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  #1  
Unread 01-15-2021, 07:09 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default The Game

The Long Game

To craft a line that no one else would say,
not caring how posterity will rank it.
To hear a music no one else would play,

try to transcribe it, feel it drain away
or turn to empty noodling, so you junk it.
To wear the masks of every word you say,

knowing that their strata overlay
a core like magma. To let others think it
is you they see. Rapt as a child, to play

with order, though your life’s in disarray.
To slough off hope and yearning, and go naked,
dressed in the words you knit yourself. To say

no more, letting the silence breathe. To stay
suspended in uncertainty. To thank it.
To walk off while the ball is still in play,

letting the clock run out. To lose the day,
pulling oblivion over you like a blanket,
and welcome the dark. To let time have its say.
The long game is the only game to play.


Revisions:
S3L1 was "knowing that, skin by skin, they overlay"
S3L2-3 was "a core like magma, letting others think it / is you they see, and not your masks. To play"

Last edited by Susan McLean; 01-18-2021 at 08:49 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 01-15-2021, 09:04 PM
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S.R. Little Stone S.R. Little Stone is offline
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Hi Susan,

I enjoyed the unabashed spirit of this villanelle and found it an enjoyable read. In some ways, I feel like it has built-in impunity, due to line 2's disavowment of posterity's praise or criticism. However, there are a few details and a few broader aspects of this villanelle that I would call into question.

There were two main phrases in this poem that seemed redundant/superfluous to me. The first is in line 9, "and not your masks." I think this is implied clearly enough by the rest of the sentence. The next is in line 11, "To slough off hope and yearning," which I feel has already been expressed in the poem's first stanza. I feel like the sentiment in line 11 could be conveyed visually somehow. I kind of want it to get a little more awkward here too, like "To drift onto a stranger's altar, naked / dressed in the words you knit yourself..." and then proceed to the following images of standing there in silence and uncertainty.

The two bigger-picture issues that I have with this poem relate to the imagery and use of the villanelle form. I feel like on the whole, this poem is very abstract. There are vague suggestions of a ball game being played and some imagery of masks (why not jerseys/uniforms to stick with the game motif?). I personally was able to enjoy the poem for its tone and argument, though some more striking imagery might make it more memorable.

My other big complaint is with the handling of the form. I feel like the villanelle form (especially with the modern adaptation of repeating only end-words rather than full lines verbatim) is most exciting and effective when meaning of the end-words changes throughout the poem. In some ways, repeating the end-words only (which I've heard referred to as teleteuton's though google doesn't seem to recognize that word), makes this formally more like a sestina, in the sense that the repetition becomes less like a folk song and more like a fixation. This kind of fits with your poem's theme (since all poets are a bit obsessive in their perpetual return to the page/screen). Similarly, games/play are returned to over and over again with the same rules and players, but don't seem to get old.

One last suggestion, I'd kind of like the last line to be "The long game is the only game I'll play." To make it more bold and assertive. The poem already suggests the speaker (not necessarily the author mind you) is sold on the long game, so "to play" feels like it's lacking confidence here.

Thanks for sharing!
Little Stone
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  #3  
Unread 01-15-2021, 09:37 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I'm thrown a bit by "no one else would play," since I don't know who is playing it. Presumably it's the speaker of the poem, but if so, then why is the speaker needing to transcribe it?

The poem strikes me as a sort of credo or manifesto. To boldly go where no one has gone before. I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul. To dream the impossible dream. A matter of taste, I suppose, but it's not the kind of thing that pulls me in.

I agree with Little Stone about the way you've used the form as well. A little variation in the repetends is okay with me, or a repunctuation of the repetends in clever ways that allow the line to take on a different meaning while technically remaining the same, but merely using the last word and changing the rest doesn't give me the satisfaction that the form ideally promises.

And being somewhat dense, I really don't get what the long game is.

For me the best and most striking lines were "To walk off while the ball is still in play,/ letting the clock run out."

[I need to stop now. I hope to return].

Last edited by Roger Slater; 01-15-2021 at 10:03 PM.
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  #4  
Unread 01-15-2021, 09:55 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Hi, Little Stone,
It was interesting to get your reactions, and I will certainly look at the areas you flagged as not being needed. Sometimes, in an intricate structure, I can replace parts without having the whole construct collapse. Other times I am boxed in by what's gone before and what follows. The rhymes of a villanelle, in particular, can be hard to find replacements for.

I, too, feel that this poem is abstract in ways that I would like to change, but I am juggling a lot of meanings of "play" here: sport, amusement, competition, performance, deceit. The more specific I make the images, the more specific their meaning becomes, and I am striving for a meaning that keeps changing. Though I started writing the poem in the first person, as I wrote, it changed to second person, and I am reluctant to have it go back to first person at the end, because I am not just writing about myself here, but about writers, some of whom become known only after they are dead.

I have written a lot of villanelles in which the whole line repeats. That has its own charm, and I love that kind of villanelle. But I also love to play with the form by pushing it as far as it can go without becoming unrecognizable. Repeating just the rhyme words allows a lot more narrative development, and it also makes the ending unpredictable--which in this case ties in to the theme. It also allows me to make the same word function as both noun and verb.

Susan
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  #5  
Unread 01-15-2021, 10:12 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Hi, Roger,
We cross-posted. In S1L3, the speaker hears (in her head) a music unlike the music that anyone else is playing, but in trying to get that music down on paper, she finds that she cannot capture it. The "impossible dream" theme is there in this poem, but the message I am going for is meant to be a paradox: you cannot become fully yourself by thinking about how your choices will look to others, but if you go your own way it may also be the road to oblivion, because no one will listen. So, you listen to your own inner voices, not voices of affirmation or criticism, and you accept the consequence of not knowing whether anyone will care. Because in the long run, no one can know whether others will care about their writing after they themselves are gone. I am going for that sort of paradox in suggesting that someone can be naked, masked, and dressed in words, all at the same time. I'm saying yes to uncertainty. Maybe all of that can't come across. I can only find out by trying.
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  #6  
Unread 01-16-2021, 10:24 PM
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Katie Hoerth Katie Hoerth is offline
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Hi Susan,

I love villanelles, and I think this one has a lot to admire in it. My favorite stanza is 4 for its specifics. Indeed! I can relate to the sentiments here.
I do wish each of the examples were games. Like Little Stone, I found more abstractions than concrete images to hook onto as a reader, which for me makes the meaning more nebulous. So focusing on one metaphor may be more effective.
Though, I like the variations on the lines. The poem still feels like a villanelle to me, even if the lines aren't straight repetitions. It gives the poem more of a contemporary tone.
I look forward to seeing how this poem develops. I like what you have here a lot!
K.
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  #7  
Unread 01-17-2021, 01:24 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Little Stone, I have tried changing L9, to omit "and not your masks" and to make clearer that in the next sentence I had in mind a child playing a game all by itself, though the "child" who is playing is actually an adult now. I don't think that L11 overlaps with L2 much, because the contexts are different. In writing a line, in L2, the speaker is not thinking about posterity. But in L11, the speaker is facing death and oblivion and accepting that she will have nothing left but her words (and that they, too, may be invisible). It is a sort of flip side of "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."

Katie, I have tried to make the various kinds of games in the poem a bit clearer, but not everything in the poem is a game. I am also looking at "playing" in the sense of playing music and playing a role. I am glad to hear that you are willing to give the varied repetends a chance. I think it is fun to see how much the parameters of the villanelle alter when you take that step. The shifting meanings of "play" in the poem do make the poem more nebulous, but I like the fluidity of that, the way clouds constantly change shape.

Susan
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  #8  
Unread 01-17-2021, 03:48 PM
Golias Golias is offline
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Hey Susan,
Just saw this. Haven't done villanels in a long time, but used to enjoy the
challenge of making the form work. Here, in L17, 'Thank it' seems somewhat stretched. If one did not want to keep up with the market day by day, one might take her money out of Schwab (say) and 'bank it.'However, I know you are as good as anyone and better than most at finding the right word or words for a line.

Best, Wiley
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  #9  
Unread 01-17-2021, 04:44 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Wiley,
I am not sure I get why you think "thank it" is stretched. I am trying to imply that the speaker is thanking uncertainty. What is worse than uncertainty? Certainty.

Susan
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  #10  
Unread 01-17-2021, 06:34 PM
Bill Carpenter Bill Carpenter is offline
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I like it how it is. Powerful finish. An ars poetica/modus vivendi to be collected with Mary's and Aaron's.
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