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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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Friday, March 22, 2013

"Elegy" by Jaswinder Bolina -- Verse Daily, 3/22/13

from Phantom Camera (New Issues Poetry and Prose)
poem found here

First lines:
In sun the sunburned skin sloughs off the sunburned shoulder.
Most folks believe this is the body's slow mend.


superfluous words and poetic lines

— reformatted 4/23/14

Couldn't not talk a moment about line 7.

I step into the garden and arrange a crooked line of birdbaths to skip stones across

This poem tugs at my poetic curiosity with its sometimes very long lines — and the question of whether they work. Line 5 seems to be the deciding factor: does that long phrase work as well if broken up? Personally, I think it works best as a unbroken line. (I guess you could break it after "exposure" — but it loses some of the running-on play of it when you do.) Since that that line is insisting on remaining long, it rather establishes permission for long lines throughout the poem. . . . . But they still have to work.

The two long lines in the last two stanzas work wonderfully — and exactly within the style and permissions created by line 5. (And the short lines they are set against work to give them even more identity and aural punch.)

But, then here is line 12 ("I believe I'll . . ."): I think that one wavers. And, I think you should be able to see that when you compare it to the two long lines at the end of the poem, The latter two are solid, strong, direct line. They are basic "X is Y," copula sentences, even if the X and Y are themselves long. But Line 12, it has that "and" in it, and there feels a weakening of the sentence because of that "and."

Tied into that "and" there is the semantics of the sentence as presented. First, there is that annoying "I believe." Such phrases weaken any sentence in which they appear since it takes what follows out of the realm of definitiveness and into the realm of only possibility. (Of course, this does not apply when the most important point of the clause/sentence is the "believe" part.) Also, while it is not incorrect, it is somewhat irregular — or should I say uncommon? — to say "I will go and be greeted by you." What makes it feel odd is that the subject — that is to say the thing doing the action — shifts from "I" to "you."

This perceived weakness is made even more palpable because of the strength of most of the other lines. Which is the point: context can reveal — and conceal — weaknesses. Line 12 feels so weak in no small part because most of the rest of the lines of the poem are so strong. If those other lines were not so definitive, were not, for example, to-the-point, copula sentences, the weakness might be less weakness and more style.

To come back around, the long lines in this poem are also a type of context. And, I wonder how many of you, like me, got to the end of line 7, got to that "across," and came to full stop laughing at how the length of the line hyper-emphasized that the line ends in a preposition. The awkwardness of it makes me laugh every time I read it. (Even the sound of the line seems to emphasize it to me — though I can not find a way to successfully describe what I am hearing.)

And yet, it is a very simple fix. No, not by pulling that preposition in to where it belongs, by writing the line as "a crooked line of birdbaths across which to skip stones." That, to me, creates the same kind of weakness we saw in line 12. There's a lot of merely functional words in that phrasing; something very different from the nigh in your face phrases like "silent lightning outrunning its noise." (Which, I should say, is a phrase I love.)

Tbe answer, rather, is to simply leave "across" off. It is quite obvious from the context toward what the skipping stones would be thrown, off what the skipping stones would skip. As such, "across" is an utterly superfluous word; and, without having to change anything else, removing it would make the line much stronger, and much more interesting. Which is the point of it all, no?


Just to say: line 1 shoots for some aural play, but I think it over shoots . . . that first "sun" is just too much. The play of meaning in the line is sacrificed for the sound of the line: which should never happen.

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