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Old 07-13-2018, 03:16 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is online now
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Hell-Mouth is too Gothic perhaps for the Sun King’s arena but ought to be found heavy enough I reckon for a metal band, or I will eat my hat. For the same reason, I think it over-heavy for the title of your poem. Anyway, I fancy Mark’s suggestion; that already by itself makes a solid improvement!
I agree about the Gordian syntax of the first stanza.
Out beyond the gardens of Versailles,
on a bike, perhaps, this earth scarred,
those people starved, seems almost a fair trade.
Why is the earth scarred—perhaps? Or why is it a bike—perhaps? Fair plus trade are two words that always ring, no matter our intentions, as a thing:
A system of ethical trade in which a company in a developed country pays a fair price to a producer in a less-developed country, and seeks to ensure good working conditions and fair wages for the workers involved.
The movement for ethical trade dates to the mid 20th cent. but became widespread in the late 1980s when various certification initiatives began to label fair trade goods for mainstream retailers. Most of these initiatives are now united under the International Fairtrade Certification Mark or (in the United States and Canada) the Fair Trade Certified Mark.
Who do you see? What people now? dead people? So a perspective rather shifty: in the past and the present at once, a bit loosey-goosey.
The palace stands high up and watches us,
calls us to its bowels, past the cross
of canals with boats of lovers paddling nowhere.
Is this Mordor's high looming towers? I have heard hellholes, nay, hell more generously described. We have grafted over the whole scene with bowels and hell itself before we have stepped foot inside the gate before we have so much as visualized a single flower. (If this is the response to the gardens, well, I should hate to accompany this narrator to Place de la Bastille. Can one imagine a worse reaction to any scene soever? Perhaps this one is the worst bar none in the world.)

The digestive tract business is not made to seamlessly emerge from within the scene as it really exists but to wholly graft over every corner from without. The sallies of vehemence and resentment break out when once the gate is breached in such terms that it is difficult to imagine any more extreme. The lust to condemn backfires on the narrator and makes him seem ludicrously whipped up in a frenzy with imagination run wild. Why would the narrator go out of his way and pay money to see what is so repulsive and loathed by him? Oh, I am a good liberal too I am, but do not bloviate about with a bullhorn in outrage at historical monuments for what has ceased to be for centuries now, much less center my rebuke around my own invented imagery imposed on what others see with their eye organs.

But I grant that afterward you do mention ‘boats’ and ‘canals’ in passing; such being the first recognisable imagery. Since I do not exactly reconise being ‘called to bowels,’ nor can I visualize or make much of it; I get the hint, so he really does not like Versailles. Further, this piece reflects the narrator more than anything exterior him.

I think the subtler ‘lovers paddling nowhere’ is more powerful than esophagus and bowels: Because it corresponds to the scene when it mocks, whereas the second grafts over. In proportion as the satire exposes the target as it really is, the critique or mockery will be more convincing and bitting; but conversely, as the author appears to project more material of his own invention, the efficacy of satire and mockery becomes less. A rule of thumb, I reckon. It is almost hard to suppress every and all hint of sarcasm when discussing these less than relished bowels of precious outrage, but my intent is to explain what did not work for me and why.

All the best,

P.S. For whatever reason, this royal fuss gets under my skin, where the narrator arrogates to himself the authority to summarily condemn and to indulge grafting a whacky intestine or something over dimensions, whole historical, aesthetical, visual and other dimensions. Like a rash that just persists ever so insidiously. In brief:
I see five dimensions where this glossed one,
and I see paradox where this saw none.
Strange. Ah, well.

Last edited by Erik Olson; 07-14-2018 at 03:27 PM.
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Old 07-13-2018, 10:34 PM
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Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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Hi Andrew, I think a lot of pruning would make this a better poem, and it seems to be calling out for dashes. I have a feeling the French poets you've been reading are overwhelming your own voice. I don't really see how the rain stanzas fit with the rest. What chalk? How is the speaker suddenly outside? Videos, Paris, New York, ants?? Don't seem to fit. Anyhow, here are the parts I like:

In the gardens of Versailles,

this earth scarred, those people starved—
it almost seems okay.

The palace watches us, calls us to its bowels,
past the cross of canals with boats of lovers.

Hot as a hell-mouth inside—
we cram our way down through a mirror room.

Sickened by the gold and greed,
I sense the start of all the coming violence.
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Old 07-14-2018, 07:38 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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I like it more than some others, Andrew, but I agree with Michael that in some places the language feels like it is trying too hard. ‘Droning cars’ seemed wrong to me, but I guess I get it if they’re tied to the mindless churning of the ancien regime. I think the last image with the ants is consistent with my reading of the whole poem: as foreboding and sinister, something of a contemporary jeremiad. The linking of Paris to New York does not seem accidental to me. The last image is jarring, but that seems to be your intention. I think there is a place for this kind of poem. Then again, I remember a couple of stanzas of Auden, and I think there's also a place for them:

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

And, perhaps more appositely:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
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Old 07-14-2018, 08:53 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Hi all,

I'm giving all of your comments thought. There's a lot here, which is great, but I think I need to respond to them to digest them and bring them to bear on the poem.

Julie: I'm intrigued by your idea, but worried. I feel like it's the one part of the poem that shows us that there's something about Versailles that tempts us. I think that's important, and (less than he'd like) does touch on Erik's initial concern.

I'd also hate to lose the cross of canals. When I was there, the line to the palace was so long most just went to the gardens and came back later. I tend to (annoying to my wife) chat with a lot of strangers, and most of the French people there hang out in grounds (run, bike, picnic) and never go in the palace.

So, I'm still considering if there's a way to keep the imagery and cut it. I haven't come up with anything.

Mark: See above. You're right that it's an arresting line, but I'd have to think about how not to lose what came before.

Erik: You have lots here. I'll try to answer your questions. I'm sorry you do not like it.

The whole gardens, particularly the canals, are a forming and a scarring of the earth, no? What is "perhaps" is being on the bike. The starved people are the people who starved so that a palace costing half the GDP of France could be built.

On fair trade, you're right, and I intended that resonance.

When you're out beyond the Grand Canal, it really does sort of loom there in the distance. Place de la Bastille--the narrator and I like it a great deal more than Versailles.

Why go? A student of history. I went because I wanted to see it, and didn't think I would come away so disgusted, just like the narrator.

I think we're at cross-purposes here. You're reading this as a satire, but it isn't one. Michael Ferris reads it, I think, as I intend it.

Mary: Thanks for your thoughts, and I'm glad some is working. The "chalk" is what Versailles is built of Parisian limestone; but really, if you're walking the grounds in the heat (as I did) the paths are unpaved and your feet get covered in this white powder almost impossible to get off. But you're right that this comes out of nowhere and it shouldn't.

If you do the tour in the tourist season, you're pushed through the palace at a break-neck pace and then deposited outside. You can almost feel the guards as villi pushing you along.

I do like dashes, and I'll use them as I revise.

Both you and Michael C. have had problems with the ending, but (perhaps problematically) that's the vision I think the poem needs to end on. The rain doesn't bring a vision of a world made clean by baptism, but by consumption.

Michael: I think you're reading the poem in the way I meant it to be read. I'll try to make the images less forced. The Auden is good; thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-14-2018, 10:51 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Hi Andrew,

There’s something compelling here, and I’m still working at figuring out just what it is and what’s keeping it from pulling me in. Perhaps the problem is that it’s too much of a bird’s-eye view throughout for the sudden pull-back of perspective at the end to be as effective as it might be? I like the first stanza, but I think the stanzas after that would be more effective with a narrator who’s fully absorbed in the experience – even somewhat implicated by proxy as well as understandably disgusted. (But, then again, Baudelaire was always my Symbolist of choice…)

Oh, right - happy Bastille Day!
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Old 07-15-2018, 07:56 AM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is online now
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I venture that the first sentence can be improved upon still, that the syntax is not helping anything. I intend by this to illustrate or afford some idea of the possibilities at least, that we are not necessarily pinned to only these words in only this same order. Forgive me, I have the jigger-bug.
Out past the fenced-in gardens of Versailles,
we ride on bikes; the earth seems deeply scarred,
the people starving almost a fair trade.

Beyond the fenced-in garden of Versailles,
we ride on bikes. This earth smacks of a scar—
those people starved seem almost a fair trade.

P.S. I can , believe it or not, empathize with the disgust of the narrator upon visiting a monument with a very fraught past; I indeed have been there before myself, as they say. My empathy, however, is tainted by the denial wholesale of the least existence of beauty in ugliness; or, if you prefer, aesthetical surface charm in ugliness. I can think of no better example where such a paradox manifests than Versailles. Any gesture as to this, any at all, would go a long way in reconciling the aesthetic Lure, as existent independently of itself and registered by the eyes, to the ethical Ugliness, as vexes the narrator and undeniable to the understanding; the narrator, as is, fixates on the latter to the wholesale denial of the former. Such a gesture, further, would make the rebuke of Versailles more convincing by seeming no nearsighted figment of repugnance to the point where the eyes can hardly recognise what is described.

But even if your poem should take as absolutist a stance against and trash Versailles as absoultly—which however frustrating to my more paradoxical take, is perfectly fine to heed if such be your honest view of the place—I fear the treatment itself rather hinders than assists in getting me into the poem. That is more to the point, I think. Indeed, it may be too much to ask that you allow what I do in my apprehension of the subject, but it would help and be sufficient if your treatment thereof were more digestible.

Last edited by Erik Olson; 07-15-2018 at 09:42 PM.
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Old 07-15-2018, 08:30 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Location: England
Posts: 2,342

Hi Andrew,

I can see your logic to Julie about wanting to keep the first S to give a sense that there is something appealing on the surface, or from a distance, about the Palace. I'm not sure if Erik's suggestion fixes the syntax problem or rather complicates it tbh. And I'm not sure if 'famished folk' is a good substitute for 'those people starved' (sorry Erik) *

If you really want the first S, how about this? Have 'Here' instead of 'Out' as the opening word, to establish the N as being there before he makes his journey inside.
And maybe a different image to the 'bike' one, which is off-putting for some reason. A picnic maybe, which would work quite nicely with the 'people starved' idea.
And separate this phrase with em-dashes, to avoid the comma build-up that's happening. So:

Here beyond the gardens of Versailles —
picnicking, perhaps — this earth scarred,
those people starved, seems almost a fair trade.

* Oh, Erik has changed his suggestion already, making my comments on them read like nonsense. Serves me right for 'critting a critter'

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 07-15-2018 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 07-15-2018, 09:52 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Erik, your quoted passage of George Crabbe is brilliant, thank you.

I don't interpret Andrew's poem as being on the same wavelength, however. This poem feels like commentary on the glorification of decadence as manifested in the past (supposed) greatness of a man. Something of a condemnation of a tribute to greed. As you said, Andrew, an overwhelming sense of disgust.

We are living in, among other things, the age of tourism. So that is how this poem begins. The age of tourism co-exists (along with still other "age of" things like greed, materialism, consumerism) with the painful reality that most of the world suffers from deprivation of all sorts. Versailles to me is a mixed bag of radiance, decadence and self-idolatry. I only feel the touristic and materialistic in this poem, though. The bicyclist/tourist peddling through the grounds of what was originally meant only for the privileged few is what I find most striking.

The imagery of a bicyclist peddling through the grounds of Versailles is excellent. I don't find that the language of the poem coincides with that image, however. I have difficulty with the phrasing. As some have said it feels ante-modern, somewhat off-putting. I would like to see more of the peddling cyclist tourist voice than one that speaks over his (the cyclists') head. The only time I feel the voice of the cyclist is in the description "hot as a hell-mouth".

Maybe I'm not able to fully connect to the intent/meaning of the poem because I keep skimming it vs. giving it a close read. Sorry about that! But there are no hooks to latch onto to get me in deeper. Or it's just my inability to find the attention needed for this. Still, I agree whole-heartedly with the sense of disgust you felt. Give me nature's cathedrals.
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Old 07-15-2018, 08:58 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Hi all,

A revision up. I'm committed to making this poem work. I don't know that this revision does for people yet, but I've tried to fiddle with the grammar and bring some of the images more in line. We'll see what you all think.

Aulus/Aula: Baudelaire and Verlaine are my favorite of the French poets, so we're on the same wave length there, even if the aesthetic distance here is more Mallarmé. The poem isn't asking me to dive more in: the birds'-eye is, I think, necessary to open out to today, which is what that last bit is supposed to accomplish. I don't know. I've added a new L4 that brings in a "you" for the "we."

Erik: I made the lovers' paddling less ironic and made the palace seem less like Mordor; though I added "leprotic," I think it might help get the appeal of the Palace a little more a little more.

Mark: I took your suggestion on em-dashes. Seems so obvious in retrospect that this is what my brain was doing. I also moved to picnicking--food, starving, the final image, etc. I hope the piece works better now.

Jim: I've taken out the biker and added someone who consumes also. I'm sorry there's not hook for you; I don't think it's bloodless, but it is, intentionally, detached. There's never a reason to apologize; I'm just grateful someone's even skimming what I right.
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Old 07-15-2018, 09:54 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is online now
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Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 1,698


This new first sentence
Out past the garden, in the Versailles demesne—
picnicking, perhaps—this earth scarred,
those people starved, seems almost a fair trade.
gains clarity over the original:
Out beyond the gardens of Versailles,
on a bike, perhaps, this earth scarred,
those people starved, seems almost a fair trade.
Because the latter sounded as if the narrator were riding his bike outside of Versailles and thus not in but ‘beyond’ it. That said, the replacement is still rather chopped up and thus proceeds jerkily from its various parts. I, for my part, think a more fluid first sentence would help the reader get into the poem than one so broken and disjointed.

I hate to sound like a broken record again, my dear sir, but we have an unclear referent. What is the subject of the first sentence? In other words, if ‘seems’ be indeed the main verb of the sentence, what is it that seems almost a fair trade? Versailles, picnicking, those people? It cannot be those people because of the s on seems.

You will likely reject this as I was still imagining the narrator outside of Versailles proper when I made this suggestion, but I hope it might at least show by way of illustrative example something of what I would like more of, cohesion.
Now past the lawns and gardens of Versailles,
retreating, picnicking perhaps, earth scared
and people starved seem almost a fair trade.
I dunno. A thought.
Sorry, Andrew, how does all this garble relate to fair trade? That itself seems anachronistic and an odd comparison at any rate by which to deride or introduce critique. I wish for a simple clear statement to ease me into this difficult digestive tract. But this is weirdness garbled, not relatable thought sung lucid. I like the idea of picnicking; I like the scarred earth; I like the basic premise of being ill at ease at the monument in light of its past here hinted at. But being lost as to how they connect to fair trade and how the sentence fits together is off, not on putting. Sometimes I wonder if the energy and writing be not all really in vain, and why, alas, should I not throw in the sponge.


Last edited by Erik Olson; 07-16-2018 at 09:41 AM.
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