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Old 11-13-2017, 11:55 AM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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Default A Legend

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Dragonfly and Crow

Those of us lucky enough to be left at the fire
when the straw boss yelled, impatient,
standing there in his worn-out boots,
seizing control of the smoky morning
to tell us he had found the answers
but still had some questions to ask.
Smacking his lips that way he has
he yelled at the dragonfly and the crow
that bedeviled his every movement
that he would soon be free of them,
would have a way to grind them
and the misery they brought to a pulp
without even dirtying his clothes.
He turned back to us and said continue
to bank the fires running the slopes
until he came back, when we would
be free to sit with him day or night
sharing figs fatter than those in eternity.

All I want to know now is why
am I the one who was forced to see
in the last piece of today's twilight
the dragonfly and crow that never left him,
no matter how hard he bellowed and blew,
circling together in lazy, tired loops,
two of them together and no boss.
The crow's wings flicker in the bluing dark
as the dragonfly vanishes in and out of its shadow.
Why, I want to shout, are you here?
Surely it's not that they believed his curses for
without them he would not know when to run,
when to hold his tongue, when to fight.
Is he now lost, collapsed, or clinging
to the trunk of a tree soon to burn,
alone and screaming at the nearing smoke?

****



Dragonfly and Crow

Those of us lucky enough to be left at the fire
when the straw boss yelled, impatient,
standing there in his worn-out boots,
seizing control of the smoky morning
to tell us he had found the answers
but still had some questions to ask.
Smacking his lips that way he has
he yelled at the dragonfly and the crow
that bedeviled his every movement
that he would soon be free of them,
would have a way to grind them
and the misery they brought to a pulp
without even dirtying his clothes.
He turned back to us and said continue
to bank the fires running the slopes
until he came back, when we would
be free to sit with him day or night
sharing figs fatter than those in eternity.

All I want to know now is why
am I the one who was forced to see
in the last piece of today's twilight
the dragonfly and crow that never left him,
no matter how hard he bellowed and blew,
circling together in lazy, tired loops,
two of them together and no boss.
The crow's wings flicker in the bluing dark
as the dragonfly vanishes in and out of its shadow.
Why, I want to shout, are you here?
Surely it's not that they believed his curses for
without them he would not know when to run,
when to hold his tongue, when to fight.
Is he now lost, collapsed, or clinging
to the trunk of a tree soon to burn,
alone and screaming at the nearing smoke?

Last edited by John Riley; 11-16-2017 at 03:24 PM.
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Old 11-13-2017, 07:17 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I very much like the dragonfly and crow, who are irreducible.

Cheers,
John
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Old 11-14-2017, 08:42 AM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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Thank you John. I think you're correct about my bird and insect. I certainly hope so.

John
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Old 11-15-2017, 04:15 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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Nevermind> I shouldn't have bumped it.
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Old 11-15-2017, 04:41 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Yes, you should John.

I often find your poems harder to crit than many others writing here. They often feel fully formed and their complexity and elusive nature requires some depth to a reader's response, which this reader is often time-poor to provide. If it's any consolation I read them all and could happily write 'I don't quite get all of it, but I love it' on most of them.

I'll try to get to this one..
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Old 11-15-2017, 08:17 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Yes, your poems are often hard to crack. This one is. I have even gone back between this sentence and the previous one to read it again, for the fourth time! Still, I'm not able to discern much about what is happening. I've come to recognize your poetry as being deeply personal in nature and as such it sometimes assumes the reader will be able to piece things together. Posting it here for crit will help it reach that point. So, I guess I'm telling you that this one feels like it needs more clarity, less atmosphere.

But I sure get a vibe from it.There are some striking images and great phrasing. It has a post-apocalyptic aura to it, to my ear.

There has been some back and forth on the boards over the months about to what degree a poem can be obscure before it crosses the line to being obtuse. I don't think this crosses that line for me personally because I have a pretty high tolerance for not knowing what is going on yet still deriving meaning and pleasure from it. But I think you would want the poem to be understandable without any explanation to more than just the few who are able to gain access to it.
And, as always, when I'm not able to understand what's going on, I begin to think it's me; that I'm unable to understand the symbolism and/or use of metaphor or something. Because, try as I might, the story doesn't come together for me by reading it and taking it at face value.

Hope my thoughts themselves are not too obscure/obtuse! Hope they help you to consider the poem's accessibility and clarity.

Best,
Jim
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Old 11-15-2017, 10:39 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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This is a conversation I don't mind having. It's one I want to have if that is agreeable to anyone who reads this. My question arises because I've never thought of my poems as being obscure. I'm a little mystified on the issue. In this one, there is a narrator and other people who are banking an outside fire, a big fire. Their leader is convinced he knows the solution and leaves them to make sure. There is a crow and a dragonfly that flies around the boss all the time and he says he wants to destroy them. In the second stanza the narrator is upset because he and he alone has seen the crow and dragonfly flying around without the boss. Because he knows they are critical to the boss's well being he is frightened and upset.

If you read it and understood this is what happens in the poem than it isn't obscure, is it? I'm aware it may be about events one doesn't often see in poems, that it may strike the reader as strange, but is that the same thing as obscure? I've never thought it was. It may be asking the reader to accept the existence of a world in which things happen out of their experience but the reader knows what is happening.

To me if I know what is happening in a poem I am then free to think about it and wonder about it. I guess if the answer is that time is too short, or that the interest in doing so doesn't exist, I'll have to accept that. If so, that's something valuable for me to know.

I'm not pleading. If it doesn't wet your whistle there is nothing I can do, although I'd like to know. It's just that the o-word has been used for me work lately and I sincerely looking for clarity on what readers consider that to be.

Thanks for reading,
John
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Old 11-16-2017, 03:50 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

It is an agreeable conversation, and a fascinating one. I'll attempt to put my spin on it, knowing at the outset that I may ramble/miss the point/show my ignorance etc. It comes down to the reader's natural tendency to seek for meaning, I suppose. And also the way one defines the word 'obscure'. It seems to me that there are styles of poetry where a reader is more open to, almost has an expectation of, obscurity perhaps. A poem that clearly alludes to figures from classical myth, history, philosophy etc may be obscure to some, purely through their unfamiliarity with the figures or events referred to. I often find myself in the unhappy position of cursing my paltry State and self-education, inwardly dismissing poems as pretentious while secretly aware that this response is my own insecurity talking. I probably dismiss too many good poems with a defensive 'oh god, another bloody poem about a Greek myth/German philosopher I've never heard of'. But if the poem is good, and the allusions are integral, this shouldn't matter. If the references are there just to give a poem some air of profundity or erudition, then it's hideous. I hope I'm overcoming my defensive insecurities and getting better at telling the difference.

There are poems which attempt to wrestle with an abstract concept (Mortality! Love!) and do so by couching the concept in metaphor, so the poem is difficult in as much as it like a puzzle to be solved. The metaphysical poets had this one down to a fair old tee I suppose.

Then there are those poems whose chief pleasure seems to be in the ability of the language, its delicacy or surprising juxtapositions, to connect the reader to a state where they feel something but are not sure what or why. The language has somehow taken them tantalisingly close to the edge of the usefulness of language itself and towards something more unconsciously primal, so the poem is 'irreducible' to use John's excellent word. It cannot be summarised or adequately expressed in any other medium: 'a poem should not mean but be' and all that stuff.

Your poems (not all, but this current one is a good example) do something more rarely seen I think, though I'm sure better-read members will give me examples of precedents. They have elements of my latter example, but also, importantly, of story-telling, which is where I think the charges of 'obscurity' enter. Folks want to know 'What does the story mean?' simple critters (pun intended) that they are haha.

As your summary makes clear, you tell here a simple narrative: there are events and characters. The setting and motivation (why are they banking a fire?) is mysterious but also mundane (worn out boots), yet there seems a timelessness about it and an atmosphere of the mythic (sharing figs fatter than those in eternity). The tone is quite flat, as though the significance of a line like 'he had found the answers / but still had some questions to ask' should be easily graspable to a reader. It's a disorientating but disarming effect. Things happen, as you say, that do not happen in 'the real world'. The boss is plagued by a crow and a butterfly, the N sees them together without the boss and is disturbed. All this is clear. Because the poem doesn't seem to be a retelling or adaptation of an existing myth, the reader searches for their own interpretation. I have my own. I assume you have yours and that the poem isn't simply an exercise in an elegantly written series of odd events. We naturally ask (don't we?) 'what do the crow and dragonfly represent? What is it in our nature that plagues us yet is essential to us?'
Hmm, I'm rambling now and have lost the thread of any point I might have been making haha.

I'll close by restating how much I really like your poems. They are often thought-provoking in the best way and I wouldn't want them to be any different. If I can read a poem a dozen or so times with pleasure, yet still find it elusive and somewhat ungraspable, then I know it's a good poem. I certainly don't mean to suggest that 'time is too short' for poems such as this. God no. Just that often I think about them long enough so that by the time the thoughts have gathered any coherence, the poem has slipped away and your next is up. Ha.

Hope this serves as any use or balm.

Mark

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 11-16-2017 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 11-16-2017, 04:53 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi John,

I think this is a useful conversation, and I agree in general terms with the thrust of the discussion of obscurity as it applies here.
I'll add that i see 4-5 other sources of obscurity, which are grammatical/syntactical. I'll list them:

1. the opening sentence has no main verb.
2. deviled for bedeviled.
3. they brought to a pulp is an odd phrase.
4. [the] two of them together
5. Surely it's not that they believed his curses, - I'd have a semicolon here.

So these little nuggets of obscurity add to the global tone in slowing down my reading. Don't get me wrong, I like the poetry of this, especially your two mythic creatures. And the plot with its questions. But I have to work to reread it, and this is in part why.
Oh - and this graininess cuts against the extreme clarity your flatness proposes to us. Maybe you want it that way.

Cheers,
John
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Old 11-16-2017, 05:51 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Well, on the heels of my rambling, John I brings up points with which I do have some sympathy. Some of them.

1. The lack of main verb in the opening sentence threw me, also: If you swapped 'Those of us who were left' for 'Some of us were left' it would fix it. Of course, this begs the question of whether you want it fixed. Is the grammatical oddity deliberate, and if so why? I can't see how the poem would suffer from the fix (or a more thought-out one), or really gains from the oddness.

2. I think deviled is ok: from dictionary.com 'NORTH AMERICAN
harass or worry (someone).
"he was deviled by a new-found fear"'


3. I read this fine, but John's confusion is understandable, and is another punctuation issue.
Here's the sentence:

Smacking his lips that way he has
he yelled at the dragonfly and the crow
that deviled his every movement
he would soon be free of them,
no doubt have a way to grind them
and the misery they brought to a pulp
without even dirtying his clothes.


'and the misery they brought' clearly is a parenthetical phrase here, but the lack of commas could cause a stumble. Also, would a full-stop help after 'movement'?

Smacking his lips that way he has
he yelled at the dragonfly and the crow
that deviled his every movement.
He would soon be free of them,
no doubt have a way to grind them,
and the misery they brought, to a pulp
without even dirtying his clothes.


Again, how much is deliberate? Often in your poems you experiment with no punctuation at all, and it's clearly a stylistic decision. When you are punctuating, as you are here, do you still feel a reluctance to over-punctuate, perhaps? Sometimes it works and sometimes it feels inconsistent.

4. I don't mind this

5. I think John's right. Weirdly, I don't like semi-colons in poetry either though, which is why I probably abuse the em-dash so much.

Ok. Thanks to both Johns. I'm enjoying the conversation.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 11-16-2017 at 05:54 AM.
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