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Old 11-19-2018, 08:39 AM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Posts: 1,409
Default presocratic sestina

Wheat text

Anaximenes (original)

.......the heavenly bodies are fixed like nails into the ice-like periphery...

Glinting at the periphery
Of heaven, meager lights, once hot,
Escape to glance off well-gnawed nails
And dissipate in the obscure
Spaces of exile, the restless air,
Scattering off snow and ice.

Here, your memories are of ice,
Scorching white, though the periphery
Teases a rusty recall of air
Floating leaves to the ground on a hot
Day—but this is all obscure,
A little too much so for literal nails.

The lights of awareness (your poor nails)
Descend again onto the ice
And rebound, dreaming of homes (obscure,
But there, at some periphery,
Some horizon) and—growing hot
With want—shivering in cold air.

"Here? is it here?" but then the air,
Rogueishly, asks, "where?", which nails
It, and so the exiles trek on, hot
On the heels of—something: not ice,
They're hoping, a periphery
Of doubt coalescing as they obscure.

Furrowed like brows before the obscure
are the glaciers, full of air
For falling through (the "periphery"
Of doubt is driven now like nails
To the pith)which brings you to death by ice:
How it tricks you into feeling hot.

The lights speak: "Did we leave our hot"
(...) "our blazing homes for this obscure,
Indeterminate place, where unbounded ice
Strews us about, where, through clear air,
Starlight hurtles, straight as nails,
To remind us of the periphery?"

But maybe this is all hot air
Obscuring the bodies fixed like nails
Into the ice-like periphery.


epigraph added

S1L2: vision --> heaven
S1L2: light --> lights
S1L3: glances off of ragged --> escapes to glance off ragged --> escape to glance off well-gnawed
S1L4: trails off into --> dissipate into --> dissipate in

S2L1: one's --> your
S2L6: capture by --> literal

S3L3: scatter --> rebound
S3L3: a world --> new homes --> of homes
S3L5: Or other --> Some horizon

S4L1: Stand still, please --> Here? is it here?
S4L2: who --> where

S5L1: a brow --> your brow --> like brows
S5L2: a glacier, a brain— --> a brain, a glacier --> are the glaciers
S5L3: To fall --> for falling
S5L3: there's that --> the
S5L4: , --> is
S5L5: , --> —
S5L5: us --> you
S5L5: deaths: --> death by
S5L6: Is nice: it tricks you; you feel --> How it tricks you into feeling

S6L1: "Granted, we had to--> They speak: "Yes, we had to --> The lights speak: "Did we
S6L2: but why --> for

S7L2-L3: italics added

Anaximenes (condensed)

.......the heavenly bodies are fixed like nails into the ice-like periphery...

Glinting at heaven's periphery,
Meager lights escape to glance
Off well-gnawed nails, to dissipate
Into the obscure space of exile,
Where memories are soon enough
Of ice alone, though tinged with the rusty
Recall of air floating leaves
To the ground on a hot October day.

Descending again to the ice, they scatter,
Dreaming new homes (obscure, but there,
They're sure) as they—growing hot
With want—shiver in cold air,
Shiver as the wind asks, "where?",
Which nails it. So the exiles trek on,
A periphery of doubt coalescing
Around them as they swiftly fade.

Furrowed like brows before the obscure
Lie the glaciers, full of air just made
For falling through. "And did we leave
Our hot" (...) "our blazing homes for this?
This indeterminate place, where unbounded ice
Strews us recklessly about,
Where starlight hurtles, straight as nails,
To remind us of the periphery?"

But maybe this is all hot air
Obscuring the bodies fixed like nails
Into the ice-like periphery.

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 11-25-2018 at 08:32 PM.
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Old 11-19-2018, 09:03 PM
Cara Valle Cara Valle is offline
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Chicago, IL
Posts: 245

Hi, Aaron. I'm a little afraid to break the ice (haha) here, given my inadequate knowledge of anything pre-Socratic.

I like a number of the images, especially the glacier brow and starlight hurtling like nails.

So far, though, I have failed to follow the logic, narrative, progression, or "train of thought", if you will. Again, this is probably due to my ignorance of philosophy. The stanzas strike me as isolated from one another. But that could be my inattentiveness as a reader.

This was clearly hard work to think up and to write. I'm pretty sure I could never have done it.

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Old 11-20-2018, 08:34 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Location: New York
Posts: 14,190

I'm also entirely lost from start to finish. While I don't mind treading water too deep for my toes to touch bottom, I can't even get beneath the surface of this enough to tread water. Which isn't to say it might not be a wonderful poem to those who can understand it, though it does suggest that its potential audience may be even smaller than that of the typical sestina.
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Old 11-20-2018, 11:10 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Location: New York, NY
Posts: 3,861

Aaron, I am perhaps best equipped to appreciate your Pre-Socratic poems. This poem is, conceptually, sound--it is a brilliant combo of sound and sense to make the repeated words the elements of which the cosmos is composed.

The execution is problematic. In the first stanza for example you awkwardly use "off" three times, including the inaptly (here) colloquial and unnecessary "off of."

The poem calls attention to its obscurity, in a comic and somewhat painful way when you say "but this is all obscure,/a little too much so. . ."

Again, I greatly appreciate what you are trying to do with the Pre-Socratics but I exhort you come a great distance closer to the reader. Imagine that the reader is a dear friend who really wants to understand the Pre-Socratics but doesn't know the first thing about them.
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Old 11-20-2018, 03:45 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 1,693


First off, I appreciate the contexture of the first stanza’s sentence at once elaborate and smooth. A problem there is, however. It all reads abstracted from context and divorced from intelligibility. For instance, what ‘obscure / spaces of exile’ could mean is beyond me. I only hope that what sounds impressive might later be rendered something more, that is, than hot air.

If only for the fixation on light as a subject, I was brought in mind of A Problem by Robert Conquest ; in the poem, he registers how light falls and alters Ligurian landscape. He also likens the shifting patterns of light to what he calls: ‘the complex, simple movement of great verse*.’ The similarities of his and your piece, however, terminate in the subject, for his painterly technique of distilling Nature and Experience, the given which is reality, could not be more different.
Here, one's memories are of ice,
I am lost as to where here could be. The reason is plain: It is nowhere. It is a realm onto itself and under the arbitrary sway of one author's shameless Fancy which, according to its unchecked impulse, arrogates random physical properties like ‘hot,’ ‘rusty, or ‘white’ to abstract half-notions. Thus ‘memories’ become ice for no apparent reason; nay, it could as well have been flame.
A little too much so for capture by nails.
Nails ‘capture’? The passive voice sounds like it certainly would have been active, as clearly preferable, but for the need of end-rhyme.
The lights of awareness (your poor nails)
The attempted injection of pathos by modifying nails with ‘poor’ is ineffectual. It inspires no sense of pity but rather of wacky, at once rejected as starkly bathetic and ludicrous. Who is moved to pity or feels the rise of emotion on reading poor shoehorned out of nowhere to modify ‘nails’? Whose? They dwell but in a vacuum and appear personified by the hand of the author obtruding all over the page. Yet the burning question far and above them all remains: why should I give a toss about the nails or anything else, for that matter, in a self-pleased concoction divorced from Nature and Experience? Even if I did, I have scant expectation that the parade of oblique airs should deviate into sense.

Sorry. The dialog with the air is too much for me to read. I need some air.

This struts in the tell-tell trappings of intellectual pretension, without condescending to say anything intelligible. As if audiences could be dazzled by highfalutin airs and surfaces into an impression of the author’s ingeniousness. This seems to disregard all out of lockstep with a militant Fancy held sacrosanct and fetishised.
Never in this piece did I find something whose truth convinced at sight; save for the welcome relief of the following line:
But maybe this is all hot air
Only maybe is not strong enough is the problem. I have to remind myself that I did enjoy reading the first stanza on the level of the contexture; but otherwise, I found your last piece on that other philosopher worked better for me by a mile. However numerous the issues, they might all be subsumed in two blunt words: who cares? I hope this bit of unflinching honesty helps.


* Excerpt:
Where wood and sea and sky and hill
Give static broad simplicities, its course
At once more complex and more simple
Appears to thought as an example,
Like the complex, simple movement of great verse.

Last edited by Erik Olson; 11-21-2018 at 05:07 AM.
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Old 11-21-2018, 12:24 AM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 10,639

Originally Posted by Aaron Poochigian View Post
Imagine that the reader is a dear friend who really wants to understand the Pre-Socratics but doesn't know the first thing about them.
Precisely. I'd even take it a step further. Imagine that the reader has never even heard of the Pre-Socratics, and it's your job as poet to make the poem interesting enough to make the reader not only pay attention, but enter into the poem.
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Old 11-21-2018, 08:34 AM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Posts: 1,409

Cara, Roger, Aaron, Erik, Michael—thanks all. Message heard loud and clear. It's too obscure. I haven't had time yet to go over all of it, but I've added some revisions that aim to make the first stanza clearer.
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Old 11-21-2018, 01:50 PM
Ron Greening Ron Greening is offline
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Hello Aaron,

You set an interesting challenge for yourself.

I think much poetry is read in the context of Google, which expands the range of possible readers for esoteric subjects. I looked up Anaximenes and identified the source of some of your repeating end words. The idea of using these to structure a sestina is fun and could possibly become something unexpected but, I think, most often this type of exercise will remain as an exercise in poetry more than a poem to keep.

I don’t know if I’ve read a sestina where the form seemed more than a difficult trick but actually drove the lines toward art. Even acclaimed sestinas seem, by the sixth stanza, to have run out of anything fresh and by the envoi I only play spot-the-word if I am still reading. This may indicate my limits as reader more than limits of the form. I’m not sure.

Part of the trick in a sestina is to use the words with twists of meaning but still maintain control of the register. The first line of the final triplet invites mockery. “Which nails/it” drops suddenly into colloquial from elevated. This could be excellent for farce but I don’t think that was intended.

The last sestet reminded me of an experience of standing a mile from shore on frozen Lake Manitoba, far from light pollution and the sky thick with stars, a setting that invites contemplation of things cosmic and philosophical. To echo a comment above, a concrete setting such as that could help the poem.

If this was mine, I would put “Anaximenes” into the category of an enjoyable attempt at a very difficult form and I would hope to fail better next time. If that sounds condescending, I really don’t intend it that way.
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Old 11-21-2018, 04:22 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Posts: 1,409

Thanks, Ron. I'm sorry it doesn't work for you. I still believe in it.

The poem imagines someone in an icy place, looking at the stars and investing their light and their journey from their birthplace to earth with a certain significance. It's an indeterminate place because its only significance is being "not home". This may shed some light on the protagonist, who bites his nails.

Further revisions throughout, which hopefully make all of this more clearly present in the poem itself, and not merely in my explanation.
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Old 11-21-2018, 05:29 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,367


Your revisions have helped with the obscurity, but I'm less worried about understanding everything, and I'm less worried that an audience might not know Anaximenes or Pre-Socratics in general. There's certainly an audience for this type of poetry.

But still, there're a few problems for me.

First, as a tet sestina is bringing the repetends back too quickly. You might be able to get away with them, but I don't know that they can do enough stuff grammatically to make them less noticeable. Only "nails" can double as a verb, and so the poem insists on it's repetitions in a way that isn't quite working for me. 'Periphery,' in particular, falls into this trap. This latter issue is not really the same, though the tet exasperates it to my ear.

Ultimately, though, I'm not convinced this should be a sestina. The lines--and the poem as a whole--feel a little baggy. I think you can say what you want here in a more interesting way. I wonder if abandoning the sestina and moving towards something like a classical Pindaric ode might make this more engaging.
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