Friday, April 22, 2005

The Experiment Continues

Like the fickle obsessive I am, I've decided to work on avoiding end-rhymes in the opening lines of all my poems for the foreseeable future. Internal rhymes are OK, and some rhymes toward the end can be tolerated (I notice this happens a lot in supposedly "free verse" anyway). In other words, I have pledged to write only things that stand a chance of being read to the end by the editors of the prestigious American journals that have thus far closed their doors against me. My poems will open like "normal" contemporary poetry, at least. They might actually have to hear me out, and not just flunk me for being old-fashioned.

Cynical, you say? Well, in fact, this pledge has produced some blissfully naïve and almost childish results. (I'll spare you the poem on kissing, for now.) It's as though I can escape the perhaps overly intense and self-conscious personality I've created for myself and see the world all over again, as if I were someone else. This may have to do with impending fatherhood, I admit, but it's also based on a kind of awareness of how effortless poetry can be if you strip it down to its minimal ingredients, we're done over the last century or so. Poetry is EASY, if you let it be easy, at least in its first stages. An individual poem usually becomes hard work if you let it go on long enough, and that's where rhymes and other formal strategies come in handy-- as Russell says, they help you flesh out the thoughts that aren't fully formed until you put them into words. But, insofar as it can have its roots in any one of the everyday "acts of attention" we perform instinctively, a poem can (and probably should) begin in a simple, concrete situation or observation that is dictated to us by the world. "If poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to the tree, it had better not come at all." So why not begin in a more conversational, unbuttoned, laissez-faire style, even if you know you'll end up clustering sounds together in formal-sounding ways by the end?

So here's an example of this new kind of poem I'm writing. It's the one that came the easiest and stopped the soonest, so it's emblematic of the effortlessness I'm talking about. If it communicates at all, it'll be a wonderful surprise. Maybe I've been too concerned with communicating in the past, anyway.

Icarus, from the Breakfast Nook

Light stays aloft, but illuminated
objects fall to us to be known.
A leaf is briefly sustained, on its slow,
erratic flight, as if flaming with grace
on its way to the damned. So we come to grief—
ablaze with amazement, weighed down by the looks
of expectant mourners and envious mothers
who see in their children’s bright eyes the distant
reflections of suns that desired and died
in a life-giving moment, afire, unaware.

The title irks me mildly when I read it here, since it endorses the lazy habit of transposing mythical figures into contemporary situations, but I like the juxtaposition of tragic falls with cozy domesticity. It seems apt for the tone of the poem, somehow. I'd be glad of alternatives, however.


Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...


I liked this one a lot. There's an intensity of image that is new. The following line is problematic to me with regard to sound. It sounds clunky to my ear. I suspect it is the repetition of "to."

objects fall to us to be known.

It could easily be changed to drop one or change the first "to" to an "on" (or something like this).

Also, the title is not quite right for me either. The Icarus part that reflects the falling leaf at the beginning is overshadowed by the discussion of grief at the end. That's where I think the focus should be (in the title).

I was a little confused also about why the grief was apparent in the eyes of envious mothers. Is it because they see the small death of enthusiasm and spark in the eyes of their offspring? I guess so.

An alternative title? A lot of times I try to pick my strongest image and see if I can find some sort of way to shape it so that it will resonate through the whole poem. That image for me is "the sun that desires." I don't know how that matches up with what is going on elsewhere in the poem.

Perhaps an opening line of "Sunlight illuminates the leaves that fall on us to be known"

"Tragic falls and cozy domesticity"? You aren't getting out ahead of yourself with this, are you? Look on the bright side. You probably won't have time to fall (that hard).

11:23 PM  
Anonymous andrew said...

Hey Brad,

Not a fan of the title either. Why not just call it "Light stays aloft"? It's a great opener, really pulls you in and makes you wonder wtf is coming next.

Also, I agree with the comment about a really good intensity in the first 2/3. The bit about mothers seems a *bit( cliched to me; I would prefer to see an ascent to the human rather than the declension to the domestic.

But otherwise, it's lovely.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

You're jeopardizing my precarious easy-does-it airs, but thanks for the feedback. I think I'll actually end up sending out two or three versions of the poem with variant titles and see which if any gets published. It's nice to have some alternatives.

"Light Stays Aloft" is going to be one of them, for sure, though I've come to be a bit leery of using first words as a title, since it's a bit like leaving the poem untitled. The studied negligence of that kind of gesture makes me mistrustful when I see it on others' work. I did such things a lot when I was too unselfcritical to title poems properly, so it now has irrelevant negative associations, somehow.

The line "objects fall on us to be known" sounds a bit slapstick to me, or am I misunderstanding?

I think, based on these comments, "envious mothers" will have to go—it was a phrase that I plucked out of nowhere, and maybe it's just too loaded for this poem. It does try to signify some kind of universal human emotion, so maybe "merciful elders" would would better. I want the "m" and "e" to be at the start of the words, anyway, and for there to be an "er" sound to echo "mourners" in the same line. You see, I haven't gotten rid of rhyme, just put it in new places.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Jane said...

Brad--I think you should leave this alone for a while. I personally like the title and the envious mother. The end does refer back to the title. Perhaps the mourners are vague, but to me the mother is not. I am a mother of sons; mothers of sons are always frightened and astonished by the dangerous things their boys decide to do--and usually tell their mother later. I think you should allow your unconscious more room, and I like the reasons you decided to abandon rhyme for awhile, not to get published, (the whole last issue of Poetry magazine was devoted to formal rhyme. Most of it, in my opinion, was not successful) but to get away from knowing what a poem is about when you write it. This poem has really made me think, and if you don't use the title, perhaps I will.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Hi Brad -

I really like the way the title sounds, and for that reason it might be worth keeping. But I will say that the part of the title that throws me off is not Icarus, but the breakfast nook - I see the nook as the poet's place of contemplation, but I'm not sure it fits the poem.

Your organization and word choice are really nice, and as per usual your imagery is clear. I also like the use of consonance and assonance and internal rhyme. I did want to tinker with the 4th and 5th lines, and I came up with: "erratic flight, flaming with grace / on its way to damnation" (except that your use of "the damned" points directly to the "we" who "come to grief" in the next line).

I too stumbled a bit over the envious mothers, but only because envy is an emotional response to something another person has, and I don't see that going on here. I was thinking that since you want an "e" and an "m" what about "mothers embracing / their children, in whose bright eyes the distant"? It would require some more modification, but it's a thought.

One final thought. This poem made me think of Icarus's mother. I don't think she appears in the myth, but hers would be an interesting perspective from which to write.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Atasi Jaan said...


I like this poem a lot, however, I have no comment on your question on the title. The 1st line, however, I feel, does not need the word illuminated, at light is illumination. (That's the scientist in me.) Your call. I'd slip "in" before the word "slow" instead of "on its" and perhaps, "descent" would be a better choices for "flight." Somehow, it seems that a separation needs to take place before "the distance" with a comma, or moving it to the next line. I love the poem. Thanks. Rhony

8:10 PM  

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