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  #11  
Unread 08-24-2019, 07:12 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Matt,

Getting back to you at last. I've been thinking about alternatives to "the singer says," but they tend to sound a bit mannered to me; and I think, on balance, that the language allows us to say "the singer says" to focus on the semantic content of the lyrics at that point, along with the slightly spoken flavor of the singing in this number. SO for now I've kept those instances.
OTOH, I've taken your suggestion of "Been laid low" - I agree, the enjambment is crisper, and though the diction jars just a tad, as you note, I think that is fruitful; it is, as you note, after all Dylan's voice across the decades, and I think there's room for that here.
So thanks.

Cheers,
John
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  #12  
Unread 08-25-2019, 08:21 AM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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Gritty and good. Really good.

Might S2L3 flow stronger by replacing ". He's been" with "and"
"are so tired and singing for a good few decades,"

[take/toss]

at first, "this holocaust" worried me.
so many undeserving uses of that word
unclear *what* holocaust
but it defines itself very, very well by the end of the song
which is what good drama and pacing do

S4L4 - "then need" --> a sneaky bit of meter-smoothing
which is fine, but maybe "need some reminding" might do?
and maybe not (t/t).

The poem opening on 'the singer' really transformed
this poem far more than I expected, makes it archetypal, grand.
Not sure about the final mention of Dylan--
but there's two kinds of "not sure"
one is the polite way of saying "don't like"
one is a way of saying, well, "not sure"
I mean the latter.
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  #13  
Unread 08-25-2019, 10:23 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I continue to enjoy the intuitive leaps in this poem, John.

I think I’m getting the threads that run through it: Dylan’s voice, existentialist anxiety, lovesickness—all meant to be connected but I’m not feeling how they’re connected apart from their being juxtaposed in the poem.

One place that keeps tripping me up is line 2 of the poem. I can’t get my head around the image, and it might just be a matter of the wording: usually we say that something wells up from soil, not through it. But even then, I don’t follow how a voice arising from black soil—a reference I imagine to Dylan’s grassroots American-ness—would be “as if / there were no God.” The sky at night seeing only atoms burning does remind me of the agnostic or atheist worldview, but the voice arising from or through black soil does not.

This would matter less later in the poem, but at the beginning I am just getting my bearings in the poem.

Another spot in the poem that doesn’t register for me is in S4,

’m sick of it. And that is how the sky
sits on the world, how ocean laps the shore.

What is how the sky sits on the world and how the ocean laps the shore? I don’t get it (and I’m not young).

Also, in the next lines, how is the night succeeding the day related to things falling apart? I’d have thought just the opposite, the night succeeding the day is a sign of cosmic order. Or do you mean that as an image of time passing, during which things fall apart?

On the other hand, I very much like these lines:

What kind of love,
I ask, survives this holocaust? The clouds
are weeping. Yet the heart goes out, I can’t
arrest that leap.

In other words, the disparate elements might be blended better, and I think the form, which I mentioned earlier, increases that impression (by the stanza breaks seeming random).

I hope this helps.

Best,

Andrew

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 08-25-2019 at 10:29 AM.
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  #14  
Unread 08-25-2019, 02:42 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Daniel, hi Andrew,

And thank you both for returning with your thoughts.
Daniel: I'm glad you like this piece, and that you find it gritty - that's more or less my aim here. Like Andrew, you note a certain staccato or kaleidoscopic rhythm to the piece, but I don't think I can change S2L3, since he's been singing is not Dylan's statement, it's mine (the song is from 1997). Holocaust is a highly charged word; I'm very glad it works for you in the end, since as you note, there's no guarantee of that. I've hoped to use it with care here. You're also right about the meter-smoothing "then" in S4L4, but I think it also fits the turn from the young to the old in the argument. As you say, maybe "need some reminding" is better. Thanks again, profoundly, for the suggestion to remove Dylan from the poem - I'm not ready though to do so 100%, since I want folks to go back to his song, and Dylan situates the piece, to my mind. Hence the closing reference. It took me several years to write a non-crap Dylan poem, so I was glad when this one happened.
Andrew: thanks for your thoughtful points. Yes, the black soil works for Dylan, but I also had in mind the Oresteia, whose motto in my books is blood calls for blood. The absolute manifests from below, not above, which leads me to the leap about there being no God. Not one in Heaven, anyway. My lines "And that is how the sky / sits on the world, how ocean laps the shore" were really just a fancy way for me to say "how things are," as I recall from the act of writing. But the bottom line is that anything a writer has to explain in footnotes has not worked on the page, and your concerns are apt and pointed. The poem is shifting, fragmentary, amorphous, where meaning and the thrust of narrative is concerned. The trouble is, I like those lines - the black soil, the sea and sky - so much I've not seen a way to amend them yet. They seem elemental to me, and I think I need that. Which brings us to the night. In my private universe, out of which my poems spring, night is shorthand for adversity. It succeeds the day, as fortune's wheel turns, bringing pain where pleasure or joy once stood, and is inescapable. Similarly, George Harrison sings "Daylight has a way of arriving at the right time."
Of course, none of these explanations appear on the page the poem is standing on; and they are worth only what they are worth, since the poem is in the final analysis independent and autonomous. You've pointed to some serious stumbling blocks facing readers of the piece, where meaning seems to come out of left field. As I say, my hopes of an easy fix here are diminished by the appeal these images had/have for me as author. Perhaps they belong in the end to my private universe, and I've not yet made them public. But they speak to my heart. I'm afraid I don't see an immediate way forward to greater clarity here without some concomitant loss.
Maybe "as if / there were no God here, or the sky at night ..."? Does that help at all? Though I quite like the Nietzschean finality of the original.
Oh, I should say that Dylan's lovesickness, to me, is atypical: it is a bone-weary abdication of love for a fallen world, and not for any one beloved.
Anyway, that's where I'm at, in a kind of stream of consciousness. Thank you, Andrew, for making me think. And I'm glad you quite like this.

Cheers both,
John
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  #15  
Unread 08-26-2019, 09:37 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

I've been a big Dylan fan from aged 15 or so. I was wondering if he'd ever get one of your musical appreciation poems! So, this is about the first song on the Time Out of Mind album from 1997, which is generally regarded as the beginning of something of a late career comeback in terms of Dylan's critical standing. It's also the album where he seemed to face mortality and began to inhabit and even embrace the idea that he was becoming an old man, by returning to traditional folk and blues imagery and song styles that pre-dated Rock. Ironically, the same sort of imagery he embraced when he was a very young man covering blues songs like 'See that My Grave is Kept Clean' and 'In My Time of Dyin''.

I think the poem is ok, but it feels like it's fulfilling the same role as music journalism to me, in that its main function seems to be an attempt to recreate the atmospherics of the song. As you say about your reluctance to remove Dylan's name, you "want folks to go back to his song". Maybe they would, but I wish there was something more memorable about the poem itself that made its existence feel like more than just an adjunct to the song. When the speaker does editorialise and comment on the music, the language often feels alternately cliched and portentous to me.

I’m walking, says the singer, with a voice
come welling up through the black soil, as if
there were no God, as if the sky at night
saw only atoms burning.

This is quite an arresting opening, though it feels a bit over-cooked in that rock journalist kind of way. The verb formation of 'with a voice / come welling up' (rather than 'that wells up' eg) is unusual and sounds like an attempt at some vernacular. But since you don't do it again, it feels a bit mannered to me, a bit of a novelty. I can't hear 'only atoms burning' without thinking of the Neil Young song with the chorus 'only castles burning', the phrase is so similar in its formation.

All the great

beliefs have ebbed. On the guitar, a chord
nags at my brain. The singer says his feet
are so tired. He’s been singing for a good
few decades, there is nothing to be told

that’s not been told before.

I wonder about the enjambment between stanzas here, and what purpose it serves. In fact I wonder if the poem might be better if you didn't concern yourself with regular stanzas and metre and stripped it down to its essentials as a piece of free verse. Often the language feels padded out for the metre: 'On the guitar, a chord' could be 'a guitar chord', 'He’s been singing for a good / few decades' could be 'He’s been singing for decades'. This section is four declarative sentences that feel quite flat separately, and don't really gel together musically, for me.

'All the great // beliefs have ebbed' reminded me of this little bit from Dylan's liner notes for Bringing it all Back Home in 1965:

Quote:
i would not want t be bach. mozart. tolstoy. joe hill. gertrude stein or james dean / they are all dead. the Great books've been written. the Great sayings have all been said.
and similarly, 'there is nothing to be told // that’s not been told before' reminded me of this lyric from the same 1997 album that includes 'Love Sick':

Quote:
The party's over and there's less and less to say
I got new eyes, everything looks far away
I don't know how conscious these connections are, but basically your lines just put me in mind of more interestingly phrased Dylan lines.

This kind of love – he sings –

I’m sick of it. And that is how the sky
sits on the world, how ocean laps the shore.
The young don’t get it. But the old, do they
then need reminding of the way the night

succeeds the day? Of how things fall apart,
till just the heart is left?

I don't quite understand how the way 'the sky sits on the world' and 'ocean (no 'the'?) laps the shore' follows on from the singer claiming to be sick of a particular kind of love. There's some sense of inevitability you seem to be getting at, but I can't work it out. It's delivered with such conviction, yet it just sounds like a big empty statement to me. Similarly, 'The young don't get it'. Don't get what? Something that you then question whether the old need reminding of, using 'night succeeds day' and 'things fall apart' as metaphors. A sense of their own mortality? I'm not convinced that's true, I think that shocking realisation of inevitable death that goes beyond words can hit at any age. If that's what you mean.

Along the bare
horizon goes Bob Dylan. Been laid low
so many times. Now, he is on his feet.

The ending feels a little corny, to me, with its movie poster image of Dylan on the horizon and the blues idiom of 'Been laid low'. Also, in what sense is he suddenly 'on his feet', other than as a way to wrap the poem up with an upbeat image. After the emotional 'holocaust' you describe the song as being, what has changed? Did I miss something? Is it as prosaic as the fact that this album was an unexpected hit?

I'm just not sure what the poem is saying, beyond ''Love Sick' is an atmospheric, doom-laden song'. But we have the song itself, and a whole industry of fawnimg, purple-prose writing music journalists, to tell us things like that. What new insight or perspective is the poem bringing?

Best

Mark
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  #16  
Unread 08-26-2019, 10:21 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Mark,

And thank you for stopping in. I see you don't much care for this poem, and you took some time to say so - generally when I don't much care for a posted poem, I just let it slide without remark, as you may have noticed. I tend to focus more on things I like. By and large, other readers seem to have enjoyed this piece more than you did - not by any means that you need to, of course! Your reaction is uniquely yours and quite right for being so. For my part, I'm happy to let this poem slide at this point - it's been sitting here for a week - but I will certainly bear in mind the comments you've made as I mull over the shape of this going forward, in hope that they bring me new insight and ways to improve it.

Best to you,
John
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  #17  
Unread 08-27-2019, 12:38 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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John,

Creating a little more mystery by not mentioning Dylan might be an effective way of meeting Mark’s last point. I think it undercuts your work, maybe since it's likely to elicit a comparison. Otherwise, I like the overall effect and especially the opening (having a very long-time obsession with the chthonian sources of Dionysian song.)
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  #18  
Unread 08-27-2019, 12:45 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Quote:
I see you don't much care for this poem, and you took some time to say so - generally when I don't much care for a posted poem, I just let it slide without remark as you may have noticed. I tend to focus more on things I like.
What point are you making here? That my crit was too detailed? That I shouldn't have posted it at all, because it was largely negative?

Quote:
By and large, other readers seem to have enjoyed this piece more than you did - not by any means that you need to, of course! Your reaction is uniquely yours and quite right for being so
John, you've only had four people's responses on this poem apart from mine, that's hardly a consensus. Of the 15 posts on this thread, 8 of them are yours. I thought you might be open to a different take.

Quote:
For my part, I'm happy to let this poem slide at this point - it's been sitting here for a week -
Be honest. Would you be saying that if I, or anyone else, had told you how wonderful it was?

Mark

Cross-posted with Ralph. OK, five people...
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  #19  
Unread 08-27-2019, 01:08 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I have to agree with Mark here, John, regarding your response to his post. It's a certain way to have a crappy workshop, if people can't make negative evaluations.

Your comment,

Quote:
generally when I don't much care for a posted poem, I just let it slide without remark, as you may have noticed. I tend to focus more on things I like
is a case in point. I've noticed a lot of that on these boards in recent months: people not saying anything if they don't like a poem. Sometimes, that's understandable, since it is time-consuming to explain not liking a poem. And it's useless, obviously, to say "I don't like it" without being specific. But a few times when I've had a paucity of comments on poems, I felt discouraged because I hadn't learned why people weren't liking them. There are ways to do that without being gratuitously nasty--and Mark's post did that. It's important for the integrity of the workshop.
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  #20  
Unread 08-27-2019, 02:44 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good evening Ralph, Mark, and Andrew,

And thank you for stopping by.
Ralph: glad you like it! Thank you.
Mark: "Be honest. Would you be saying that if I, or anyone else, had told you how wonderful it was?" Yes, I would. I tend to be honest, as best I can determine, and am being so here. The poem's had its time - a good solid week at this point - and I am happy for it to slide. I'm happy with where it's got to, it is considerably improved. I'm posting a new poem in a moment, as it happens.
Andrew: you are quite right. I should post more on poems I think fail, to explain why I think they have failed. I like to send out happy and encouraging vibes, within the limits of the possible. Perhaps that's the teacher in me. But it's good to encourage people to do better, as we see it. Then they can take it or leave it. OTOH, my aunt never said a rude word about anyone, in the fifty-plus years i knew her. If she had nothing positive to say, she was silent.

Cheers,
John
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