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  #1  
Old 05-01-2002, 03:31 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I am delighted with the comments on Sam's Shakespearian Sonnet. All thirteen of the forthcoming sonnet threads will remain open for the duration of Master Davis' Lariatship. Alicia Stallings has written an elegant sonnet in which her love for bats becomes a trope for poetry--which is never even mentioned! Duh! That's why it is elegant. Here is our second entry in the the Great Dick Davis Sonnet Bake-off:

Explaining an Affinity for Bats


That they are only glimpsed in silhouette,
And seem something else at first—a swallow—
And move like new tunes, difficult to follow,
Staggering towards an obstacle they yet
Avoid in a last-minute pirouette,
Somehow telling solid things from hollow,
Sounding out how high a space, or shallow,
Revising into deepening violet.

That they sing—not the way the songbird sings
(Whose song is rote, to ornament, finesse)—
But travel by a sort of song that rings
True not in utterance, but harkenings,
Who find their way by calling into darkness
To hear their voice bounce off the shape of things.
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  #2  
Old 05-01-2002, 04:35 PM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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This Italian sonnet is absolutely lovely.
There's so much to say about it, but I don't want to hog all the comment, so I'll just mention the elegant, imaginative rhyme scheme that, along with the loose metre, somehow teases the stresses in a way that enhances the flowing magic of the words.

"Who find their way by calling into darkness
To hear their voice bounce off the shape of things"
--that's it exactly.

Regards,
David
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  #3  
Old 05-01-2002, 04:51 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I think Alicia Stallings is one of the best poets writing in English today, and I was bowled over by her reading here in NYC a few weeks ago. But this particular sonnet, I think, is nowhere near her strongest work, and though it's been published already, and no doubt celebrated and admired, it seems to me more like a very good draft on its way to becoming a truly excellent and exceptionally wonderful poem. I'll be ridiculously presumptuous and try to identify areas where I think more mastery is called for. I'm certain, in advance, that my views won't represent the consensus, but they may provide a detail or two for people to discuss. And despite everything I write below, I do ultimately admire this sonnet a great deal and I find a great deal of room in my heart for unapologetic envy.

(Please forgive me if these comments go against the spirit of the exercise, but I'm presuming that we are not all required to start with the presumption that the work under consideration is already perfect, and then account for it, but we may also point out any problems or issues that we might encounter).


That they are only glimpsed in silhouette,

I'm not sure that this is factually correct. I've seen bats (not often) and they are not only glimpsed in silhouette. Many people have gotten quite a good look at them. Roethke, I believe, described them as mice with wings that wear a human face. That's always been my mental image of them, as well.

And perhaps the "only" is misplaced here to modify "glimpsed" instead of "silhouette."


And seem something else at first—a swallow—

I'm also not sure I agree that they seem, at first, like swallows. I also hesitate a bit over the singular "a swallow" when we were talking about "they," plural. The resort to the singular seems rhyme-driven, as does (perhaps) the whole introduction of the "swallow" comparison. Though I note that it was smart to introduce this questionable rhyme first rather than fourth, where it would have seemed more suspicious.

And move like new tunes, difficult to follow,
Staggering towards an obstacle they yet
Avoid in a last-minute pirouette,


We're back to the plural, "tunes," I see. I like the "new tunes, difficult to follow," but I have some problem with saying they move like new tunes, since in the case of the bats we are speaking of their physical movement and in the case of the music we are using the word "move" in a very different, more figurative way. This kind of syllepsis, I think, doesn't work.

Also, the comma after "follow" seems to suggest that the subsequent words are by way of amplifying and developing the "new tunes" metaphor, yet it's not a characteristic of "new tunes" that they "stagger[] towards an obstacle they yet avoid." To the extent the sentence can be read to say they move like "new tunes...staggering toward an obstacle they....avoid...in a...pirouette," it doesn't make much sense. The metaphors are getting a bit mixed, it seems to me.

And "pirouette" seems so graceful, being a ballet term, so I'm not sure how well it weds to the concept of "staggering." Maybe instead of "staggering" there should be some other dance term?

Somehow telling solid things from hollow,
Sounding out how high a space, or shallow,
Revising into deepening violet.


The "somehow" is disingenuous, since the poem reflects the poet's knowledge about how it is done with sonar-like capabilities.

Also, once again we still seem to be fleshing out the "new tunes" metaphor that these lines share a sentence with, yet the capacity to tell solid things from hollow, or to sound out spaces, has nothing to do with the fact that they move like new tunes, difficult to follow.

I don't understand "Revising into deepening violet." Why violet, for one thing? And what's being revised? And why is the violet deepening?

That they sing—not the way the songbird sings
(Whose song is rote, to ornament, finesse)—


Actually, don't songbirds sing to stake out their territories and to communicate with potential mates? (The same reason lots of us sing!). I'm not sure it's fair or true to say that birds sing to ornament or finesse.

But travel by a sort of song that rings
True not in utterance, but harkenings,


That's a great enjambment. I would think there could be better syllables filling the spot that "a sort of" now occupies. Something like "a hopeful song" –though more interesting- might be worth considering. I'm also a bit troubled by the plural "harkenings," since the singular would work just fine and the plural seems to be rhyme-driven.

I think there's some confusion with the syntax here. Shouldn't the sentence make sense even if we removed the stuff between the dashes? But it doesn't. It becomes "That they sing...but travel by a sort of song...."

Who find their way by calling into darkness
To hear their voice bounce off the shape of things.


The metaphorical impact of this final couplet is fabulous, and what Tim said about the poem being a trope for poetry is obviously true.

I'm bothered a bit by the "Who" —grammatically, where is this coming from? It's part of a sentence in which "they sing" and "travel," so why can't they also just "find"? Why "Who find"?

I also note that the couplet is speaking of "they" but "voice" is singular, as is "way," which would suggest that there is just one voice and just one way. I think this is good, because it more or less subtly moves the final couplet toward some sort of universal utterance which allows the reader to respond to it as a metaphor or trope for poetry.

I would prefer another word than "darkness," though. It's not an exact rhyme with "finesse" since the "ness" is a hypermetric extra (unstressed) syllable.

Well, I'd better stop now. I'm actually embarrassed to have found fault with this poem, since it will only reflect poorly on myself and not Alicia. In my own defense, I repeat that I am a huge fan of Alicia and think she is definitely one of the finest poets out there.


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  #4  
Old 05-01-2002, 05:57 PM
Chris O'Carroll Chris O'Carroll is offline
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Those last four lines will be echoing around the interior topography of my heart for a long time. (Even if what immediately precedes them fills me with the urge to leap to the defense of songbirds.)

By my laissez faire standards, finesse/darkness doesn't even begin to stick a thumb in the eye of the strict rhyme mullahs. And I love the way the occasional jitteriness of the meter replicates a bat's flight rhythms.

I'll admit that I don't get the final line of the octave, but apart from that, this is an unalloyed delight.
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  #5  
Old 05-01-2002, 06:28 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I have stood outside the bat exit at the Carlsbad Caverns half an hour after sunset, and I have no difficulty understanding Alicia's eighth line. I agree with Chris on the magic of the last four lines, and with David Anthony, a sonneteer from we shall hear this week, on the merits of the whole. Timothy
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Old 05-01-2002, 06:56 PM
Robt_Ward Robt_Ward is offline
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I lived for 4 years at the edge of Wildcat Canyon in the Carmel Highlands, and countless times watched the bats emerge, silhouetted against the twilight sky. For the first couple weeks I thought they were swallows, until I was told otherwise by a neighbor. So I always have this memory of the bird-that-was-a-mammal.

And "glimpsed in silhouette" seems exactly right to me, I could only see them because they were drawn dark against that slightly paler, violet western sky.

So Alicia has it precisely right as far as I am concerned, as an erstwhile watcher of bats for 4 years.

(robt)
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  #7  
Old 05-01-2002, 06:59 PM
RCrawford RCrawford is offline
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I love that last line. But, I feel kind of silly posting comments on a poem like this. Thanks for posting it so I could read it. That's all I can rightly say.

--Robert Crawford
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  #8  
Old 05-02-2002, 12:12 AM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
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Tim, not to appreciate this is not to recognise the sonnet at its most elegant.

Anybody who has ever fished a river by night, will see against the fast fading light of a sun that's just set, the silhouettes of bats, and only by their graceful pirouettes atop the water does one realise that they are not swallows.

Alicia got this one right, that's why she's Alicia. I thrilled to every syllable.
Thank you.

Jim



[This message has been edited by Jim Hayes (edited May 02, 2002).]
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  #9  
Old 05-02-2002, 04:28 AM
Solan Solan is offline
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I am more with Roger than with the rest here: If we are to see why good poetry is good, we should try to crit it. We should not merely state our approval, since such practice makes us mere echoes of the less critical poetry boards' cries of "Oooh! Definately know what you mean! I've felt the same! Love you're piece!" - only at a higher level of poetry.

Sure, the poem is great. But aren't we here to ask why? - and also to point out what might have prevented it from being even greater? Isn't that the reason Dick Davis was invited?

So, let's toss our crits and nits at batsman Davis, and see how we fare. Mine:

The poem uses the rather generic "things" twice, in L6 and in L14. This disturbed me.

And like Roger, I didn't understand L8.

------------------

Svein Olav
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  #10  
Old 05-02-2002, 05:28 AM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
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Hi Svein, violet is at the further end of the spectrum to red. As the sky darkens at night a shading of violet is produced by the red of the setting sun tinged with the dwindling remnants of the blue sky.

I think it is a good thing also to ask of things you do not understand, but not to accept any line of a poem by a master as having merit is rather too severe a critique to be wholley valid and smacks of posturing.

Jim

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