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-   -   Letter (https://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?t=33107)

Matt Q 06-01-2021 05:58 AM

Letter
 
Postscript (R1)

And blight? Each night some stalwart frost
steals fox-like in, and is come morning
vanished – no trace, bar blossoms

trailed like chicken blood up to the hedge.
So much for spring and all its ragtime
song and dance. You know, I ate sakura once

and found it to my liking. The flesh of horses,
like all flesh, is transient as any blossom,
yet less inclined to launch itself gung-ho

onto the wind. That was the taste of it,
as I recall: the taste of pulling back.
Of all the gifts, waiting is most often given,

at least to me. I plant each ribboned box
in fields where fattened horses pace. In time,
a fox arrives. In time, the waiting blossoms.

----------------------------

New title.

S1L1 "And blight?" replaces "On blight"

S2L3 "more reluctant" becomes "less inclined" largely because it's more iambic, plus the alliteration.

S2L3 - S3L1 Now enjambing on "gung-ho" instread of "itself"

S4L4, from "waiting is one too often given" to "waiting is most often given".





Epistle

On blight: each night some stalwart frost
steals fox-like in, and is come morning
vanished – no trace, bar blossoms

trailed like chicken blood up to the hedge.
So much for spring and all its ragtime
song and dance. You know, I ate sakura once

and found it to my liking. The flesh of horses,
like all flesh, is transient as any blossom,
yet more reluctant to launch itself

gung-ho onto the wind. That was the taste of it,
as I recall: the taste of pulling back.
Of all the gifts, waiting is one too often given,

at least to me. I plant each ribboned box
in fields where fattened horses pace. In time,
a fox arrives. In time, the waiting blossoms.


--------------------
S3L1 semicolon becomes a full-stop

.

Max Goodman 06-01-2021 10:03 AM

FWIW, I love spring's "ragtime/song and dance."

Sarah-Jane Crowson 06-01-2021 01:20 PM

Hi,

Love the word-play between your thread title and the poem’s title. Having said that, I think the title is something I’d work at - it’s a poem that the right title could make or break.
Maybe consider - ’slippages’, which will give people a key as to how to read the poem, too.

I liked this when I first read it (apologies, all - I regularly write with Matt in a different space to this one - a generative rather than a critical space) and I like it still. It’s nice to get the chance to look at it a bit closer.

So, the first thing I like is the personification of frost as fox, and how that’s extended in S2. I also like the slipping of meaning that leads to ‘sakura’ (which makes a visual sense from chicken-blood and the fox, but not a direct linear sense, so it takes me into a different type of space, but very seamlessly). And, in a similar way, the clever verbal move from Spring to sakura as viande chevaline and sakura as cherry blossom as transient works beautifully.

I’m less sure that ‘gung-ho’ works. The etymology works in a sense, but from the little I know of horses they’re quite happy to launch themselves as a group (or on their own) into the wind. So, there’s a dissonance which works at odds with the smooth slipping of meanings sense of the rest of the poem, even if the antecedents of the word-choice might fit nicely.

I love how you wrap (bad pun) the whole poem up in S5. Very clever, but you don’t sacrifice the rhythmic sense or imagistic sense of the poem at the altar of clever-clever. Like all complex things done well, it sounds simple – as if it ‘just happened’ – even if it didn’t (and although you might very well come back and say ‘oh, but it did just happen’ then I’d ask you whether it ever could/might have happened without the years of writing practice). Because I doubt it.

I’ll be super-interested to see what other people here think to this poem. I’m probably biased towards it, because of how it uses word-level choices in the structure, and how it uses images, and because it leans towards the surreal (without ever being fractured - it’s very well-controlled but the authorial voice (if you like) is also very subtle).

Sarah-Jane

Andrew Frisardi 06-02-2021 07:42 AM

I like it a lot, Matt, though it seems more like a “Plaint” than an “Epistle,” since there’s no discernible addressee. Is that the point: loneliness writing to no one?

I enjoy how this opens with straightforward metaphor and statement and segues into non sequitur.

The horse flesh after the cherry blossoms (I had to look up sakura) would go down easier, pardon the pun, if there were a period after “liking.” That would signal the more abrupt shift.

The settling of the various images at the bottom or end is a lovely and poignant summing up of the poem’s contrasts.

A couple things:

I’d like commas before and after “come morning” in L2.

I agree with Sarah-Jane about “gung-ho” in S4L1. Do you need an adverb there. Maybe, but I also wonder if “launch itself” could be improved upon. I don’t have an alternative in mind, but that verb for me suggests a more rocket-like motion, whereas the blossoms fall and are blown about. I think what you’re getting at is unselfconscious risk-taking or self-surrender, but launching and especially gung-ho launching sounds more aggressive or perhaps guarded.

Best,

Andrew

Mark McDonnell 06-03-2021 06:50 AM

Hi Matt,

I thought this was excellent, even when I had no idea what was going on, because the voice was so assured and I loved the way “blossoms” becomes a verb at the end. I had to do some detective work to establish that sakura can mean both “cherry blossom” and “horse meat”. I still don’t quite get what’s going on, in the sense of being able to entirely follow the extended metaphor. But I get enough to give me a sense of the idea of waiting for things that don’t transpire, of spoiled chances or missed opportunity perhaps.

Anyway, I really like it and it makes me want to spend longer with it. An accomplished poem, I think.

Matt Q 06-05-2021 11:14 AM

Max, Sarah, Andrew and Mark,

Many thanks for reading and commenting. I'm pleased it's working well for the most part. I was a bit worried about putting a Japanese pun in a poem, so I'm glad that's not been overly troubling. I've been ill for much of the time since I posted it, so no revisions yet, but I wanted to acknowledge your critiques.

Max,

I'm glad that line worked for you.


Sarah and Andrew,

So the title was "Epistle" because it was a reply to another epistolary poem a friend wrote (this was during a poem-a-day-for-a-month challenge in April and we went back and forth for a few poems) so in a sense the "you" was implicit in that context. Afterwards I stuck with it, because, although there's no addressee, it still feels to me like a letter, an attempt to communicate, or a report from far away maybe. I like what Andrew says about loneliness writing to no one. That said, there's probably a better title somewhere and I'll see what I can come up with.


Sarah,

I was interested to read you saying "the little I know of horses they’re quite happy to launch themselves as a group (or on their own) into the wind", because it showed me that this line could be read in a way I hadn't anticipated. I was thinking: blossoms are transient, impermanent; flesh is intransient too. We mammals also die, but we tend to be more reluctant than blossom. Hence the horseflesh tastes of pulling back (from death). That's what I was going for, I'd be interested to know if that came across. So, hmm. I didn't occur to me that horses might enjoy launching themselves into the wind -- I'd only seen that line in relation to death. I guess, I did write "onto" the wind, not "into", which seems to me to imply flight or gliding -- but maybe not strongly enough?


Andrew,

I agree that blossoms don't actively and enthusiastically launch themselves onto the wind, but are mindlessly blown of the branches and carried by the wind. But the former depiction seems to better contrast with mammals' reluctance to die. Though perhaps the death aspect isn't coming across? I'd be interested to know. And maybe there is a better word than "launch", especially if you associate it with rockets rather than with launching boats or leaping off things, say.

I wanted to indicate that horse-flesh is connected to sakura, but the semicolon is wrong as you say. I changed that semicolon for an em-dash (EDIT: and then later to a full stop as you suggested!)


Mark,

I'm really glad this worked for you. Yes, detective work is needed for the Japanese pun, which was a worry, but it sounds like there were enough clues, which is good news. I hoped that in the last sentence "blossoms" could work as a noun or a verb. Sort of: here is is the fox and the blossoms that are waiting (for it), which brings us back to the opening scenario. But also, a more hopeful, "having been planted, the waiting grows and blossoms".

Thanks again everyone,

Matt

John Riley 06-08-2021 10:52 AM

Matt, I'm sorry I took so long to get to this and I am also very sorry I was so late getting to this. This is a great poem. The transition first to eating horse flesh and then the transition to "pulling back" and the gift of waiting is all so smoothly done and strong at the same time. This is a metaphysical poem about the great metaphysical theme:

Quote:

The flesh of horses,
like all flesh, is transient as any blossom
Me being me I do want to say I am a little unsure about the last stanza. I'm a notorious end chopper but do wonder if it ended with

Quote:

Of all the gifts, waiting is one too often given
would it leave me a little more out in space? The burying of the box brings me back to the earth and I wonder about it. Maybe mess around and see what you think.

This is a brilliant poem and I mean brilliant in an old-fashioned way. It's full of light. I love it.

Best

John Isbell 06-08-2021 12:30 PM

Hi Matt,

I'll comment before reading the thread, for the sake of first impressions.

To my ear, this poem repeatedly rings true, which is a quality I encounter less often than I'd like. It has the music, the vocabulary and syntax of poetry. That's the main thing really. For instance, the boldness of "is come morning / vanished," or the elegance of "You know, I ate sakura once." Reading is constantly rewarded - it challenges, neither too hard nor too easy, as they say the mind delights in. Nice to write stuff this good.

Beyond that, I have the usual handful of suggestions. I can't fathom the first two words. I might put a period after "sakura once" and do something else to open the next tercet. I'm unconvinced by "reluctant" - horses shy, maybe that would offer something useful. This I think could be better formulated: "That was the taste of it, / as I recall: the taste of pulling back." Maybe "waiting's" instead of waiting is? The clause feels a bit flaccid to me. And finally, would you consider blossom in the singular to end? It is ambiguous, and I think it works.

So: lovely stuff. Thanks for the treat,
John

Andrew Frisardi 06-09-2021 11:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Matt Q (Post 465420)
I agree that blossoms don't actively and enthusiastically launch themselves onto the wind, but are mindlessly blown of the branches and carried by the wind. But the former depiction seems to better contrast with mammals' reluctance to die. Though perhaps the death aspect isn't coming across?

The death aspect does come across, which connects up with my earlier comment about "risk-taking," etc., since death can also be death of self, or ego. Your explanation makes me feel even more that launch gung-ho loses focus of what the poem is saying there, since it implies control and choice. Letting go and drifting are more evocative of death, which goes against conscious choice except perhaps in the case of suicide.

Woody Long 06-11-2021 12:09 AM

Matt —

Although non-metrical, the poem has a stately cadence that seems fitting for what is said.

I agree that it is a fine poem. Dense too, but that's a plus here.

S4L1 - gung-ho - My experience of the phrase "gung ho", as used in English, is that it expresses great enthusiasm put into action. (You use a hyphen, gung-ho, which I guess works better in print as a modifier.) Anyway, it's origin is Chinese. Given the poem's allusions to cherry blossoms & sakura, you might consider banzai, also an English word, adopted from Japanese. In addition to its literal meaning in Japanese, it has suggestions in English of daring, even foolhardy, risk of death that gung-ho does not. Also, in English, some will hear an echo of bonsai & hence trees, which I think is OK. Many will not hear that, I suppose.

— Woody


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