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Old 08-20-2018, 08:09 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Default Part II of a Diptych

Revision 2

Ekphrastic (II)
.....College Library Desk Lamp

Two black plastic ethernet outlets,
flanked by upside-down grounded plugs

stare out empty and neglected
from their stainless-steel base.

From the center of this plinth
a gleaming column rises

armlike and maintains its radius
until near its end it halves it

holding like a torch two lights on a pole
softly curving almost to a figure-eight.

But it isn’t happy just holding the light.
It reaches up farther,

grasping a white plastic shade
that shields us from squinting

rolling over like a mushroom—or rather
like a bald scalp held up for show

by that stainless steel, steel that pries
open the mouths of those electric sentries

wondering up at it with the efficient
indifference of its standing.




Revision 1
Ekphrastic (II)
.....College Library Desk Lamp

Two black plastic ethernet outlets,
flanked by upside-down grounded plugs

(eastern angels exercising lightning
back to back with western rivals),

stair out empty and useless from
their stainless-steel base.

From the center of this plinth
a gleaming column, almost an arm,

rises and maintains its radius
until near its end it halves it

holding like a torch two lights on a pole
softly curving almost to a figure-eight.

But it isn’t happy just holding the light.
It reaches up farther,

grasping a white plastic shade
that shields us from squinting

rolling over like a mushroom—
No, like a bald scalp held up for show

by that stainless steel, a steel that keeps
the mouths of all the electric sentries

that wonder up at it agape
at the efficient cruelty of its standing.

Original
Ekphrastic (II)
.....College Library Desk Lamp

Two black plastic ethernet outlets
between two upside-down grounded plugs

facing north with matching sisters facing south
on a stainless-steel base almost

an ice-cream sandwich
if such sandwiches showed their screws

and from the center of this plinth
a gleaming column like an arm

raises and maintains its radius
until near its end it halves it

holding like a torch two lights on a pole
softly curving almost to a figure-eight

but it isn’t happy just holding the light
it reaches a bit farther

grasping a white plastic shade
that shields us from squinting

rolling over like a mushroom—
No, like a bald scalp held up for show

by that stainless-steel, a steel that keeps
the mouths of all four plugs

that wonder up at it agape
at the efficient cruelty of its standing.

***

L8: "almost" --> "like"

Last edited by Andrew Szilvasy; 08-27-2018 at 10:29 AM.
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Old 08-20-2018, 08:10 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Part I is here: "Ekphrastic (I): Sarcophagus Depicting a Battle between Soldiers and Amazons"
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Old 08-20-2018, 10:00 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Andrew,

I quite like this. It does a good job of describing an object. I'd write "stainless-steel" without the hyphen, since I think it's not an adjectival phrase.

Cheers,
John
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Old 08-20-2018, 11:18 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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[Editing back in to add that I haven't looked at Part I of this, so my crit is literally one-sided.]

Andrew,

I really enjoy this sort of focusing-in on an object. Francis Ponge comes to mind, a wonderful poet.

I’ve written a few in this mode myself, but it has been a while. The trick I think is walking a tightwire between straight description and personification/analogy. Check out Ponge’s “Crate.” In that one, naturalistic description dominates, personification comes in only briefly toward the end. I don’t think it’s one of his more memorable pieces, and partly because it lacks surprise and remains merely naturalistic. Compare, e.g., the opening of “L’Allumette”/“The Match”:

The fire made one body with the match,
A living body wiht gestures, exaltation, a short life.
The gasses emanating from it flamed up, gave it wings and dresses, a body even: a moving, pitiful form . . .
It was brief.


I think much of your poem leans too heavily in the straight-description direction. It’s not until line 11 that something transformative and imaginative comes in. But that could be adjusted easily enough. You have an opportunity in line 3, e.g., where instead of facing north and south, which is incidental and uninteresting, the plugs could be back-to-back like they’re about to square off for a duel. That communicates both oppositeness and pent-up energy, which fits the electrical image.

I give this only as an example, obviously. It's your poem and your vision.

The poem really comes into its own, imo, with the image at the end of the plastic shade, culminating in the catchy personification of the mouths of the four plugs agape at its standing. That gives the object both its objectivity and its otherness, which is what Ponge aimed for.

Nothing against the naturalistic bits--they're a necessary straight-man foil to the zany stuff, and they establish the fiction of empiricism which is at the heart of the object poem.

Best with it,

Andrew

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 08-20-2018 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 08-21-2018, 04:27 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Andrew, I pretty much agree with Andrew F. (I've never seen ice cream sandwiches used successfully in a poem before so good try on that one.) I spend too much of this poem trying to follow the step by step image construction instructions. I don't enjoy ekphrastic poems that essentially redescribe the image I'm looking at, or not looking at, with an incidental attempt to turn it into something else, such as an ice cream sandwich.

Truth is, I still can't picture it. The last third or so opens up a bit. I like the "white plastic shade" too but it is so interwoven to what comes before to do much with as it is now without radically changing the poem? And you compare it to a bald head.

If you could back away from the need to precisely describe, drop an image if you want, and then jam a little more on the chords on top of the chords on top of the chords, you will be using this ekphrastic in a more interesting way. We have our ideas for ourselves, but if I may share my general idea about ekphrastic poems: If the image doesn't trip your senses so you leave the need to describe so diligently--so it isn't sort of like trying to tell a spouse what you want off the basement shelf--don't use that image. IMO, the image should give rise to its own poem that will be more impressionistic than descriptive. I think that's what Keat's did with his urn and what Ponge does to a lesser extent with his fruit crate. (Though I admit I never knew the crates were slatted that way because the fruit needs constant sunlight.)

Why do you have the two "its" on each side of "halves" in L10?

I would never use "agape" ever again in a poem and would remove it from this one.

I don't find the "efficient cruelty"--Nazi?--convincing.

The poem simply never leaves a realistic-type description and the attempts to set it to flight aren't yet working.

All one fat guy's opinion.

John
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Old 08-24-2018, 09:30 AM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Andrew, I basically agree with Andrew F. and John R. I won't repeat their points at length, just quickly endorse them.

The one thing I'll add is that, while I respect the choice to go for a single long, unpunctuated sentence for the first 17 lines, its effect on me is exhaustion. Part of why I have trouble visualizing it is that, before I get a chance to imagine what I'm seeing, the onward drive of the poems has carried me past it, to the next line. For a poem where visualizing what it describes is so essential, that's a real barrier for me. I don't know if this hangup is peculiar to me or not, though, so I don't know how much you should worry about it.
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Old 08-24-2018, 09:44 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Hi all,

I have a revision up that tries to address some of the concerns (and Aaron, I didn't revise with you in mind, as we sort of cross-posted, but I did try to deal with the syntax to give breaks for pretty much exactly the reason you noted).

John I.: I'm glad you like it. Thanks for bringing up stainless steel: in the first use I need it, in the second one I don't. That's fixed now.

Andrew: I appreciate your comments (and the Ponge, who I know exclusively through his prose poetry in a lovely little collection that also includes Jacob and Follain Dreaming the Miracle). I tried to take your advice, and make the descriptions a bit less, uh, mechanical.

John R.: Thank you for your feedback. I used it and cut the ice-cream sandwich, and tried to make the straight description a little less straight.

the column (it) halves the radius (it)

What's wrong with "agape"?

The ending does not need to be "Nazi-esque." By the time I came to the end I was more meditating on stainless-steel efficiency in general, though I am aware that the language can conjure up the Reich. I hoped, though, that pairing it with the other poem might make it reach beyond that in a number of ways.

Aaron: As I said, I addressed your comment there without really knowing I did. Thanks for reconfirming the initial issues, though, because it makes it clearer to me that I was correct in addressing them.
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Old 08-24-2018, 12:30 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Hi Andrew, this is definitely improved in pacing. I especially like S4-S6 and S10-S12, which are the emotional core of the poem. The other two sets of three stanzas have more of the feel of set-up, which is ok, though they're places to look to see if you can make them do more for you. Some specific suggestions below:

S2L1: I think you can find a better word than "exercising", which I find somewhat opaque in meaning, and which makes the line a mouthful.

S2L2: no comma at the end of this line (remove the parenthetical w/o removing the comma and you'll see the issue)

S2: In general, I don't really care for this stanza. I think it disrupts the poem in two ways. First, as a parenthetical, it's a quite dramatic grammatical intervention—very loud. Second, S1 and S3 express a unified thought that S2 interrupts, somewhat obnoxiously to my mind. And, if I think about the content, what does it add to the poem? The two outlets you mention in S1 give me enough to motivate the poem's close—adding in the rivals here complicates things without apparent gain. If I imagine the poem without this stanza, I like it (the poem) more.

S3L1: stair --> stare.

S3L1: Why "useless"? That suggests that they don't work (how does the N know? -- in any event it takes us out of the poem's visual register). But aren't they simply "unused"? Or is it the thought that they're useless b/c out of date: we just use wi-fi now? (There are still uses for ethernet, though.) Either way, I don't think "useless" is the best word here.

S4L2, S6L2: You use "almost" in both of these lines. One of them should go.

S7: I want this stanza to do more. You suggest dissatisfaction but don't give me enough to go on to quite fully believe it. Also, the inequality in length between the two lines is really felt. I think this stanza is important (in a way I don't think S2 is important), but I think you can do what it's doing in a more compelling way.

S11L1: "a" is filler. "by that stainless steel, steel that keeps" is better. Also, "keeps" is maybe not the best verb. "holds", maybe? Look into other options here.

S12L2: Like John R., I'm not totally motivated by "efficient cruelty". In particular it doesn't relate productively, in my mind, to the dissatisfaction expressed in L7. I want the poem to close in a way that connects those two crucial stanzas so as to generate an insight from the image. The connection between them needs to be tight, and I don't think it's there yet.
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Old 08-27-2018, 10:29 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Aaron,

Thanks for your thoughts here. A revision is up based on it.
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