Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Published - Part I

    In this series we will examine recently published poems as they might be received in a geek-infested critical forum.  Each post will feature the best work of a different publication.  If you have encountered a piece you'd like to see analyzed and rated (see scale below) please enter the text and author's name or, better yet, a URL below (your post won't be made visible to anyone) or send us, "Earl Gray", a message on Facebook.

Rosemary Tonks

    We begin with "Oath" by Rosemary Tonks as viewed on the Poetry Foundation site, 2014-12-02.  A number of things are remarkable about this poem:

1.  Unlike 99+% of non-metrical poems written today, "Oath" is [rhythmic] free verse.  In fact, it is too rhythmic and measured.  Is it sloppy meter or monorhythmic free verse?  Two thirds of its lines work as iambic tetrameter ("IT").  That's too many for free verse.  The remaining lines are too much of a hodgepodge to work as heterometer.    We immediately know that this is a 4 out of 10, publishable when the author has chosen a form and made the necessary revisions.  We are also reminded of the need to hear someone read our poems to us before we send them out.

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #13
2.  The sonics come and go.  Stanza 4 is remarkable for its assonance of short and long "e" sounds, but the rhyming couplet, "trees-knees", clangs, exacerbating the metrical expectation.  The sudden overalliteration in S5-L3, "mortar made of mirrors", protrudes, especially since the sonics are so sparse everywhere else.

3a.  The noun pairings ("ink-storm", "Scent-kitchens", "scent-storm") work rather well, notwithstanding the selfconscious hyphens.

3b.  The repetition of words (e.g. breath, breast, storm, dark, heart, etc.) suggests connections that don't [seem to] exist, leaving readers wondering if they "missed a memo".

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12
4.  No serious poetry reader got past "dark moods against my soul."  Indeed, as a convenience, the Poetry Foundation webmaster should have made those five words a link to the next poem.

5.  Mixed metaphors, such as a heart thirstily drinking a thought, don't help the cause.

6.  The poem tries too hard to be misunderstood.

7.  Phrases and ideas that misfired the first time don't warrant reiteration.  A "Universe unreal as breath" and "no hard earth inside my breast"?

8.  For what it's worth, Seinfeldian poems (i.e. about nothing) don't bring in the crowds.

     Drop a few vagrant syllables in some of the lines and, in five minutes, this would be metrical.

I swear | that I | would not | go back
To glass fish|pools where | the rough | breath lies
That built | the Earth--|und'r heav|y trees
With their bark | that’s full | of groc|er’s spice,

Not for | an hour--|although | my heart
Moves, thirst|ily, | to drink | the thought--
would I Go back | to run | my boat
On the | brown rain | that made | it slip,

I would | not for | a youth | return
to ig|norance, | and be | the wild
fowl thrown | about | by dark|  wat'r seas'ns
like an | ink-storm | against | my soul,

And no | firm ground | inside | my breast,
Only | the breath | of God | that stirs
Scent-kitch|ens of | refresh|ing trees,
green cart|ilage | upon | my knees.

With no | hard earth | inside | my breast
To hold | a Un|iverse | of breath,
like fish, | wet mor|tar made | of mirr'rs
I laid | some glass | upon | my youth.

Without | wat'rpools | would I | go back
To a Un|iverse | unreal | as breath?
I use | the musc|le of | my heart
To thirst | for the | scent-storm | of trees.


     As a first draft, this piece has moved beyond the brainstorming (or, in a worst case scenario, scatterbrainstorming) and the outline stages.  It exhibits a good ear for rhythm but an incomplete understanding of meter.  Beyond that, it has many of the earmarks of a typical modern institutional poem:  the inconsistent attention to sonics;  the obligatory em dash abuse;  stretches where, as Maz¹ would say, the author "neglected the basic need to make sense"; and, the lack of plot. 

     Among free verse poems, compare this to Erin Hopson's "How Aimee Remembers Jaguar".  For verse comparisons, look at Archibald Lampman's "Morning on the Lièvre" (text here).


¹ - In case you've forgotten why we love Margaret A. Griffiths so much, she was once shown a link to an article reporting that Northern Arts had provided generous financial support for a project by Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail which involved spraying words onto sheep and seeing what poem resulted.

     Maz resolved:  "I'm going to feed my dog Scrabble tiles and see what she shits."

Rating Scale:

##   Action Taken                               Frequency

10 = Accepted and anthologized                  Once every 10 years?
#9 = Accepted and discussed                     Twice a year?
#8 = Accepted and featured                      Once per issue?
#7 = Accepted                                   ~1%  of submissions
#6 = Held for consideration                     ~1%  of submissions
#5 = Recommended for publication elsewhere      ~1%  of submissions
#4 = Rejected, pending suggested changes        ~1%  of submissions
#3 = Rejected, pending significant revisions    ~2%  of submissions
#2 = Rejected with encouraging remarks          ~6%  of submissions
#1 = Rejected without comment                   ~80% of submissions
#0 = "You were joking, right?"                  ~8%  of submissions

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