January 27, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

One of my goals this semester is to revise a manuscript of poetry that I've been working on for years, with plans to send it out by May. I don’t have a big chunk of time to work on it – the biggest chunk of time I ever get in my life is the thirty minutes of quiet in the car or music studio or piano teacher's house while one of my kids takes a music lesson. The vast majority of my blog posts have been written during music lessons. But if I can write a blog post during a thirty minute music lesson, I figure I can work on a poem in the same amount of time.

So I am choosing poems from the manuscript to revise, looking especially at poems that have never been published, poems that have given me trouble, poems that I just can't seem to get right. Yesterday, I decided that I would blog one of these poems for Friday Poetry Blogging because that gave me a deadline. And I encourage readers to give me feedback if they would like to. Please don't feel you have to know anything about poetry to leave a comment. You can just tell me what parts you like and what parts you don't like. You can tell me simply, yes or no, keep the poem or cut it in favor of a better poem. You can tell me what you think the poem means. You can tell me if parts of the poem confused you. You don't have to worry about hurting my feelings – after all, I already told you that I am deliberately choosing poems I am not so sure about myself. And the manuscript is too long so I am going to have to cut some poems eventually.

If you want the context, the manuscript is filled with poems about the body, and this poem is from the section on adolescence.



rough grey planks splinter
the bare soles and greasy fingers
of teenagers who escape jangling heat
to climb below rotting piers
that smell of popcorn and cat piss

for sweaty kisses that shift gritty hills
for ocean waves that rush against ancient timbers

for shady mounds of pale ocean sand
that move as she wriggles
brown thighs brushed with glittering grains
below her bathing suit
line of foam white

for that deep-sea rhythm that awakens
a riptide she cannot escape


Edited to add: After the first 20 comments, I decided to update the draft of the poem after Bitty pointed out that the word "swoosh" has been co-opted by Nike. More substantial revisions will have to wait until I have more time.


Anonymous said...

I like the images, but I'm not really fond of the line breaks--I was taught and I personally find it more effective when lines begin and end on strong words or images, rather than natural breath-pauses. So for instance, I might be tempted to break the first line at "splinter." That's all I've got off the top of my head.

And! I have a poem up too, but it's at a blog that hardly anyone reads yet, so I'm leaving a link:


jo(e) said...

Beanie Baby: Thanks for the feedback. You and I must be thinking alike because the draft I started out with yesterday had a line break at splinter. I moved the poem into a more traditonal format because it comes early in the manuscript and I had this idea that the poems in the manuscript could progress from more traditional forms to more experimental ones .... but now I am rethinking that.

bridgett said...

Not a poet, really, but here's some feedback. First stanza doesn't set place as much as it raises questions for me. Soles AND fingers? (What position would one have to be in to splinter both?) Jangling is a sound adjective and I don't perceive heat through that sense. Rotting piers good but piss and popcorn (mellow and sharp) too much of a contrast. Plus I've never noted that piers smell like catpiss, since cats don't like water much; the musk of dead fish and seabreeze and gullshit predominates in my memory, but that might just be me.

Since you are paying such beautiful attention to the vowel sounds in the second stanza -- kiss, shift, gritty, hills -- why swoosh? Why not break? (waves, break, ancient) That might leave timbers as a problematic word. I'm a bit confused about how kisses shift hills.

If it's shady under the boardwalk, the grains wouldn't glitter much unless you mention the slats of light that break through the cracks. Under-boardwalk sex gets some of its erotic charge from being able to see foottraffic overhead, eating icecream all unaware of what's going on below. It's the doubleness of the under-boardwalk experience that maybe this poem isn't conveying for me -- the world above that proceeds above vulgar and unchanging, the world below where the intimate experience (like the ocean around her) is always becoming something different.

jo(e) said...

Thanks, Bridgett. It's really helpful to hear the thoughts going through your head when you read the poem.

Minoa said...

Love the imagery. The sea, timbers and foam contrast with the grease. Teenage expectancy. Wonderful.

Random Kath said...

I love the imagery too, but I also got caught on the "greasy fingers" part. I had to think, "are they doing handstands or something?" Otherwise, the poem is quite nice . . . do include it.

parodie said...

I like the poem.
As a poetry luddite (ah, mixed image) the only comment I have is that I got caught on the "foam white" im the third last line. It jarred me somehow, although I'm not sure I could explain why. It didn't seem to fit with the rest of the poem... But I love the image and the last two lines. Yum!

Bitty said...

First impression only: the last stanza is my favorite part, which is as it perhaps should be. Next to last is my next favorite.

The first stanza's reference to "teenagers" made me think you were referring to teens in general, so when the noun suddenly shifted to "she," the real focus of the poem, I was jolted a bit.

The term "swoosh" has perhaps been ruined forever by Nike so it felt out of place for me. "Slam" perhaps? I suppose it depends on whether you're trying to represent the sex as sensual or urgent. :)

Can't wait to see the next draft!

Bitty said...

Reading it again, the softer-sounding "swoosh" fits better that "slam" would with the "s" sounds in that stanza, but I still don't like "swoosh"!

And I have posted a poem again today, not an original -- heavens, no! -- at http://bittysbackporch.blogspot.com/2006/01/poetry-fridays-installment-2.html

Rana said...

I particularly like it in the details -- the range of small things observed truly.

I myself didn't have a problem with the hand/feet thing, as I was picturing things like handrails and people climbing down over the side.

I agree with the suddenness of the shift from "teenagers" to "she" after reading the others' comments, though I'm not sure how to resolve it -- maybe something as simple as an extra line break after "timbers"?

How about "rush" instead of "swoosh"? (It would add to the urgency of the piece at that point while keeping the sound quality of the ocean.)

Thank you for sharing it with us! :)

Mona Buonanotte said...

I love the imagery, jo(e)! Lovely!

The only thing missing, if I thumb through my mental rolodex, is the breeze...oven-hot one minute, and the next, a push of cool. I love the way it makes my hair feel!

Can't wait to read all your poems in finished form!

Anonymous said...

Hmm. That does make it more challenging, doesn't it? I wonder if there is some way to move phrases about to achieve the same effect within the structure you're using? I do think, though, that the impact is less than it could be, with the lines breaking often on words like soles, below, hills, sand, and so forth. They're not the strongest words in the poem.

I also--this is my own personal prejudice--I also like punctuation. YOu may scoff at me now.

Bridgett, I understood the "hills" as fleshy ones. And I figured the hands/feet w/ the splinters were from climbing (up or down)--I could be wrong.

Yankee, Transferred said...

jo(e), I felt carried away by this poem. I'm so attuned right now to teenagers and their bodies and their feelings that this poem really moved me. I sure wish I could write they way you do; lovely, simply lovely.

Running2Ks said...

Love the jangling heat imagery. The word "piss" jumped out at me--maybe a little too much.

Other than that, I loved it. I lived it :) It invokes a lot of memories. And it is beautiful.

timna said...

what I like is that I feel both uncomfortable and carried away.

jo(e) said...

Hey, it's great to come back from teaching my classes and find all this feedback.

Bitty: You've ruined the word swoosh for me. Damned Nike. I like Rana's suggestion of rush.

Mona: The way the breeze feels against long hair -- I may have to add that detail in.

Anonymous said...

I liked it and I liked the imagery. But I had to read it 3 times. Maybe it is the line breaks that threw me off. It was the "for...." and "for...." and I had to go back and reread for the sense of it. But maybe that was just me.

halloweenlover said...

I really liked it Jo(e). I'll wait to reserve judgment on whether to include it as you post in the future, but I thought it was beautiful. Powerful, but brief.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Positive coments:

I like the twist in the last line, and I like the way the focus of the poem moves from teenagers in general, to a specific couple, then to a young woman being drawn into her sexuality.

I also like the sexual implcations of mounds of sand. And I am always fond of equating the rhythm of the sea with the rhythym of the horizontal mambo.

Negative comment: the first stanza left me a little confused visually. On line one, grey planks splinter the kids feet, so I picture them on top of the boardwalk, but by the end of the same sentence, in line three, they are below the boardwalk. I don't know if this is just nitpicky.

You are rapidly becoming my favorite sex poet.

Ok, I haven't read the others' comments; I'll see if they agree with me.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

ok, now I've read others' comments. Rana and Bitty disliked the exact thing that I liked a lot. But I guess I like feeling a little dislocated.

I also specifically liked the for...for...for structure. I did have to go back and see what all those prepositional phrases were modifying, but that is ok by me. If the for's were closer to the "sneak below" it would be clearer, but I don't know how important that is.

The foam white bathing suit line image is extremely sexy. More of that sea/sex stuff. Very good.

I thought the kisses moved hills because the kissers move their hips, moving the sand below, and that these were the same hills that are called "pale mounds of sand" later on. I then imagined a visual echo with the fleshy hills and with, umm, the Venus mound.

Yeah, no one likes the word "swoosh" anymore.

jo(e) said...

Rob: Your reading of the poem is really close to mine. So did you go to the boardwalk as a teenager?

I see what Rana and Bitty are saying about the shift, but in the manuscript, having she appear suddenly in the middle of the poem is not as abrubt because the same girl/woman is in every single poem. So by this point in the book, the reader should not be surprised when the poem shifts to her point of view.

In another draft, I used the word climb somewhere in the beginning of the poem so that readers would get the imagine of climbing below the boardwalk -- hence the splinters on fingers and feet -- I think I will have to work that back in.

I keep changing my mind about whether or not I like the prepositional phrases. Originally, I used all verbs but that seemed too direct, not hesistant enough for a teenage girl.

Anyhow, thanks for all the feedback. It's funny to be home on my couch with my laptop while my poem is being workshopped ....

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I think there are way too many adjectives, and some that sort of confuse the sound of the poem. I would circle all the adjectives and then consider replacing the weaker ones with strong verbs.

Eg: "for shady mounds of pale ocean sand" There are three adjectives in (or two adjectives and an adverb) in this one short line. Same with "the bare soles and greasy fingers." There are only two here by the parallel construction of multiple adjective throughout is unneverving and weakens the poem. Here too is the echo of sdjective: "for sweaty kisses that shift gritty hill

The story, sentiment and images are all strong but the syntax is weak and needs a little help. I hope you don't think I am being harsh. I think the poem is headed in a good direction but hasn't gotten there yet.

You might want to read the poem a few times, turn it over, and start over again with the images, forming them primarily with verbs and nouns instead of adjectives.

Then reintegrate any parts of the original you really need/want to keep.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Remember, no surpise for the writer, no suprise for the reader. It sounds to me here that at this point in your drafting you are sort of retelling a familiar story. You may need to write BEYOND the end of this poem. The end is resonant and important, but not necessarily the real and final end. (I'm not sure about this, it will depend on what direction the poem goes--but it has to go somewhere if you want to include it in the ms.)

jo(e) said...

taittems: No, I don't think you are being harsh at all. You are voicing some of the things I was struggling with.

I think I am having trouble with this poem because I want it to capture some kind of hesitancy ... or the idea that this is a new experience for the girl, some kind of awakening. So I used adjectives to slow it down ... but I need to rethink that. Because the poem isn't doing what I want it to do right now. (Damned adolescent poem just won't behave!)

That's why I went to the prepositional phrases. When I tried strong verbs, the poem was way too erotic (that isn't supposed to happen until later in the manuscript). Maybe I need to try again with different verbs.

I do like the idea of writing beyond the ending just to see what happens.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Jo(e): Although I did go to the beach as a teen, I mostly know your story as a cultural archetype. (Under the boardwalk/ people walking above/ under the boardwalk we'll be "falling in love"/under the boardwalk/ Boardwalk!)

That is a problem with the poem--it is an often told setting for an often told story. I agree with taittems; you might need more of a twist.

I am not enough of an aesthete, though, to have a strong preference for verbs and nouns over adjectives.

jo(e) said...

Rob: See, that is the problem. I write from personal experience and the life I have led is such a cliche.

All this feedback has been really helpful, though. I've some ideas for rewriting it ....

If only I had a quiet house to work in.

Friday Mom said...

Some thoughts from a non-writer who is, however, a student of human experience....

I caught the sense of awakening at the end and love that part of the poem. You say you want to capture her hesitancy, but I did not feel that in the poem and wonder what the hesitance is for the girl. I know what it was for me...talk about cliches...the kind of moralistic mind over body binary oppositionalism that kept me repressed for too long. But what's her experience?

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: That's just it ... if I want the awakening to resonate at the end of the poem, I need to convey some kind of hesitancy, a bit of fear perhaps ... something like that in the beginning of the poem. The girl in the poem is from a Catholic family and it's the early seventies so I think I want to have her have that kind of guilty I-not-supposed-to-doing-this kind of hesitancy. Those details are in other poems in the manuscript, but I need some of that in this particular poem too.

One of the most helpful things about blogging this poem has been looking at it AWAY from the manuscript and as a stand-alone poem.

Friday Mom said...

It's interesting to see you workshop this on the blog. I've learned a lot from reading the comments.

Guilt (or maybe moreso shame) brings up images of hiding for me. Is she hiding in her hesitance?

Anonymous said...

holy cow.
i really don't know 'nuttin about poetry. The comments have been an education in and of themselves for me.

I liked it. Maybe I intuited the hesitancy, because for me everything at the beach is hesitant---when to run into the waves, and when not to---how far to go---I guess in this poem's context how far to go would be her hesitancy.

I never knew people could have so many different things to say about a poem. I totally feel like a country bumpkin.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I think I want to have her have that kind of guilty I-not-supposed-to-doing-this kind of hesitancy.

What about fear-of-loosing-control hesitancy? I get a lot of that from the riptide image. Once you dive in the ocean, you black out, and the current has control, who knows where you will wash ashore?

Maybe those are my sex fears, though, rather than yours.

jo(e) said...

Oh, these comments are really helpful. I like the idea of her hiding, Friday Mom .... maybe she could even hide behind her hair.

PPB: Yes, that's it ... the whole question of how far she should go. The girl is supposed to be fairly young. I need to get that into the poem.

Rob: That fear of losing control, that surrendering ... yeah, that is part of what I was trying to get to with the riptide image, the being swept away.

It will resonate more if I put all the other stuff into the first part of the poem.

CarpeDM said...

Okay, delurking to say that I really like this the way it is now at 9:18 PM central time (I'm thinking you've changed it a few times throughout the day).

I like the line breaks the way they are, especially when you think of the point of a view of an adolescent. I think the world is broken up into different points, all coming at you quickly, when you're a teenager.

The soles and fingers wasn't difficult for me at all. I was actually thinking of people sitting on the pier, resting their hands behind them. Plus you have climb in it now so that works.

All in all, it puts me in mind of a young girl who is probably doing something that she may regret later but is caught up in the here and now. And it makes me think of the ocean and how much I miss it.

Anonymous said...

I like the image of the jangling heat--it reminds me of the way the heat is sometime visually palpable, in waves of its own, at the beach. The catpiss smell doesn't bother me (in the poem)because it evokes that strong saline, putrid smell of rotted and rotting things near the ocean.
These two lines seem abrupt, and I wonder what they'd be like as one line:
below her bathing suit
line of foam white


below her bathing suit line of foam white