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work in progress

another poet-cum-law-student here - just discovered your blog and wanted to let you know i appreciate that it's out there. nice start on a poem here too. (although i think your pacing is a little off at the end - it ends abruptly with a kind of ee-cummings vibe, and i think the last line would benefit from a little more substance, perhaps pablo-neruda or yehuda amichai-style. just my two cents for however little they are worth :))

Scoplaw

Hi WIP,

Thanks for saying hello.  It’s nice to know people are reading the blog and will take a few seconds to fire off a thought – and in this case an observant one.

Unsolicited criticism is always interesting – in workshops there’s the usual respond/don’t respond dilemma, which usually is escalated into the defensive/passive ends of the spectrum.  But, no matter how you slice workshop dynamics, the blogs aren’t workshops, so I usually break with the social protocols of workshops.  I mention this largely because I’m not trying to piss you off with the following response; the dynamics of blogs are just different.   

That said, I’m going to take the opportunity to disagree with your method and say that the poem is 100% Scoplaw, rather than anything of cummings, et al. 

A lot of poets/critics use major poets as critical touchstones (which is certainly what you’re doing here).  I think noticing “likeness” is a valid tool, but also that it’s overused and seldom done well.   When not used precisely, this kind of referral does a disservice to both the poem/poet you’re addressing, and to the poem/poet you’re using as a reference point, by flattening a lot of complexities.   

Thus, I think it’s generally easy/lazy to call something Xpoet-esque, but, once we’re past a certain level of abstraction, is any poet really that stylistically bound? 

cummings is a good case in point.  As a poet he had very wide range – certainly he had a number of short poems, but he also had longer poems.  His pacing varies considerably, from manic compression to a more languid styling (e.g., “Buffalo Bill’s” as an example of both).  The pacing varies so much that it’s quite hard to imagine he “ends abruptly” so consistently, in so many poems, in a way so unique to his own work, that one could abstract that unique abruptness and thus reasonably say that my poem also ends abruptly – in an ee cumming’s like way. 

Does my poem not end abruptly in a Yeatsian way?  Or a Dobyns-like way?  How about the abrupt endings of Tu Fu?  Come to think of it, there are kind of a few poems that end abruptly.

If we imagine a hypothetical PoemX, I think you could say something along the lines of “PoemX uses a parenthetical coda that produces an odd kind of final hitch in the rhythm; in fact it reminds me of cummings' yes is a pleasant country.” That’s using another poem to concretely illustrate a discrete element of composition, i.e., using a touchstone or example to critique in a legitimate way.  It gives the poet somewhere to go, something to listen to.

But whenever we rise out of individual poems, we have to be very, very careful.  Certainly, when approaching our hypothetical PoemX, you could say something (at some point or another) about cummings use of parentheticals, but you’d have to ground whatever it is you said in a) what PoemX is doing, and b) the knowledge of the variety of parentheticals that cummings uses, and to which ends he uses them.  And that requires more than just drawing a connection between the mere fact that poemX uses parentheticals, and cummings also happened to use a lot of them. 

So, anyway, I’ll take your criticism to mean that the poem begins just fine, like Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s do, transitions rather like Ted Rothke, but ends abruptly, in a manner that similar to Robert Hayden, and that the beginning of the poem is substantive, like David St.John, but the final line could use some more substance like Philip Larkin, or David Sleigh, but not like the substance of Hopkins or Rilke or Graham, which is an entirely different kind of substance, to say nothing of the substance of James Wright.

Yes, I'm poking fun at the negative implications of the statement, but a deeper quesiton is, Do we really serve the craft by talking this way?  Do we really open poetry up so that people will actually read it?  (These are questions I struggle with, because sometimes this kind of discourse is, in fact, useful – I’ve used it and have benefited by it.  I'm just not sure it's something that should be encouraged.)

Again, my apologies if the above sound snarky – my loyalty to the muse often trumps my social/cyber good sense.  And this is just a good opportunity to bang one of my dusty drums.

I do think you have a completely valid and on point comment regarding the pacing of the poem, and I’m not quibbling with that at all. There are a handful of lawyer-poets out there - shoot me a line at scoplaw@gmail.com and I'll put you in touch with some of our more civil brothers and sisters.

Best of luck with exams,

Scoplaw

Lyco

I think this piece is very Maya Angelou.

Scoplaw

Only in subject, I think.

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