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Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Women Looking Up Into a Plum Tree," by Melanie McCabe -- Poetry Daily, 2/9/13

from History of the Body (David Robert Books)
poem found here

first lines:
Strung with whistle bones, frail reeds fledged, a bird
can fly or fold in, tuck beneath the wing the skull's


perfection in miniature

-- reformatted 12/10/2013

We seem to be running a string of posts on line breaks. Take a look here at the fourth stanza, the first line ending in "on." For me, it is a failure to recognize the rhythms of the language. First, there is nothing to be gained by having the line end on an unaccented preposition -- and such are like commas: unless there is a purpose for it, get rid of it. Second, by hanging the preposition the natural rhythm of the second line is destroyed: move the "on" down and what do you get?

on the BACK of her TONGUE, a LATE SEED con SI der (ing)

a wonderfully flowing sequence of syllables, starting off with a pair of two anapests (which are more lengthened iambs), followed by a nice continuing of play on iambs:

/ a LATE / SEED / con SI / der (ing)

So, not only was there something done with no gain, there was also something lost. (Actually, there is something lost in the first line as well, I nice iambic line destroyed with a superfluous and unnecessary iambic foot.)

I will say it again. Poetry is unavoidably an aural art. You have to take great pains to take the aural out of a written piece (such as with those instances of concrete poetry where the text is prosaic, if not easily recognized, and the true point of the work is the visual effect; or with Cage's "Writing Through Finnegans Wake" or such, which are intriguing language experiments but don't take you much farther than where they go). And if you are using line breaks, then they are part of the aural aspect of the poem, and must be recognized, controlled, and manipulated.

Now I admit that the use of a hanging "to" in "Nostalgia™" (yesterday's Poetry Daily) is within the context of a humorous poem, which this is not. But that retort is in honestly little more than a feint: while you may have made a distinction between the poems, you have not justified the use of "on" in "Women Looking Up."

I will here begin to use a phrase I most recently read on the cover of Ciaran Carson's Collected Works: "perfection in miniature." What does it mean as a statement on the aesthetic: the smaller the work, the more control is demanded. Yes, you can argue, "well, I am trying for a looser style." Well, that style still needs to be controlled, and, more to the point, created. Everything in a poem is created -- even the 'appearance' of looseness. (I point back to the moment in Impromptu, as regards composing an impromptu, in a post below.) And with sophisticated writers is very apparent how the feel of a piece may be loose, but the piece itself is still very crafted. (Look, perhaps, at Browning's poetry, like the ubiquitous "My Last Duchess," which people can read all the way through without realizing it is rhymed. It's a brilliant poem, in its working of meter and rhyme.)

You may try to fall back on the defense of a 'looser' style or such, but in the end you are really falling on a sword. Moments of lack of control, to a sophisticated reader, looks only like that: like lack of control. I'll repeat myself: the smaller the work, the more control is demanded. Why? Because you can. Failure to do so does nothing but make it look like you can't.


A couple smaller comments. I believe it should be "riddled" not "riddle" I can't get a successful reading where desire is doing the riddling -- if that is meant, I would think the lines unsuccessful, not for being a little opaque, but for being conflicting. But, I want to say at some point that I realize that there is always the possibility that Poetry Daily mistyped a poem. Still, it is the poem as presented that I want to discuss. And, many times, an error points out something interesting.

Also, I enjoy that first stanza (the second half a lot). Except for the word can. And I am prompted to write on that word in exploration, but that would be many pages, and I am not sure if I could put into words what I want to say. Alas.

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