work.

Finally, I see now why you prefer 'soil' for the slant rhyme. I guess what attracted me to 'silt' is that it helps set up 'river birds, but maybe Egypt and "river birds" is enough to bring the Nile to mind. I guess you could have "beneath the Nile" which keeps the slant rhyme and sets up 'river'. But I guess that makes less sense literally, so probably not a great idea, though metaphorically it might work.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-17-2019 at 05:40 AM.
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  #27  
Unread 09-17-2019, 06:14 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Matt,

You are absolutely right to put your finger back on these two nagging points. I'm printing out your comment and will sit here and see what I can do. I hesitate simply to adopt the solutions you propose, for reasons I'll go into in a moment. But something needs to be done; as you say, the poem's clarity breaks down, and that matters.

Cheers, and thanks,
John
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  #28  
Unread 09-17-2019, 06:43 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good morning Matt,

OK, I'm back. I've made seven small changes for a draft solution I'm trying out and posted it. I guess this is always a delicate operation, but in this now-short poem, I'm struck by how balance and clarity are affected by each tiny change. For instance, I'd tried opening with This ram / the god before, but dropped it because we get "the god" to close S1 and that seemed clumsy. You've convinced me we need the change, so I am trying "the one" instead of "the god" in L5, hoping it works. Maybe. Once upon a time, it was "demiurge." So much for S1.
In S2, I've gone with "both ram and bull" - the bull comes out of left field, but I think since we're talking sacrifice, that's OK. I hope, since I believe it's clearer and crisper. Then, I go with "still climbs to Heaven." That's precisely what happens, per Julie's argument, and my coyness on the topic was doing the poem no favors, as you noted. I drop all attempts to distinguish who's sacrificing to whom here, I don't think there's room or that it really matters at the end of the day. OTOH, I then change my mealy-mouthed "So," for "But," which I think is much stronger. I don't explain it in the poem. However, my claim here is two things: burnt offering continues; but all Khnum's work may be lost, phrased as a question. It's I think a natural question, after 2,000 years, and out of the juxtaposition of burnt offering and (or rather but) the loss of all Khnum built comes some reflection on what is past, and passing, and to come. I am hoping here for resonance and paradox rather than total confusion. The rest I leave as is; like you, I think your word "river" does the work silt was nicely doing, and leaves us with the Nile, from which Khnum arose, to end.
So: I think I've extracted the coyness and the shilly-shallying from this piece. They were antithetical to its mood and doing both tone and meaning considerable damage. Thank you for making me change them; and yes, the changes are at the micro level here, the poem's balance is a relatively delicate thing. I'm left with two possible fudges: "the one" and "But." Frankly I'm not sure I can get away with either of them, but I want this piece absolutely simple, not complex, which is why I can't say "now," or rely on the initial cap in "Heaven," or try "a newer" or "another" IMO. That's about where I'm at. If you have a moment, I'd welcome your thoughts on my fudges in particular.

Cheers,
John

Update: two more tiny changes. "His crown says he's the one who threw," which I think neatly solves fudge #1 and also simplifies the language, no bad thing. And "So," after all for "But." Frankly I don't think I can get away with a bald "But" and rely on readers to fill in the gaps. "So" implies the narrator recognizes ("still") that sacrifice persists, in spite, I would say, of the obvious passage of millennia. This leaves N with a question: is Khnum's work lost or not? I think we've both or all been wrong in coming at this assuming that asking the question necessarily implies coming down on one side or the other. It's an honest question, and is left unanswered for good reason. And it leads, i think nicely, into the final "Yet," which is now uncompromised by "But" earlier. The moral of the story is, there isn't one. We just don't know. And I think that's a true reaction to the unanswerable question raised, at the end of the day. it's certainly in keeping with the tone of the MS., in which the gods remain unknowable to us.
Oh - I also like the s-alliteration I've got going on throughout the piece. I think it helps bind it together.
Update II: I've dropped "one" for "god" and "Yet" for "But." I think I can now do both those things.

Update III: an alternative to my problem sentence might be "So, is all / Khnum shaped then lost beneath the soil?" - continuing the alliteration on s and, in the word then, establishing some sort of logical continuity between the continuing sacrifice, in 2019, and the thought that Khnum's works are long gone. Do people have an opinion here?

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-17-2019 at 07:56 AM.
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  #29  
Unread 09-17-2019, 04:10 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I saw it before the update and thought it was done. The 'But', for me, worked really well and resolved my issues. It tells me that that smoke of sacrifice is not for him. 'So', I think, is a bit weak and seems a bit fillerish (remove it, and there's no change in meaning). So, a strong vote for 'But' from me.

I also think 'reveals' was much better than 'says he'.

What did you have before 'shaped then', I can't remember? Was it still 'fashioned'? 'then' seems unnecessary; it refers to a 'when' that seems implied by the past tense.

-Matt
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  #30  
Unread 09-17-2019, 04:11 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Hi John,

Not to be discouraging about a poem that’s already undergone so much revision, but while I can see the outline of a cryptic introduction that poses questions that will be thematic for the rest of the work – which seems to be what you’re going for – there are many details whose inclusion I can’t find a compelling reason for. I find myself wondering what mentioning the crown is adding to the poem, or the fact that Khnum is not young. I note “Each twist and curl/ is lost in Nature, not his head” seems to be adding very little to the first line and a half, “This ram’s extinct. But on the god/ its horns stand yet”. I find myself wondering whether the bull is mentioned to sneak in the colloquial sense of ‘bull’ and thus hint that Khnum’s mythology is nonsense – which would be pretty effective if that fits in with your message. And, finally, I wonder whether ‘Heaven’ is quite appropriate in the context of Egyptian mythology when you’re also using it as a synonym for the sky.

Also, I would suggest going back to ‘silt’ instead of ‘soil’, especially since you’ve lost the overt reference to the Nile. It’s when the details work together like that that the reader can be sure they’ve really got the picture – particularly the reader who doesn’t have a firm grounding in Egyptian mythology – even if it doesn’t add any information to the poem that’s not already there.
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