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Old 06-02-2001, 11:50 AM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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Hello Alicia,

I'm so glad you're Tim's guest here. A few weeks ago I was hit by (what seemed to be) an insight into your poem "Persephone Writes a Letter to Her Mother" (which was one of my favorites in _Archaic Smile_), and this gives me the opportunity to have you comment on the poem. Of course, if I'm right, it's probably something that anyone with half a brain would get right away -- I tend to be very literal-minded (something you have said about yourself, but I am LITERALLY literal-minded).

I was thinking about letters to the dead and it struck me that although this poem is on the surface a letter FROM the kingdom of the dead, it might be understood as a letter to the dead, but with a twist. I mean that Hades in the poem isn't death, but rather grief, and that the dead person is not Persephone, but her mother. Or maybe that's not the way to say it -- better to say that the poet is trying to understand the absolute unreachability (but paradoxical closeness) of the dead and the nature of grief by imaginatively switching places with the dead.
(Of course, Persephone is eventually released for 6 months out of every year, but I take it this doesn't enter into your poem.)

This hypothesis fits well with the first line "First--hell is not so far underground". Also, I think it fits with the portrayal of the dead -- the living often seem as silly to the grieving. ("They pester you like children for the wrong details--/How long were his fingernails, did she wear shoes" -- one of my favorite bits, by the way -- wonderful comic relief.)
My hypothesis also fits with the very moving final paragraph
(the futility of writing the letter combined with the need to write it anyway, even though the writing is painful).

Well, anyway, I don't care whether I'm right or wrong (or whether it's too obvious to mention) but I am curious just how you got the idea for this poem and how it developed, and I hope I can provoke you into saying something about that.
--Chris
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Old 06-04-2001, 12:32 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Hello Chris,

Thanks for such a thoughtful and in-depth question(s), and for your kind words about the poem. I am glad it struck some sort of chord.

To a certain extent, the stimulus of the poem lies in its companion piece ("Hades Welcomes His Bride") which was written four or five years previous. But I had not really got the whole thing out of my system. And I don't know that I have yet. ("The Dogdom of the Dead" is also related--it takes a line from the Persephone poem and riffs on it.) And it just now occurs to me that some of the details may result from the fact that at the time I was living in a dark basement apartment, and was in fact just below the earth myself...

Yes, you are right, my Persephone doesn't ever leave hell--and as a result there are no changes of the seasons. (I am comfortable taking pretty big liberties with myths!) But she is sometimes depicted as being the Queen of the Dead, and as such, I don't really see her as executing her royal duties only part time. Many of the observations you make about the poem seem right to me, though I am not sure I could have articulated any of it myself. The poem does seem to be about grief, with Persephone as grieving rather than grieved for, and about the absolute break between the world of the living and the dead (even the letter rots, and can communicate nothing). Although truthfully I cannot claim to have had any of that in my conscious mind while composing it.

I may have to mull over this...

Alicia

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Old 06-04-2001, 01:44 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Alicia, I know you have been much praised for th Persephone and Hades poems, but Dogdom of the Dead is far the best poem of the three, and I wonder if it isn't the most recent of those efforts.
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Old 06-05-2001, 01:35 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Tim,

Yes, "Dogdom" is the most recent of that batch... though several years old itself. It does not seem to have the appeal of the persona poems to most people, but I remain rather fond of it, and am happy to hear of its relative merit.
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Old 06-05-2001, 10:10 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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Thank you Alicia for your answer to my question -- I have to admit I was partly fishing for the kind of autobiographical detail you offer about the basement apartment. I know how beside-the-point such facts are, but I have to admit to finding them fascinating. Writers sometimes scoff at the question "where do you get your ideas?" -- and in that general form, it's impossible to answer and sounds silly (as if there were a particular cupboard you went to when you needed one).
But it really is interesting (to me anyway) to hear where the idea for a particular poem came from -- or how the poet got the idea to turn this experience into a poem (for example, when (if?) you saw a large bird of prey catch a squirrel, did you instantly know you wanted to write a poem about it?).
I think I only get one question (the one I already asked), but maybe I can get someone else (as unsophisticated as I am) to ask this question for me:
Do your ideas usually come to you in some particular way (a voice speaking a line or an image or....?) -- or is there no generalization you can make?
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Old 06-08-2001, 01:00 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Chris,

Ask away!

As probably with you, my ideas come in different ways. Sometimes it is a connection my mind has made with two unlikely things. Or it may be an image or startling event. But the first line, as you point out, is vital. Without that, I cannot get into the poem. The first line tells me a lot, the voice, something about the form. And the first stanza, if it is stanzaic, usually sets the form as well. I tend to discover that as I go along, and reinforce patterns as I notice them. While I do a lot of tinkering in the first few days of a poem, I don't really re-write. If the poem isn't working, it is usually the choice of form. So I toss it on the compost heap. But if it is a good idea (or a persistent one), it comes back in another form. I probably write relatively quickly once I am writing, but the kernel of the piece may have appeared in any number of failed incarnations for a period of years.


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