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  #1  
Unread 05-22-2022, 03:00 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Plague

Plague


As the imagination fails, I find
myself in some weird netherland where death
is not quite death, nor is pain, pain just yet.

The dead in their refrigerated trucks
are quarantined, as if the sight of them
itself were a contagion. Everyone

is masked or unmasked, no-one shakes a hand,
the dead pile up, the virus does not stop.
On the day’s news, more data. I cannot

pin down this slick disease. I cannot see
the dead, the dead. And the infected now
who know it, who do not, keep up their rounds

as if plague were a myth. Behind the doors
and curtains, furtive life goes on. The dead
are not us after all. At least, not yet.


Edits: S2L3: was Now
S2L1-S3L1:
I think back to the 9/11 dead – / three thousand deaths upset us all, and all / our lives were altered. Here, the dead in mounds /
are wheeled out in

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-24-2022 at 06:21 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 05-22-2022, 04:10 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Hi, John. I enjoyed this (not really the word, but you know). I liked “Everyone is masked or unmasked.” Obvious—you’re either pregnant or you’re not—but no: unmasked is now as marked as masked. And “the dead, the dead” (“the horror, the horror”). Do me a favor, though, and add a comma after “us all” in S2L2. I’ve read it several times, and “all and all” just won’t stop posing as “all in all.”

Carl
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  #3  
Unread 05-22-2022, 06:38 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Thank you, Carl - consider it done!

I'm glad this poem works for you.

Cheers,
John
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  #4  
Unread 05-23-2022, 01:34 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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As an aside, John, have you abandoned your “Unified Field” thread? The last post changes everything.
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  #5  
Unread 05-23-2022, 02:13 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Carl,

It does change everything! And is much appreciated.

Yes, I felt that thread had had its time in the sun and needed to move over. Sorry for not responding sooner!

Cheers,
John
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  #6  
Unread 05-23-2022, 03:42 AM
Sarah-Jane Crowson's Avatar
Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
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Hi John,

I’m wary of pandemic poems, but I think you handle this well (and that’s hard to do). I think the placing of the poem in a kind of purgatory-like netherworld works well in S1, and on a word level, the ‘slick disease’ and ‘furtive life’ are excellent.

I like too the form you’re using, how the repetition of ‘dead’ and ‘death’ piles up like the bodies to have a cumulative effect. And that pause-point in the poem where ‘dead’ is swopped for ‘data’, as you lead into the idea that the vast quantities of dead have reduced the people to numbers - death on a scale that is incomprehensible and numbing.

In my reading, the narrative moves from the mental purgatory space to the narrator’s memory, to a ‘Now’ in S2 which places the poem in (for me) the first wave of disease, but then the poem shifts through the second wave, and then, at the end, I read S5 as being the current situation, where the world is opening up again in most places, before I’m back to the lockdown situation in the closed doors of S6. So, if I try to follow this as a linear narrative it doesn’t quite work (though it nearly works).

I wonder if it’s worthwhile considering omitting ‘Now’, so that the poem isn’t ‘placed’ quite so firmly in the middle of a disease and so I stop trying to read it as a linear narrative and instead read it as a more circular, blurred narrative set in no particular part of the pandemic.

Sarah-Jane
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Unread 05-23-2022, 05:39 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Sarah-Jane,

And thank you for stopping by. I of course very much like your generous reading and agree with it 100%. This insight - "death on a scale that is incomprehensible and numbing" - is great and familiar to any student of the Holocaust. We are now in that territory.

This isn't a terribly new poem - I forget when I wrote it, but I'd say at least a couple of months ago, before leaving the US in March. That may color one's reading of the timeframe. I just came across it and thought I'd post it before it ceases to be topical. I've taken your excellent suggestion, Sarah-Jane, and replaced the word "Now" - with "Here," since we're in a netherland, which may avoid some chronological confusion. Here's hoping.

My mind keeps returning, as I consider the pandemic, to Poe's Masque of the Red Death: https://poemuseum.org/the-masque-of-the-red-death/ Not sure that's visible here, but it might be.

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-23-2022 at 05:41 AM. Reason: link
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Unread 05-23-2022, 08:50 AM
Jason Ringler Jason Ringler is offline
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Hi John,

I’ve stayed away from reading pandemic poems but this reads well and timing seems right. Certain phrases definitely work for me: “As the imagination fails”, face to face with reality; “death is not quite death, nor is pain, pain just yet”, very poetic line; and the final line does very well.

I like the progress throughout and the haunting images therein.
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  #9  
Unread 05-23-2022, 01:41 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Jason,

Thank you for stopping by. I'm very pleased to hear you find my imagery here haunting - it's hard I think to make the pandemic actual, and that is what I was going for. I like the lines you singled out.

I'm not usually one for producing poems that speak to what is topical, but this one just welled up inside me, so I wrote it down.

Cheers,
John
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  #10  
Unread 05-23-2022, 11:47 PM
Robert Luis Rodriguez Robert Luis Rodriguez is offline
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Default pLAGUE

Very compelling narrative, flows so smoothly. Tends toward the journalistic. Would be enhanced by more imagery and subtlety.
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