Eratosphere Forums - Metrical Poetry, Free Verse, Fiction, Art, Critique, Discussions Able Muse - a review of poetry, prose and art

Forum Left Top


Thread Tools Display Modes
Unread 03-06-2021, 06:28 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
Posts: 4,022
Default The Wag Man

The Wag Man

Spread like butter and crumbs, this field, this tent,
this lion's share of long

life's sticky afternoons, the darkness draped
as circus music swells

and though she might be late — a little late —
she hasn't missed a thing.

Quick! No coins! No gaps under the canvas,
then rain begins to spot

and a shape behind her grows, her face burns hot —
truant schoolgirl frozen,

fingers on her shoulder, sharp and firm,
shaking in her shoes.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 03-07-2021 at 09:50 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-07-2021, 01:24 AM
Ann Drysdale's Avatar
Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Old South Wales (UK)
Posts: 5,488

Ah, the child-catcher!
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-07-2021, 02:20 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
Posts: 4,022

Annie — Oh wow! I think I should say early, before people start a-googlin', that I wasn't consciously thinking of that scene or that film. Though now I can absolutely see why you would get there. Unconsciously, of course, who knows what's churning around?
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-07-2021, 11:34 AM
Coleman Glenn Coleman Glenn is online now
Join Date: Oct 2020
Location: Bryn Athyn, PA
Posts: 156


I like this. I like the way the poem captures a very precise, complex combination of emotional experiences: the mystery of the darkness inside the tent, the eager anticipation, the thrill of the illicit, the adrenaline and anxiety of looking for a way in, and the chill and horror of the truant officer’s hand. It’s packed full of big feelings, just as childhood is.

I am having some trouble with the syntax in L9-12 - I think it might flow better to have “her face burns hot” start a new sentence, something along these lines:

and a shape behind her grows. Her face burns hot —
she freezes, truant schoolgirl,

fingers on her shoulder, sharp and firm,
shaking in her shoes.

I’m not sure even about that - it still syntactically could say that the fingers shake in her shoes. I wonder if the last line could change altogether - the sense of fear is already present, so I wonder if there could be something a little more surprising than shaking in her shoes.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 01:46 AM
conny conny is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: UK
Posts: 1,843

too enigmatic for me. not knowing what a wag man is,
i'm rather lost. an epigram may help, or at least a couple
of hints at the beginning to set the scene more clearly.

and the butter and crumbs i like as a metaphor for something,
tho again i'm just not sure what it is. and long life also put
me in mind of someone elderly, though i'm not sure.

Last edited by conny; 03-08-2021 at 01:48 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 09:12 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,878

I am of the same mind as Dave. It remains out of my reach because of the cultural/language specificity, I think.

I also found the couplets to be a curious framework, though it might make more sense if I grasped the content better. Might you try two stanzas of six lines each? A more cohesive format?
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 11:00 AM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 6,920

Mark, I didn’t know what a wag man was, so I looked up “wag” in my dictionary. Here is what it says:

wag2 | waɡ |
1 a person who makes jokes; a joker: one wag shouted, ‘On that count you've got about three supporters!’.
2 Australian New Zealand informal a person who plays truant: Boogie plays the wag from school.
So now I know (a joker), which makes some aspects of this poem clearer. The metaphor of a field that is “spread like butter and crumbs” is interesting. But then “this tent” threw me a bit because the tent seems no longer part of the metaphor of the spread-out field. But maybe the tent, the (lion’s share of a long life’s) sticky afternoons, and the (draped) darkness are all components of that “field” of “crumbs” (and butter)? I’m not entirely sure.

At first I thought the girl was already inside the circus tent, but realized later (after reading Coleman’s comments) that she is outside the tent and not able to get in.

I wasn’t at first sure who the man clasping her shoulder was (a boyfriend) but (again because of Coleman’s astute observations) now I understand that it’s someone from her school who has followed her to take her back home or back to school (because she was playing hooky).

I love the alliteration in the last line of “shaking in her shoes.” There are also other alliterative spots, which I also like. The imagery is engaging. It was a bit tricky on the first read to figure out what was happening, but now it’s clearer. The poem moves along in a suspenseful and brisk pace.

“Quick! No coins” confused me at first, but now I believe it suggests that the girl didn’t have money to get into the tent to watch the show. But I’m still puzzled by “Quick!” I’m not quite sure what she is thinking or about to do at that point. The coins, on the other hand, are clearly about not being able to pay for admission.

Since she doesn’t have the money, she thinks of crawling under the tent, but there are no gaps.

“Long life(’s)” puzzled me. I can picture the sticky afternoons, but why “long life”? Maybe just “long / sticky afternoons”? Or some other adjective between “long” and “sticky”?

I like the visual, aural (circus music swelling), and tactile (sticky afternoons) images.

These were my initial impressions. I may be back with more thoughts.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 11:20 AM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
Join Date: May 2020
Location: England
Posts: 306

I had no idea what "wag man" meant, but then again I am a bit too young for that terminology in terms of schooling, I suppose. A quick google search told me that it was a slightly archaic term for a truancy officer. (I'm quite surprised others haven't tried this method; the phrase wag man in a google search instantly returns results.)
Understanding the term the poem seemed clear.
I am not sure your stanzas are doing you any good, Mark. The problem with couplets (and I, too, love these slow-blossoming flowers of words on page) is that with all the stanza breaks a lot of dramatic tension that a new stanza can bring is lost. So here, the revelation of the officer behind the girl is not as revelatory as it could be, if, say, it was placed at a sudden stanza break that hadn't been used before.
Reading it, I think there are passages that are supposed to be comic. I think particularly the late — a little late — / yet not late enough in terms of out-of-school life experience (at the circus!) was clever. Still, the comedy to me is a little overshadowed by the lyricism's equipage, in that I can read this with very little sense of wry humour because the opening passages though quite tactile, are very much high lyric. I think there might be a happy medium.

The final clauses are quite confusing. I truly do not think it is too pedantic to say that a reader can actually become fixated on the idea of the officer's fingers shivering in the girl's shoes. Though, of course, that is quite an act of comedy. Still, you might want to do something about it.

I enjoyed reading this, Mark. Once the light was shed, the poem was illuminated.

Hope this helps.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 12:33 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 6,920

OK, now that I know that a wag man is a truancy officer, the poem jells a lot more for me. But that dangling participle in the last couplet (which I forgot to mention earlier) is a bit wacky.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-08-2021, 12:42 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
Join Date: Jun 2014
Location: Ellan Vannin
Posts: 2,199

Hi Mark - I hate to be part of a chorus of disapproval, but this is not really disapproval - more a "could do better".

And I'd like to see that. It's a great subject, and I'd love to see you take another run at it.

Four little pointers for you, if that's okay:

- I don't think the opening simile works - or at least it doesn't work for me;

- I can't make much of "this lion's share of long / life's sticky afternoons", so that might need elucidation (or I might need kicking);

- I don't find the little bit of internal narrative (if that is what it is) in L7 convincing; and

- I'm finding it quite hard to sort out the sense of the last two stanzas. I think you may have gone for compression at the expense of clarity. A tricky trade-off, I know.

Wow. How negative is that? Not depressingly so, I hope. I'm hoping for bracingly (and helpfully).


Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Forum Right Top
Forum Left Bottom Forum Right Bottom
Right Left
Member Login
Forgot password?
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Statistics:
Forum Members: 8,155
Total Threads: 20,477
Total Posts: 260,128
There are 169 users
currently browsing forums.
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Sponsor:
Donate & Support Able Muse / Eratosphere
Forum LeftForum Right
Right Right
Right Bottom Left Right Bottom Right

Hosted by ApplauZ Online