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  #1  
Unread 09-16-2021, 10:07 AM
Joe Crocker Joe Crocker is offline
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Default Guillotine

Guillotine

The man that Orwell witnessed
on his way to being hanged,
stepped slightly aside, on the path, to avoid a puddle,
stepped slightly aside, on the path, to avoid a puddle,
stepped slightly aside, on the path, to avoid a puddle,
his common sense commanding
the things it could still command.

Habits we cannot correct,
no epiphany will break.
Things we thought we understood,
we never understood. Too late.

A blank preoccupation
brings us helpless to the block.
The focus on the footstep.
The insight, automatic.
The wrists tied tight behind the back
would tear against their bindings
to save the falling head from
the upward rushing basket.








Dead men walking

..when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned Ė reasoned even about puddles. George Orwell ďA hangingĒ from Burmese Days

The man that Orwell witnessed on his way to being hanged,
stepped slightly aside, on the path, to avoid a puddle.
His common sense commanding the things it could still command.
The habits we cannot correct, that no epiphany will break.
So little rightly understood, and not for understandingís sake.

A blank preoccupation brings us all, complicit, to the block.
The focus on the footstep. The insight, automatic.
The wrists tied tight behind the back that would tear against their bindings
to save the falling head from the upward rushing basket.

Last edited by Joe Crocker; 09-22-2021 at 04:44 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-16-2021, 12:06 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Joe,

My take is that this saying that, like the soon-to-be-hanged man, we are all preoccupied with the small stuff, with habit and commanding what we can command. I think it's a great idea for a poem, and I really like the close, the hands wanting to catch the falling head.

I wonder if you actually need the epigraph? The first line seems to tell us what all we need to know: that Orwell witness a hanging. I can see how you got from there to the poem, but seeing that maybe takes something away from the poem.

S1L4 uses "we", but as a sentence fragment it seems to continue L3, which uses "he", and the pronoun shift seems odd to me. I'm not entirely understand S1L5. Both lines, in fact, are fragments, which may be part of the reason I'm not following.

I also wonder if the poem actually needs S1L4&5, both of which seem to be offering commentary the reader might supply. Or you might consider just losing S5, which seems to me the weaker of the two. Albeit, I don't entirely understand L5, as I said, so maybe I'm missing something.

I prefer the thread to title to the actual title. Though I guess the idea with it is to convey that we are all sentenced to death. I think the poem gets that across anyway, and I don't know if the reference to film/book adds anything. The thread title also sets up severed head in a basket ending.

best,

Matt
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  #3  
Unread 09-16-2021, 09:44 PM
Mark Stone Mark Stone is offline
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Joe,

1. Since only one man dies in the poem, I wonder if a better title would be "Dead Man Walking."

2. In L1, since "[t]he man" is a person, I wonder if "that" should be replaced by "who" or "whom."

3. The first time I read L1, I thought that "his" referred back to Orwell, rather than to "[t]he man."

4. If you wanted to make L3 more iambic, you could move up "still" to before "the."

5. If you wanted to turn L4 into a sentence, you could delete ", that"

6. I don't understand L5 and think you could delete it. One benefit of doing so is that it would remove the only end rhyme, which stands out since it's the only one. It also would leave you with two quatrains, which to me looks better than a 5-4.

7. I would try to end L8 with "tight behind the back," since "back" as an end word would be a nice complement to "block" and "basket."

8. I like the idea and imagery in the last two lines.

Best, Mark
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  #4  
Unread 09-17-2021, 07:05 AM
Joe Crocker Joe Crocker is offline
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Thanks Matt. Those are good points. You have understood what I’m trying to say.

So does it need the epigraph? Possibly not. I read the Orwell story many many years ago and it has stuck with me, but I’m not sure how well known it is. And I do have a tendency to explain too much I guess.

Title: Guillotine or Dead Men Walking? I’ve been through a dozen or more titles. As you say “Guillotine” more clearly sets up the last line, but “dead men walking” captures the take home message, that we are all, in the end, dead men walking. Again, perhaps I am spelling it out more flat-footedly than is needed.

The move from “he” to “we” in Line 4 moves the focus from Orwell’s story of a particular experience to the shared fate of us all. The pronoun becomes “us” in L16 It may help if I were to separate lines 4 and 5 from the first verse, to make a rhyming couplet in the middle?

Lines 4, 5, 6 & 7 are more or less expressing the same idea in different ways. We do stuff, think stuff because that’s the way we are built, or it's what we have learnt and we can’t help ourselves. Knowing we are about to die, alters less about us than we might suppose or hope. Line 5 is the most obscure iteration. The meaning I was trying to convey was that the realization that death is coming soon, does not necessarily remove our blinkers and open up us up to a wider understanding of the meaning of life. What little we do understand seems almost incidental, unconcious and not obtained as the result of actually trying to understand.

Mark. Thanks also for your careful reading.

1. The poem begins with Orwell’s singular observation but moves to a more general point of view that concerns us all, so I think I prefer Dead Men Walking. (But, see above, I may change the title to “Guillotine”)

2. Yes “that” is bad grammar and should be “whom”. Though, somehow it feels more natural to say “that”. Not sure why.

3. Yes, there is an ambiguity in L1 but I think it is resolved in L2

4. Line 2 has already twisted the iambic beat and I think your suggestion for L3 would repair the rhythm but also twist the meaning slightly.

5. As above, your suggestion to drop “that” would work but I think it subtly alters the meaning.

6. Matt also had a problem with line 5. I am quite fond of it and of the rhyme. It may work better as part of separated couplet?

7. That is a suggestion definitely worth considering. I could perhaps break line 8 at "back"?

8. Thanks for that.

Last edited by Joe Crocker; 09-17-2021 at 11:53 AM.
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  #5  
Unread 09-17-2021, 08:00 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Joe, I don't think the rhyme and meter are doing your message any favors. I like the idea of this poem, but think it would breathe more in free verse. Your meter wanders to varying lengths in the lines, and the long lines themselves are more fitted to light verse than to the sort of content you have in them. I think you have padded the lines with unneeded verbiage to fill out their length. A shorter, more matter-of-fact wording might draw attention to the brutal truth of your point, leaving out epiphanies, complicities, and such.

Susan
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  #6  
Unread 09-17-2021, 10:09 AM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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It sounds like he's going to be hanged in S1, but decapitated in S2. If you change "hanged" in S1 to "killed", it adds tension to the poem that isn't resolved until the final line and "falling head".

I agree completely with Susan about ditching the rhyme and meter.
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  #7  
Unread 09-18-2021, 02:54 PM
Joe Crocker Joe Crocker is offline
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Thanks all. The consensus so far is that the poem has a good idea but maybe fails to execute (pun intended) it well. Susan and Michael suggest ditching the rhymes and the rhythms in favour of free verse. Iím not averse (pun intended) to that. Its simply that I donít feel very confident that I could make that work for me. The things I have written tend to be loosely formal or HetMet. I am inherently drawn to rhyme and metre, even when I only half-rhyme or vary the metre. My day job was scientific research and some kind of structure or scaffolding feels important to me.

Iím interested in the notion that certain poetical formats suit some themes better than others. From Susan and Michael I get the feeling that in incorporating rhymes and a kind of rhythm that I am distracting attention away from the core ideas, painting myself into an inappropriate corner. I can sort of see that, and I think it is true that very formal rhyme and metre seems to fit light, witty, intellectual verse more than heartbreaking, soul-searching sentiments. But there are many many examples of poems which are formal and breathtakingly profound (and no Iím not pretending that my stuff is either of those things) I suppose I would not seriously try to write a poem about life and death in the form of a Limerick. But then againÖ why not?

On the path to his own execution
was a puddle, and he had no shoes on.
He stepped to the side
of his life and he died.
No epiphany. No resolution.

Does that escape the usual expectations of a Limerick? Probably not. But it seems to me that it is in principle at least, possible. Or perhaps Iím just searching for excuses not to embark on making a poem free of the safety belt afforded by formalism.
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  #8  
Unread 09-18-2021, 10:46 PM
Mark Stone Mark Stone is offline
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Joe,

Given that you "don't feel very confident" that you can make free verse work for you, and that you are "inherently drawn to rhyme and meter," my advice (even though you haven't asked for it) is to not abandon rhyme and meter, but to work on improving your skills in using those devices. I say that if you like using meter and rhyme, then stick with it. Your skills will improve. Swim in the river where you are happy. In short, be you. Some people will like your poems and some won't, but that's life.

Best, Mark
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  #9  
Unread 09-19-2021, 06:01 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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I agree with Mark, you should simply keep working in rhyme and meter if that is what your impulse is. They can function even outside a formal consistent scheme, they can inform a poem irregularly. I do like the poem, though I think there is too much lexical flab on it. The long line, while giving you room to refine your ideas, also runs the risk of giving you too much room to settle for a somewhat muddy exposition. Such long lines need to be leaner. I think breaking the lines up on the page might be a worthy experiment, even using step-down lines (which have a hanging effect).

That man he witnessed
.................................on his way to his hanging
stepped off the path
.............................to avoid a puddle.


I tried working with the whole poem, Joe, but the number of changes I found myself making was too great for me to remain comfortable offering them as a suggestion. It does need a substatial amount of work, in my opinion, but I found it inspiring to peer into. The last line of the first stanza is not doing much. And the epigraph should be chopped up into a few lines; and the extra expository info about source should certainly be dropped, as should the name of Orwell repeated in the first line of the poem.

Nemo
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  #10  
Unread 09-19-2021, 12:37 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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If it helps (probably not), I think the limerick is great. Seriously.

Other than that, I agree with Mark and Nemo about sticking to your metrical guns. Maybe relax the overwhelmingly iambic effect - that first line sets up the overwhelmingly iambic expectation, so perhaps make that a little less strictly metrical - and, as Nemo says, make the lines shorter. And a bit less of a mouthful.

And breathe.

Good luck!

David
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