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  #1  
Unread 08-27-2019, 01:50 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Attributes of Birds

Attributes of Birds: Version II

The tensile strength of bone. The pectorals
that punch a body through the air. The fan
of feathers on a wing, their fine twin vanes.

The passage through the heavens, and the weft
of
common purpose, when a turning bird
braids through the flock’s warp – shuttle on a loom.

The sudden lift into the sky. The plunge
of pure delight, or through the trembling air
toward a target. Wind and turbulence.

The fleck upon the skyline. Two slim legs
tucked flat against the drag, as two clear eyes
scan
Earth and Heaven. Is it possible

to climb above the tallest tree? The art
of daub and wattle. Breaking through the egg
into reality. The beak or bill.


Attributes of Birds: Version I

The tensile strength of bone. The pectorals
that punch a body through the air. The fan
of feathers on a wing, with their twin vanes.

The passage through the heavens. The adroit
weft that shows common purpose, when a bird
crosses the flock’s warp – shuttle on a loom.

The sudden lift into the sky. The plunge
of pure delight, or maybe through the air
toward a target. Wind and turbulence.

The fleck upon the skyline. The two legs
tucked out of air resistance, as the eye
scans Earth and Heaven. It is possible

to climb above the tallest tree. The art
of daub and wattle. Breaking through the egg
into reality. The beak or bill.

Last edited by John Isbell; 08-31-2019 at 04:46 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 08-27-2019, 04:36 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I quite like this, John. It displays one of your strengths I think, which is a kind of objective, encyclopaedia-like precision, which I like in small doses. And it avoids one of your main weaknesses, in that it avoid phrases like 'This is how birds are'. The shuttle on a loom is a striking image. There's something of a less rhapsodic Whitman in the language and tone, if not the form: the obsessive pleasure of naming things and their attributes using noun phrases that don't resolve into actual sentences.

I think four uses of the word 'air' feels like at least one too many, perhaps.

Are beak and bill not synonymous? Even if there are subtle differences that ornithologists would know about, it seems a strange pairing, as opposed to 'beak and wing' or 'talon and beak' for example.
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  #3  
Unread 08-27-2019, 05:38 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Mark,

Glad you quite like it. Apparently the beak-bill distinction is no longer current in modern ornithology. Here's Wikipedia: "Although the word beak was, in the past, generally restricted to the sharpened bills of birds of prey,[1] in modern ornithology, the terms beak and bill are generally considered to be synonymous." And here's the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, on the difference between a beak and a bill:
"Not a thing—the words are synonymous.
Ornithologists tend to use the word “bill” more often than “beak.” Some people use “beak” when referring to songbirds with pointed bills, and “bill” when discussing birds like ducks with more fleshy beaks. However, both words are used in reference to a wide variety of species."
So there's that. Thanks. I'll also look at my use of the word "air" - good to be pointed in that direction.

Cheers,
John
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  #4  
Unread 08-27-2019, 05:45 AM
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Rick Mullin Rick Mullin is offline
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Hi John,


I agree with Mark. This has some especially nice moments.

You could pare down or deflate a few lines, such as "The adroit
weft that shows common purpose," which would be better as "The weft of common purpose."

I like how the stanzas, except for the first, end in short phrases or observations. The end of the first stanza is an instance of your describing something you know from a source other than observation. The observation is what makes this work.


RM
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  #5  
Unread 08-27-2019, 06:20 AM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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I don't want to say too much in this post right now, only that I find that this works on many levels. I especially love the weaving/shuttle image and the choice between beak or bill at the end.
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Unread 08-27-2019, 06:31 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Hello, John. I like this very much as well.

My major hang-up is the "or maybe. . ." phrase after "pure delight." It strikes me as parenthetical where you want something arresting:

The plunge
of pure delight, or maybe through the air
toward a target.
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  #7  
Unread 08-27-2019, 10:45 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

You have some really nice sonics here, especially in the opening stanza -- a change from your usual plainer style. The language is also more concise/compact (and so appropriately more muscular), than your usual style. The combination works very well with the subject matter, I think.

In terms of crit, I think there are a couple of places where there's a word or two that are slightly filler-ish or flat, especially in contrast to the rest of what's here. Basically, I reckon there's some fine-tuning that could be done so it's as muscularly compressed and sonically pleasing throughout.

The tensile strength of bone. The pectorals
that punch a body through the air. The fan
of feathers on a wing, with their twin vanes.


The sentence fragments and sonics nicely echo the content: it's punchy and strong. I really like the assonance of "tensile strength" and then the energy of the b & p sounds that follow (bone, pectorals, punch, body). The poem opens to a burst of sound.

It seems to me that 'with' in L3 isn't necessary for the sense of this come to across, so I reckon you could lose it and get an adjective that line. So, for example, "their thin twin vanes", though 'thin' may be the wrong adjective for what you're after here. But you see what I'm saying?

The passage through the heavens. The adroit
weft that shows common purpose, when a bird
crosses the flock’s warp – shuttle on a loom.


I like the weaving image. Not a big nit, but I wonder if there's a more specific / interesting verb than "crosses", maybe even something that plays off the metaphor: 'weaves', 'threads' ... that sort of thing.

The sudden lift into the sky. The plunge
of pure delight, or maybe through the air
toward a target. Wind and turbulence.

Now 'maybe' is essentially filler in S3L1, in that 'or' implies it. So again you have a chance to get more imagery in. So, why not "or through the [something] air"; or "or [verb+ing] thought the air": ("slicing/cutting" or even "or arrowing the air" for the alliteration and speed and hunting associations. "or falling/dropping/diving through the air". Obviously, these are all quick for-examples, so I'm sure there better choices to be had in terms of sonics and freshness.

The fleck upon the skyline. The two legs
tucked out of air resistance, as the eye
scans Earth and Heaven. It is possible

"air resistance" seem a bit flat/straightforward/prosaic. Is there another less straight forward way of saying "resistance". Or a less latinate word? "drag" for example ("tucked flat against the drag"? 'fleck/flat' and 'flat/drag' add sonics).

"The eye", singular kind of gives the impression that it might be the observer's eye: one's eye. "the eyes / scan" maybe?

To me, "It is possible" seems weak and fillerish, and especially with enjambment (and also: "possible" for whom?). And these words take up space that could be used for another image. Here's a bad example that doesn't even fit metrically: "The soaring shape / that climbs above". If you go this way, for the noun, maybe you can play off / contrast "fleck"?

to climb above the tallest tree. The art
of daub and wattle. Breaking through the egg
into reality. The beak or bill.[/quote]


"into reality" is perhaps a little abstract. "into the world" maybe?

Anyway I enjoyed the sonics and more compact style here. "Up with this sort of thing" as they might say on Craggy Island.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 08-27-2019 at 04:08 PM.
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  #8  
Unread 08-27-2019, 11:55 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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The muscular detail moves this nicely.

Re: beak and bill

Yeats’ swan begins with a non-threatening “bill” and ends with a predator’s “beak’”
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  #9  
Unread 08-27-2019, 05:36 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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In a poem like this, everything turns on (a) economy and (b) the order. The list has to have no extraneous details, and the arrangement has to bring the bare bones to life.

I'm still digesting, but I think you mostly succeed at this. However, on point (a), Poochigian is exactly right about the "or maybe..." phrase. It turns one of the poem's strongest moments into its weakest.

On point (b), nearly every sentence fragment in this poem is an attribute of birds, but there is one exception: "It is possible / to climb above the tallest tree." This, in virtue of its uniqueness, becomes the crucial sentence of the poem, the organizing center that brings the rest into line. Where you place it is crucial. Its placement right now, however, seems haphazard: split across a stanza (diluting its power) and awkwardly near but not at the end. I don't know where it goes, but the success of this poem turns on figuring that out.
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  #10  
Unread 08-27-2019, 11:40 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Good one, John. The details are interesting, the word choices fresh, and the rhythm has a birdlike terseness. The string of predicate-less sentence fragments gives it this pithy quality, which contrasts with the looser blank verse you often post. A marriage between the two styles could be interesting.

I agree with Aaron N. agreeing with Aaron P. about “or maybe.”

I’d prefer the full sentence near the end, “It is possible / to climb above the tallest tree,” to stick to the pattern of skipping the predicate.

There is something Blakean about the rigorous and ecstatic attention to minute particulars in this.

Much enjoyed,

Andrew
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