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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Cup of Water Turns Into a Rose (excerpt) by Lawrence Raab -- Poetry Daily, 2/20/13

from A Cup of Water Turns Into a Rose (Adastra Press)
poem found here
 

first lines:
On the radio a choir was singing
"I want to be a crocus"

 

line breaks and poetic structure

-- reformatted, with some editing 12/10/2013
 

First off, a note on my choice of texts: I will generally avoid commenting on fragments (unless, as here, my point has only to do with some small detail within the fragment) and with translations (since I rather want to avoid the (weak but bothersome) defense, "well, that is how the original goes"). Both situations carry a context that usually makes explorations too problematic to be worth the while. Though, with the former, there is still an avenue of approach: simply pretend the fragment offered is the whole of the poem: something completely valid when the point is not to make comment about the poem but to explore poetics or such, in which case the limits of source text can be whatever aids the exploration.
 

Two days in a row with grammar, though, this time with both a negative and a positive example.

First, the negative: line 4: "One of the three men who wasn't me."

Did you catch it? The verb should be "weren't."

As written, the restrictive who-clause applies only to the one man, which rather doesn't make sense because then the restrictive nature of the syntax as regards the "the" in "the three" is isolating the group of three from . . . well . . . there's no larger group from which to isolate them. Also, in that the who clause is restrictive, it needs to apply to the group, not just the one man, other wise the syntax -- not necessarily is incorrect -- but feels slightly off.

So, now it's "One of the three men who weren't me." Is there now a problem with the restrictive clause? No: the three men are being isolated within the larger group of four people, the three plus the speaker. Now, it should be noticed that it does limit the total of the group to four. Which is not a problem, here; that is the case. But I wanted to complete the thought.

Now to the positive: the first stanza. Notice that there is an absense of commas where they would normally be with regular grammar as concerns quoted speech. This is ok here -- especially ok here -- in that Mr. Raab uses the line breaks to substitute for the commas. It works well enough.[FN]

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[FN] Personally, I would be unsatisfied with the overall result, and would indent that second line. If no indent, I'd include the commas. Except in that I wouldn't write it that way at all: I hate the sound -- and visual -- of the whole stanza. "I want to be a crocus" doesn't seem to me strong enough to merit occupying the whole of the line. But that's me.

And, yes, there should, technically, be a comma after "mournful"; but that is often dropped under the law of "poetic license." Not necessarily correctly so, though; and, here, I think it should be there.
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Except that it is rather odd that the writer decided here not to use commas when the fragment as a whole is replete with them, flooded with them (with the occasional dash substituting at points for reasons I of which I can't quite convince myself their validity). Talk about runaway run-ons, I tell ya.

But there is now a problem. In the first stanza of his poem, he establishes that he is willing to use line breaks as a kind of punctuation. Yet, within the rest of the fragment of the poem (as presented) -- which comes to some 85 lines if I didn't miscount -- there is no evidence that he at all is paying attention to line breaks. So, as a reader who is paying attention, what do I get: first, the use of line breaks as punctuation in the first stanza now stands out as an aberration in the poem; even, an error, in the sense that the first stanza does not follow the rules of the rest of the poem.

This creates a new problem. So maybe, then, the reading that the line breaks are substituting for commas is incorrect (since it is not repeated), and the words in quotation marks is not the words the choir was singing, but the title of what the choir was singing -- the grammar for which would not require commas. But, then, the words are not capitalized, so that's not right either. But then there is a problem in that the stanza is not using the same rules as the rest of the poem . . . so I am still left in a quandary.

Then, of course, as a reader who is paying attention, I also ask myself, why the hell isn't he paying attention to line breaks? Especially when the nature of the syntax of the poem (i.e., the stringing together of phrases into long runs) would greatly benefit from such: it would make the reading a bit easier. With line breaks being meaningless, I am looking to the syntax to help me guide the reading rhythms of the poem; and with the grammar being that the text is, essentially, run on sentences, the poem reads with the same not-right-ness of prose constructed out of run-on sentences.

Yes, you can successfully create poems that have run-ons. Often this is accomplished by having the semantics be of lists; and, there are other ways. Here, however? I am not sure how successful it is. It seems out of control to me. But, again, it is but a fragment, and I wanted to limit myself to the points of grammar. So I will stop here. (Except to say you would think someone would catch a basic grammar error like on line 4.)

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