Monday, May 01, 2006

The Stone Balancer

Well, here's another poem I thought was pretty good when I wrote it, but which remains unpublishable (or so it seems) despite much agonizing and multiple revisions. I brought it to the writer's workshop I attend about a year ago, and they suggested a few useful changes, some of which I have duly made (but none of which have made the poem work for any of the editors I've contacted). It's a bit of a bear because of its length (I've started editing a journal myself and know that the 2-page poem is harder to deal with), but I have no notion of what to cut.



The Stone Balancer

i

He wants to pile stones up into tall,
precarious totems, to cheat the earth’s pull,
but the wind makes the thing impossible.
He stops and squints—
along the sea wall,
a bicycle leaps on a bench, holds still,
and bounces down, bored with its own immobile
momentum.
He gets the drift of its spun
wheels and faces the current that sweeps overland
with more polished resolve.
The rocks in his sandy,
transforming hands turn inwards, find
equilibrium, slowly, where he places them
one on another, till six of them lean
together.
Like ships that spring up from their helms
that point to an origin, hulls run aground,
but sails still mounting,
as if they were each bent
on flying, their magical ballast ascending,
side-stepping, wayward, keel over keel, tending
to mount, all in separate directions, they stand.

ii

Their only miracle, patience, hoards
its treasure thinly, like houses of cards
whose gravity is let down by the words
that people speak as they pass him.
Stared at,
staggeringly denied, ignored,
he is asked to prove that what he has dared
to build is real.
He sends the stones
clattering, their illusion gone,
their catastrophe disbelieved to the end,
their balance dismantled.
So that's how we learn:
through equipoise that endures, but wins
applause when it fails.
Still, the hardened mind,
convinced of what it no longer beholds,
need not outweigh the wonder that swells
like canvas sails in a rising wind.

iii

He knows that he can float farther next time,
and starts setting stones up all over again.



My main problem with revising this (and cutting parts out) was that I had fallen in love with the "ars(e) poetica" aspect of the poem; the guy I watched setting up these stones in weird piles really did seem the perfect metaphor for what a writer tries to do with each piece. So everything seemed to fit; my main revision has been to ad some set-up lines at the start, so people will know I'm not primarily concerned with the bicyclist (who originally began the poem).

So kill my darlings for me, please. But be specific; needles, not axe-blows.

6 Comments:

Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

Here's my rewrite to tighten:

The Stone Balancer

i

He wants to pile stones up into tall,
precarious totems, to cheat the earth’s pull,
but the wind makes the thing impossible.
He stops and squints at the current that sweeps overland
with its polished resolve.
The rocks in his sandy,
transforming hands turn inwards, find
equilibrium, slowly, where he places them
one on another, till six of them lean
together.
Like ships that spring up from their helms
that point to an origin, hulls run aground,
but sails still mounting,
as if they were each bent
on flying, their magical ballast ascending,
side-stepping, wayward, keel over keel, tending
to mount, all in separate directions, they stand.

ii

Their only miracle, patience, hoards
its treasure thinly, like houses of cards
whose gravity is let down by the words
that people speak as they pass him.
Stared at,
staggeringly denied, ignored,
he is asked to prove that what he has dared
to build is real.
He sends the stones
clattering, their illusion gone,
their catastrophe disbelieved to the end,
their balance dismantled.
So that's how we learn:
through equipoise that endures, but wins
applause when it fails.
Still, the hardened mind,
convinced of what it no longer beholds,
need not outweigh the wonder that swells
like canvas sails in a rising wind.

I cut out the bicycle because that seems to be mostly irrelevant to the gist of what the stone balancer is doing. It distracts.

I cut out III because it seems tacked on, as if the author is trying to redeem the tone of the poem by making it more hopeful and not just a useless exercise punctuated by pessimism.

Also, I think this is a better ending because the ships at the end of stanza 1 run in parallel to the ships at the end of 2.

Also, I don't think we are left with just the clattering stones. The real subject of the poem is the victory of wonder over stubbornness.

Is that a turn at the end that is unexpected enough? I think so. I don't think the war between these epistemological poles is telegraphed previously. The poem up to that last turn seems to be about (yes, none other than) futility.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Well, those cuts make sense, and you explain them cogently. I wonder if it's weak to end a poem with a sentence that contains the phrase "need not." I feel like no I want something stronger, since those lines would be the end of the poem.

Also, I'm not sure I can picture the wind's current having "polished resolve." I'd rather keep that attribute as the man's own. Maybe we could say:
"He stops and squints, and faces the current that sweeps overland
with more polished resolve."

Now we're left wondering why he's suddenly so much more resolved... Maybe that can stay a mystery. Or we could just cut "more."

Thanks for the good thoughts.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

That first paragraph should read "now I want something stronger."

5:21 PM  
Blogger Brett Hill said...

Hey Mr. Buchanan, you came to my class at Del Campo and told us about poetry recitation. Your poetry is awsome, in a poetic way.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Thanks a lot, Brett. Glad you enjoyed it...

yours, Brad

7:16 AM  
Anonymous battery said...

[...]The offline scripting tool might add some relief here, but it’s still sort of a pain. I’ve had to separate “build” from “configuration” steps.[...]

8:16 PM  

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