Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Poem, Deconstructed

The poem draft. Critique notes follow. Revision at end.

Poetry's Pointless Necessity

Dare poetry be silliness?
Fractured and vociferous?
On good terms with bad flatulence?
Why does the world keep spinning us?
------------(my break added)------------

I met a standup poet once
Who lived by choice in homelessness
Yet captured each particulate
Of his enraptured audience.

He challenged verse's worthlessness,
Deriding bombs and guns and such,
Determined of their pointlessness,
Only words counter-combatants.

He blasted NO we should not trust
The lords of war, the pleas to crush,
The message clear and obvious:
YOUR silence is ugly outcome.

The pacing man-boy drew applause
He never smiled, body faint and drawn.
Incomplete. He seemed so flawed.
Words askance his kingdom.

Critique Notes
Five others critiqued the (very rough) poem in a group setting. Most got the gist. I wanted to convey the futility but necessity of poetic thought. I riffed off a real experience from a reading. I saw a homeless poet give an intense performance.

All the critiquers liked the first stanza. The bad flatulence and the promise of a laugh drew them in. Of course, the poem turns into something less laughable quickly. They suggested I drop the line break and repeat the first stanza at the end, which gives the stanza an entirely new meaning. And more punch.

The group wanted a visual on the poet himself. What was it about him that showed him as powerless and powerful?

Several of the readers stopped at certain stanzas because their meaning didn't seem clear:
--He challenged verse's worthlessness.
--Only words counter-combatants. 
--And the word askance in the last line.
Also, it was suggested the title be more concrete.

If nothing else, a fun exercise.

My Rewrite

A Poet and His Stick

Dare poetry be silliness?
Fractured and vociferous?
On good terms with bad flatulence?
Why does the world keep spinning us?
I met a standup poet once
who lived by choice in homelessness,
yet captured each particulate
of his enraptured audience.

He aimed with words and shook the room,
deriding bombs and guns and doom,
slamming war, a useless tool,
let verse combat with history.

He blasted NO we should not trust
the lords of war, their pleas to crush,
the message clear, pointing at us:
YOUR silence is an ugly outcome.

The pacing man-boy drew applause
He never smiled, body faint and long.
Stick-thin, white skin, incomplete and flawed.
His kingdom--rhyme and tenor.

Dare poetry be silliness?
Fractured and vociferous?
On good terms with bad flatulence?
Why does the world keep spinning us?


  1. I like this, but I like the draft better than the revision...

    The poem isn't silly, nor is flatulence, a word "in meter" and out of a medical dictionary...a fart is silly, "breaking wind" is silly, "toots" are silly.

    verse is worthless a la Auden's poetry makes nothing happen.

    A stay against the darkness. It is the only thing that words are truly for.

    1. In many ways, I also like the original better. All poetry is process, so I might give it another whirl. Our instructor suggested I look up Auden, which I've yet to do. As always, thank you for the comment.

    2. september 1, 1939.

      I think the message is the meaning and not the "objective correlative" of the "homeless" poet (damn you, eliot!) and so I don't want more "characterization."

      The counter-combatants is nice...I wonder if you might use "wordlessness" as a counter of some kind against YOUR silence and his silence a kind poetic juxtaposition. He is silent as opposed to the noise of culture, the noise of war, the noise of propaganda.

      Or is is homelessness not "real" but a position--an alien in his stance against convention--not of this warring place and this warring mentality?

      I want you to lose the silliness entirely. But then again, I've lost mine--there is humor still, but it is mordant and no longer light. These words are bricks and knives and they will cut in any way they can...but I don't think silly slices rock or paper.

    3. BTW, Every Word the Whale, nice work.

  2. Yes, I believe his homelessness is questionable. We must (or rather, we choose to) take his word for it. Is he homeless by choice? Perhaps. We may never know for sure. It might add a nice dimension to the poem to question whether his homelessness is a untethered-ness to the world.

    I do like "counter-combatants" because it rolls off the tongue so well.

    There may be two poems here, the silly one, which mocks the seriousness of poetry, and the serious one, in which we find our challenger floating with stick.

    All taken as food for thought.

    1. I think I have always been perhaps a kinder, gentler Poundian/Lawrentian (?) and have little time for silly...oh well. There is enough silly to my mind and not enough serious.

      That is not to say that silly isn't useful or necessary. It's just not for me. But I think I'm still hung up on the silly vs. humorous. Nonsense is silly...but we know that Alice in Wonderland is often nonsensical and silly-seeming but is not silly in the least but deadly serious.

  3. Interesting conversation on this interesting poem.

    I’m not sure if I like the draft better than the revision. The two different titles, which I would argue often function as the most important line of the poem because it prepares the readers for the tone for the stance with which the are to gather meaning from a poem—the best signpost of all sometimes, function to very different ends. “Poetry’s Pointless Necessity” sets the reader up for possible humor, paradox, as a marker that this poem might be an ars poetica, and a few other echoes of other literary greats who talk about poetry’s pointlessness. “A Poet and His Stick” sets readers up for a portrait, the theme of “the elder”, maybe an echo of Roosevelt (talking about both political power and other types), and the idea of how “the poet” should function in the world.

    So how does the speaker here want us to understand this poet? Silly, pointless, or utterly full? This gets into a bit of the mysterious part of the poem...And maybe this is what that “Words askance his kingdom” might suggest...but I’m not sure.
    I think I suggested characterization only as far as it allows the reader to understand how the speaker sees the beauty/importance/ugliness/poetness of this man. Characterization not to describe him necessarily, but in order to elucidate the tensions within the poem’s theme.

    As for the silliness, I don’t know but that might be part of what you are trying to get at here—how silly the man looked and yet, how he moved you? That when someone dares to be ridiculous, they might break open to greater truths. Maybe there's something that is hinted at here that isn't written--did people laugh at this man when they left or entered the place? Did he look silly to you? If so, the poems are probably linked...

    A poet who dares to be silly is Richard Wilbur in his book “Opposites” for kids. They’re all profound and neat poems, though. I think Lowell and Berryman are actually quite silly sometimes but they do it in a way where they are so big with it that it works.

    1. I hadn't really noticed that last line until you mentioned it , Judith.

      Askance is forever a word out of Browning's Childe Roland...


      MY first thought was, he lied in every word,
      That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
      Askance to watch the working of his lie
      On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
      Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d
      Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.


      And now I place it here it seems even more resonant.

    2. nice stanza. i believe i have more work cut out for me.

    3. judith, thanks for chiming in. i hope your work is progressing as well.

  4. Browning is hard...he is something like Melville, doing much of his thinking, thinking at a very high level and incredibly philosophical, in verse. We just don't do that anymore. If we think at all it's "tweet-sized."

    Look at those "m"s and "w"s in there!

    "on mine, and mouth"--shit that's nice.


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