The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Son of Man
 / 

I like this poem over at Linebreak.

EXCEPT.

I don’t think it should have the—what to call them?—dangling sentence-starters. “Outside” on the third line of the first stanza.

I don’t know the, like, poetry etiquette though; does calling the line breaks into question call into question the whole thing? I don’t think it should. I like the words a lot—the rhythm and the images!

15 comments

Tim Carmody says…

I don’t know if it “calls into question the whole thing,” but if you re-edit a poem with different line breaks, it most certainly is a radical transformation of the poem.

I read a lot of avant-garde, open-verse stuff, so I usually think of this mostly as a transformation of the poem’s visual space. In this case though, one thing you may not have noticed is that the line breaks preserve meter — the whole poem’s written in a kind of fluid, variable-foot tetrameter. Nearly every line has four stresses. (Some can be read differently, but I think they can all be read as tetrameter.)

Aha! So, you nailed it: my beef is visual; I don’t like the way the dangling sentence-starters LOOK on the screen.

Tim Carmody says…

It’s a hard thing to get right. And we don’t have visual/aural virtuosos like Mallarmé, Pound, Olson, or Aram Saroyan anymore.

Tim Carmody says…

Also, the best poem ever written about an apple – at least, the best contemporary poem – is Susan Stewart’s “Apple,” from her unbelievable book Columbarium:

If I could come back from the dead, I would come back
for an apple, and just for the first bite, the first
break, and the cold sweet grain
against the roof of the mouth, as plain
and clear as water.

(A recording of Stewart reading “Apple“)

Tim Carmody says…

Oh, and I forgot to give you the word. It’s called enjambment. You don’t like enjambment, especially early in a sentence. I’m guessing you prefer an end-stopped line.

It seems very much a visual issue to me, maybe a little bit scansion too, but the scansion seems to break out of tetrameter anyway, e.g. first line second stanza. I guess a fair question, Robin, is how you would break it. How does it look broken your way? Does it matter?

This is pretty interesting to me though. “My Last Duchess” always struck me as problematic because you are constantly tempted to read it with stops at the end of every line, but that renders the meaning of the poem pretty much incomprehensible. The right way to read the poem seems to be as normal English, but of course that tends to disguise/hide all the rhymes. So maybe the rhyme is supposed to be an almost subliminal thing, like scansion tends to be… ?

Good question! Let me try. I realize I am doing great violence to this well-considered work (Sarah Kathryn Moore, if you’re out there, I’m sorry!) but this is a really interesting exercise:

# # #

Five o’clock in the listening room,
autumn. Apples, ripe as poppies,
are dropping from the sky.

Outside beside the balustrade
the Son of Man is not hiding. He is not balding.
Hello. We dance to Philip Glass.

(People think when Jesus said “The Son of Man”
he meant himself. But we know they’re wrong.)

And how the blind god lies, saying,
Ceci n’est pas une pomme, saying,
Pleasure is here. Take it.

That’s where the blind god’s got it wrong.
That’s where the Son of Man takes off his mask—

it is not the apple of lust or temptation.
It is just an apple:
core and seed and flesh.

# # #

Which obviously doesn’t have the same symmetry. But 3-3-2, 3-2-3 is not, like, without cohesion.

The line that really gets me is “Outside beside the balustrade.” It has such a perfect sound to it, but stranding “Outside” not just on the previous line but on the other side of a line break slows it down. You can’t help but say “Outside… beside the balustrade” and I think it sounds better if it’s almost “Outside-beside-the-balustrade.” OutSIDE-beSIDE, you know? A little bounce to it.

This is fun! More poetry on Snarkmarket.

Tim Carmody says…

My prediction was correct – Robin likes an end-stopped line.

“More poetry on Snarkmarket”? You have no idea what jar you just opened.

Betty Ann says…

The answer is in the opening quote.

I think this is exactly right; I also tend to interpret these as signals for reading, and when I read this poem aloud to myself I find myself trying to take a breathing pause–a pause, a real one, but different than the one given to a comma or an em-dash, longer but still tightly connected to the beside, breathing in anticipation, somehow more obvious than the imperceptible gap between Son of Man and is not hiding.

But I really don’t remember much.

Thanks a bunch for the link, Robin. I’m glad you liked our poem this week. My co-editors and I argue over line breaks all the time when we’re considering poems, though, oddly enough, not in this particular case.

On the same subject, I attended a guest lecture given by poet Sidney Wade earlier this week, and she recommended Robert Lowell’s “After the Surprising Conversions” as an example of how enjambed lines can work in a poem.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=177998

Lowell’s poem is written in rhymed couplets, but the enjambments take so much stress off the rhymed words that you can almost miss the rhymes entirely.

And I hereby add my vote for more poetry talk on Snarkmarket.

Sarah Kate (Sarah Kathryn Moore) says…

Wow! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have a poem considered in such detail by smart people. Thanks for posting and responding!

I’ll add my two cents, which are by no means any sort of final word. The organization of the poem for me was partly a visual thing–I do have a tendency to herd words into some sort of quasi-unified line-length. I’m trying not to let that be a “default” because it’s not always the best choice for the poem. But it’s definitely something I’m aware of and do a lot.

Secondly, I have to admit that I love mischievous line breaks. So, “Apples, ripe as poppies, / are dropping from the sky. Outside” (… outside what? no really, outside what? … DEAR GOD, WHAT IS OUTSIDE? Oh, it’s the Son of Man beside the balustrade.) A mini-version of that happens every time enjambment happens, so it’s a great way to create tension and drama. That said, it can be a gimmick, too, if something is enjambed in a way that doesn’t make sense or is *overly* dramatic. Also, in that particular case, I felt that “outside beside” was such a strong rhyme that it would carry over that line break.

I’m still attached to the choices I made in the poem, but I like Robin’s version of the lineation too, because it makes clear, cohesive, logical choices. I think the most important thing in considering lineation (and maybe in all craft choices) is that there is motivation behind the choice–that the line breaks are doing good, hard work for the poem and are not arbitrary.

Also Tim, I am delighted that you brought up Susan Stewart’s poem. She is my very favorite living poet and one of my biggest influences–I pretty much want to be her when I grow up 🙂

Oh wow, I have to say, Sarah, when you put it like this—

“(… out­side what? no really, out­side what? … DEAR GOD, WHAT IS OUTSIDE? Oh, it’s the Son of Man beside the balustrade.)”

—I am sold!

I’m so glad you chimed in; and thanks for the wonderful poem.

Tim Carmody says…

I was very lucky to have Susan Stewart as a professor my first two years at Penn; I took her seminar on the history of the ode, and her encouragement pretty much boosted me up into the world of scholarship and poetry. She would have definitely been on my dissertation committee had she stayed at Penn, and a big part of me wishes I had kept her on anyways.

In case you’re wondering, she’s pretty much EXACTLY as intelligent and kind as a fan of her poetry might suppose. (Which is off-the-charts.) I love it when that works out.

Interestingly missing from this discussion is the notion of tension between ear- & eye-cues. I think A LOT about line breaks in my work and I enjamb frequently, but I like to keep in mind units of meaning and how they can work more than one way at at a time. I often like to create a sort of syntactic ambiguity. Everyone here makes excellent points, but I think a lot of the discussion boils down to a rather simplistic do you like enjambment or end-stopping, when in reality each poem calls for a careful line-by-line consideration of these matters. (I am speaking of course in the context of free verse; formal verse brings a similar but different set of problems to solve.)

I highly recommend “The Art of the Poetic Line” by James Longenbach for a brilliant discussion of the line as a specific feature of poetry.

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