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  #11  
Old 11-18-2018, 11:32 AM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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Erik,

[lot to appreciate] --Thank you!

[need a comma] dammit! You're right.
[start ‘sweeping’ not ‘when,’] I thought about this and came down on the side of being anal-retentive about the meter. Not to good effect, in retrospect, I think.

[‘What’s not to love?’... selfsame...] - Thank you again!!

[‘what’s not, you love.’][‘The work is less’] Yeah. Gonna kill the former to give room to improve the latter. The parallelism just. Crap. Cutting room floor...
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  #12  
Old 11-18-2018, 11:46 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Daniel,

Well, this is a poem that has some lovely moments and some parts that need a little attention, I think. 'The day is silver, very, very cold, / and dry' stands out as an absolutely gorgeous sentence. The words and music shimmer so delicately here and the N is nowhere to be seen.

I wondered why the comfort was 'hard to face', whether the N feels guilty for feeling comfort. But I like the way I'm made to wonder there.

I'm not keen on 'What's not to love?' Maybe it's just one of those phrases that irritates me a little in real life, but it seems oddly jarring here in its flippancy. Many other options are available with the same rhyme word (another option is to ignore my objection of course!)

After the 'day is silver' line the poem seems to stumble.

xxxxxxxxxWhat's not, you love. The work is less;
but warmth and light are gone. What windows hold
reveal as much as they reflect


'What's not, you love.' is trying to do too much exposition in four words, but also trying to conceal, and as a result is both confusing and strained. Also, do you need a semi-colon after less, rather than just a comma? I feel like these lines need smoothing out to something simpler, like

And though it's true the work is less,
the warmth and light are gone.


but better than that. And your own.

The line 'What windows hold / reveal as much as they reflect' threw me in a few ways. Should 'reveal' be 'reveals'? I take 'hold' here to mean what they 'frame' of the outside world and the line's meaning to be 'what we see through windows shows as much as they reflect'. But this is just what windows are supposed to do, isn't it? It would make sense as an interesting observation only if the ideas were reversed: (what windows reflect reveals as much as they show). Unless I've misunderstood 'hold'. But I do wonder if there's a little bit of rhyming expediency here and that the idea could be expressed with more clarity somehow.

If you want eyes rather than eyebrows what about 'the empty eyes that stare straight back at you'

Is there no way to get this fire going...
...again?


Are the ellipses to add significance to 'again'? It feels a little melodramatic.

I like how 'The empty nest' is both the house and the tangled sticks above the swing. 'Empty nest' for me specifically suggests a child has grown up and left home. Is this what you want? Or perhaps 'empty nest syndrome' is more a UK thing.

I like the couplet, but I'm not keen on ending with another question. I'm not sure why; it just feels like one question too many. Have you considered something like

you finish wiping ashes from your fireplace,
but miss the speck of ash that's on your face.


I do like this in general, Daniel (honest!) but feel like too many ideas are crammed in, and maybe a reluctance to state the obvious (is the poem about a child or a partner who has left? Or both..I'm thinking of the story you told Sam) which leads you instead to lots of hinting at it. Could these lines

a comfort hard to face:
complete and clean and clear. What's not to love?


do this instead? Like 'You haven't seen her face / since...dum de dum de dum'

Maybe?

Edit: Cross-posted with about three posts! Ha

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 11-18-2018 at 07:19 PM.
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  #13  
Old 11-18-2018, 07:16 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Daniel,

So, the N is father -- "bushy eyebrows" suggests male -- whose children have grown and left home, hence the "empty nest" and garden swing accumulating twigs. Cleaning the fireplace is satisfying but also a painful reminder of their absence. He's lighting a fire that won't be shared -- or more metaphorically, he's trying to rekindle the light and warmth the children's presence brought. The lack of mention of a wife/partner suggests to me he is alone and perhaps the empty nest extends to her as well. I find a fair bit to like here, and also have a few nits.

So firstly, I think the POV could be clearer. A problem with "you" as the addressee is that can be a form of self-address, or of other address (singular or plural), or function like "one", as general "you". It's not really pinned down until L13, I think, which makes things ambiguous for a large stretch of the poem.

I think a similar issue arises areas for other parts of the poem. I don't really know that this is about an empty nest until the end, and so the word-play/double meanings in the first half of the poem, such as "complete and clean and clear" and "what's not to love?" don't make sense until I do -- or that that the wedged twigs are birds nest not kindling for the fire wedged there by the N, say. Maybe this would be less of an issue if the POV was clearer, and the poem doesn't have to yield all on the first read, but as is, it feels like the reader is being asked to keep a lot of balls in the air.

When sweeping ashes from your fireplace
it's true there is the satisfaction of
a job well done, a comfort hard to face:

Should there be a comma after "fireplace"? "When sweeping" uses the present continuous. During the process of sweeping ... But we're told that this brings with it the satisfaction of "a job well done", which would seem to a satisfaction that you'd only get when the job was in fact done, rather than before. One option would be drop the continuous form, and have either of:

When you sweep ashes from your fireplace
When you've swept the ashes from your fireplace

As I said above, there's the issue of establishing the POV. As the poem's opening stands, it reads to me rather like the N is making a general statement ("when one is sweeping ..."), something that should include me, the reader, but in fact doesn't. Or perhaps the N is cleaning somebody else's fireplace, an elderly parent's say (I can read it this way until L13, I think). I guess one way to go might be to switch the poem to first person, e.g.: "When I sweep ashes from the fireplace"

complete and clean and clear. What's not to love?

On first read I couldn't tell why "complete and clean and clear" clarifies "a comfort hard to face" as the colon indicates it does. On my second read, I can see the double meaning, and I like the wordplay here: this applies both to the clean fireplace and to the children: the children are complete (finished, grown, job done), clean away and gone clear. "What's not to love?" is also doing double duty, I think. First as a sarcastic statement (there clearly are things not to love), and secondly, I think, referring to the children who are not (there) to love.

The day is silver, very, very cold,
and dry. What's not, you love. The work is less;


"What's not, you love" seems to serve the same purpose as "What's not to love?" --- You love what's not there (the children) -- so may be a little redundant. Although, this version does make it sound a bit like they're dead: "What is not" - what doesn't exist. The work in general is less because no kids to look after and perhaps also there's less fireplace cleaning?

but warmth and light are gone. What windows hold

A reference to the fireplace and the absent family both.

reveal as much as they reflect: the mess
of tangled sticks that's wedged above the swing,
the bushy eyebrows staring back at you.


I can't quite picture how the twigs he sees outside are "wedged above the swing" -- wedged between the top of the swing and what? I wasn't sure what were at first, thinking maybe he'd wedged them there to use as kindling. Or maybe they'd naturally accumulated. Now I see it as an empty birds nest, I think, but then 'sticks' rather than 'twigs' seems odd? Whatever it is, we see the swing's not being used. I do like the way the bushy eyebrows visually echo the tangled twigs, and tell us the N is old and male.

Is there no way to get this fire going...
...again? The empty nest, the rattling flue:


Just to be a punctuation pedant, ellipses indicate absent words rather than pauses. You might use an em-dash after "going", or simply use no punctuation -- the line-break is delaying "again" anyway. As others have said, the "swing"/"going" rhyme could be stronger. How about:

Is there no way to get this fire to sing

if you're happy with 'fire' as one syllable; 'sing' might indicate the joy and happiness he's missing.

The "empty nest" is the big clue in the poem. I assume there's a literal empty nest -- and this is in fact what the mess of sticks on the swing is. The "rattling" of flue also signifies emptiness. What I'm not clear on is what ties them together in this line at the non-figurative level.

you finish wiping ashes from your fireplace,
but did you get the ash that's on your face?

The ash on his face symbolises mourning (sackcloth and ashes), and that's not so easily cleaned as the fireplace.

There's something about the close that isn't quite doing it for me, but I'm not sure what. It might be in part because the primary stress falls on the first syllable of "fireplace" and this slightly undermines the rhyme and so doesn't give the last line the finality it might have. Also it reads a bit like: did you forget to wipe away your grief? As if it were an issue of absentmindedness rather than impossibility. Maybe "But can you clean the ash that's on your face?". Would it be better as statement than a question? Something like "but you can't clean the ash that's on your face", say? I also wonder why the face specifically (except for the rhyme). If it's an Ash Wednesday reference, I think ash on the forehead is a sign of penitence rather than mourning. EDIT: ah, just thought of "ashen-faced".

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 11-19-2018 at 08:41 AM.
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  #14  
Old 11-18-2018, 07:33 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Daniel,

You've got a sonnet here when it would be better if it were not one. The act of attention to sweeping the fireplace is enough.

At the very least I'd prefer it without the last two lines--though, of course, losing entirely the ashes on the face takes away the Ash Wednesday resonances. Still, I think there's enough here or there you can trim away to have it there not so on the nose.

Looking quickly, I think the bolded areas don't bring enough, and would allow you to tighten it.
When sweeping ashes from your fireplace
it's true there is the satisfaction of
a job well done, a comfort hard to face:
complete and clean and clear. What's not to love?
The day is silver, very, very cold,
and dry. What's not, you love. The work is less;
but warmth and light are gone. What windows hold
reveal as much as they reflect: the mess
of tangled sticks that's wedged above the swing,
the bushy eyebrows staring back at you.
Is there no way to get this fire going...
...again? The empty nest, the rattling flue:

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  #15  
Old 11-18-2018, 09:16 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
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Daniel - For the penultimate line, may I suggest:

You’ve wiped the ashes from your fireplace,
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  #16  
Old 11-22-2018, 06:27 AM
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Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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so much to say for all these incredible thoughts and crits- and I will as soon as I'm not travelling and have stable access again. revision composed offline over these days now posted.
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