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Unread 07-31-2021, 10:40 AM
Mary McLean Mary McLean is offline
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Cambridge UK
Posts: 1,169
Default Film Stars

Film Stars

The patient on the table was convinced
I had a doppelganger, or she’d seen
me working in a different hospital wing.

I said, ‘This happens to me all the time,
because I bear so startling a resemblance
to Marilyn Monroe.’ It got a laugh,

but then she looked more closely at my face.
‘Don’t wish away your life for one like hers.’
‘I know,’ I said, and gave her arm a squeeze,

then punched the key to send her down the bore
and put the tumours ravaging her life
on film.
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Unread 07-31-2021, 11:15 AM
Coleman Glenn Coleman Glenn is offline
Join Date: Oct 2020
Location: Bryn Athyn, PA
Posts: 202

Hi Mary,

Thank you for posting this. I’m impressed at the range of emotions you’ve managed to pack into a short poem. The pacing is excellent - the casual banter of the first two stanzas sets the stage for the turn to urgency and deeper connection in S3, and S4 delivers a solid gut punch. Oof. “Punched” is an inspired word choice in S4L1. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in medical settings, and I think you’ve really captured the way the light and quotidian bumps into the literal life-and-death situations there.

If I have to pick nits: “bear so startling a resemblance” feels a bit like it’s there for the meter rather than reflecting conversational speech, although I like the way it delays the “Marilyn Monroe” punchline. “Ravaging her life,” although perfectly accurate, also feels a little generic — I wonder if it would be more effective to refer to specific body parts rather than “life”. (This is just thinking out loud - “life” might still be better there.) Those are minor - the poem is well-crafted and moving as it is.

Last edited by Coleman Glenn; 07-31-2021 at 11:20 AM.
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Unread 07-31-2021, 12:32 PM
Jim Ramsey Jim Ramsey is offline
New Member
Join Date: Jan 2021
Location: Greensboro, NC
Posts: 69

Hi Mary,

I like this piece. It snapshots an emotional moment well. One thing I do on this site is look to see where the author’s from so I can recuse myself from judging meter and idioms because I’m never sure of accentual stresses and phrasings. For instance I suspect you do not spit out “…spit…” in the middle of “hospital” the way I do here in the states. I usually take it on faith that UK writers are getting it right. The only thought I have that would be worth more thinking is your title. A poem like this one that captures the extraordinary in ordinary people in ordinary circumstances depends on maintaining authenticity. I understand your choice of title in the way the speaker and patient are connected. And, up front, beginning the poem, it’s as good a title as any. But for me, after reading, it echoed back a bit cutesy and writerly, perhaps a little too ironic for the tone of the poem. On the other hand it was memorable and pulled me back to it. That said, critique-ing is not my strength. Just like with my poems, I think I would need to revise my critiques over weeks to get them to a point I was past flip-flopping my opinion. Like any reader though, I can expertly relate a first impression for what it’s worth.

All the best,
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Unread 07-31-2021, 01:23 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 5,647

Hi Mary,

Speaking as a cancer survivor, FWIW, I see a lot of emotional honesty and range here. I would say that in my case, pre-surgery, tumors ravaged my body, not my life which feels a bit abstract. No other thematic nits; metrically, you seem to have regular IP outside three lines, of which I made a mental note: S1L3, S2L2, and the closing line. That feels a bit odd to me - not sure if that’s your plan?
I think I’d prefer the singular in the title. Just the one star is mentioned!

Update: a tumor, in my case. Just the one.

I did enjoy your tonal range here. Thanks,
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Unread 07-31-2021, 01:30 PM
F.F. Teague's Avatar
F.F. Teague F.F. Teague is offline
Join Date: Jul 2017
Location: Gloucestershire, UK
Posts: 1,154

Hi Mary,

I like this too. I've been in hospitals quite a lot, for various procedures, and what I like most here is the connection between the N and the patient, alternating between jokes and serious stuff, and with that squeeze, which contrasts so well with the punch. So it feels very real to me.

Not much else to say at the moment, but I'll watch this thread and return if I can be of any use to you :-)

Best wishes,
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Unread 07-31-2021, 02:15 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,542

I think this is excellent, though I didn't realize it was excellent until the killer ending. Not that anything was wrong until then, but it's rare that a poem this short can deliver a surprise ending that also feels so apt and true. And then the reader goes back to the title and appreciates it for the first time as a sort of bonus.

For me,"wish away your life" is something you might tell a kid who says he wishes he were a grown-up not to do, so I paused over the meaning. No big deal.
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Unread 07-31-2021, 05:02 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 4,450

Hi Mary! Good to read you here again!

The conversational IP reads very well to my ear, and for some reason I was relieved you chose unrhymed IP. And the diction choices are terrific, from "laugh" and "squeeze", to "punched" and "bore". There's gallows humour here. Compassion and focus, both.

I'm still thinking of the truncated last line, the abrupt "on film". It is a jolt, but that suddeness, the clinical reality, the shut down of the human flow as the machine takes over. So feeling thrown out of the poem at that flick of a last line -- I suppose that is the whole point.

Well done!

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Unread 07-31-2021, 06:08 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 9,175

Mary, I like this, including the abrupt ending, which turns the title on its head. I particularly like the arm squeeze, which says a lot without saying it. The one part I had doubts about was "down the bore." I don't think I have ever heard that particularly phrase, and it confused me at first. Though I could get what you were talking about, it seemed a technical way to describe the process. I might expect something like "through the tube" or "through the scanner" instead.

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Unread 07-31-2021, 09:56 PM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Posts: 1,969

This is strong. Two small comments.

Like Susan, I tripped on "down the bore," initially reading it as "send her down, the bore." The next line, of course, cleared it up, and the term added verisimilitude, sounding like the way a medical technician would describe the procedure.

"because I bear so startling a resemblance" feels less colloquial than the rest, and in particular than the other spoken line, "This happens to me all the time."
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Unread 08-01-2021, 07:46 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,542

I think "because I bear so startling a resemblance" is fine. The line about Marilyn Monroe is being said facetiously, of course, and the purposely high-falutin' diction strikes me as the tone a person making such a light-hearted joke may adopt to milk the sarcasm.
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