The Lord: “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)

Swiftly He kicks the wheel, rotating steadily
Lump on bat, now pressed flat, muddy-slick clay.
Spinning the shapeless mess which responds readily
Letting the Master frame urn for display.

Look! The amphora whirls, peerless, magnificent
Ready for kiln to gild gleam on His piece.
Watch the good Potter first scrutinize, nod assent
Sit back, content, . . . then, as if by caprice

Seize the jar, smashing, to human eyes, recklessly,
Malleable beauty now ruined for good.
Start up the wheel again, throw the clod tirelessly
Back on the disk to become what it should.

 

Amy Foreman hails from the southern Arizona desert, where she homesteads with her husband and seven children.  She has enjoyed teaching both English and Music at the college level, but is now focused on home-schooling her children, gardening, farming, and writing. Her blog is theoccasionalcaesura.wordpress.com

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24 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    A vivid, earthy, pithy retelling of one of the great Old Testament biblical parables. I particularly enjoyed the creative pairing of “piece/caprice” and “magnificent/assent.” I also smiled at the playful title. My closest friend is both a master potter and a poet. I will share this with him. It will give us much to discuss.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Thank you, James. I’m so pleased you’ll be able to share this with your poet/potter friend.

      Reply
  2. E. V.

    I love this poem, especially the concept that some pursuits enable us to begin again, exercising another opportunity to successfully build what we had originally intended to create. This poem inspires artists, craftsmen, writers, and anyone who is particular about their work and takes pride in it. Great job, Amy!

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Exactly, E.V. The destruction or loss of one possession or asset can seem devastating, initially, . . . but its absence creates room for something else, something that we might have never foreseen, but which, in retrospect, is even more “right.” Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  3. Mark Stone

    Amy, Hello.

    1. I enjoyed the dactylic meter. I don’t see it that often on poetry websites.

    2. I don’t think it sounds good to leave out the article (a, an or the) when there normally would be one, as in the case of “urn” in L4 and “kiln” in L6. You could change L4 to: “Letting Him frame a fine urn for display.” And you could change L6 to: “Set for the kiln to gild gleam on His piece.”

    3. I like the many internal rhymes: bat/flat, -less/mess & assent/content.

    4. To my ear, “recklessly” and “tirelessly” don’t rhyme. An exact rhyme would be recklessly/fecklessly and tirelessly/wirelessly, although those words may not fit into your story. However, I do appreciate the ambitious three-syllable rhyme as a nice changeup from the more common one-syllable rhyme.

    5. I enjoyed the poem.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Thank you for your gentle and helpful critique, Mark. I also enjoy dactylic meter, and chose it specifically for this poem because of the “revolving” triplet feel. I can almost feel a wheel spinning round and round with triple meters.

      I can see what you are saying about needing an article before “urn” and “kiln.” I will have to think about that. You gave some solid options for me to consider. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to use either “fecklessly” or “wirelessly” in this poem, . . . so the solution to that rhyme would be more complex and require shuffling.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and contributions to “Re-formation.”

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Mark,

      Well, if dactylic was what Amy intended, then so be it. But I found it to be very loose dactylic meter, so loose that I would not have recognized if you hadn’t brought it up. For instance, “Swiftly he kicks the wheel” scans as trochee/iamb/iamb on first take, though “rotating steadily” are two nice dactyls. You will find syllables added or omitted many times throughout the poem. And yet, if one does not try systematically to scan it according to a presumptive meter, the poem reads just fine, as though it were well-written prose. And, Amy, an author’s intention is paramount. If you are using distinctive meters such as dactyls or anapests, I would suggest that you make them scan perfectly, for otherwise it becomes a muddle for the attentive metrician.

      Reply
      • Amy Foreman

        Hi, C.B., and thank you for your thoughts. I’m attempting to read this poem without a dactylic, triplet feel–as you apparently did–and, so far, it’s eluded me. The syllables are divided quite predictably, line 1: 12, line 2: 10, line 3: 12, line 4: 10, for the entire poem. No syllable is randomly added or left out.

        If this were notated musically, in, say 12/8 meter, it would read triplet, triplet, triplet, triplet (first line) . . . then triplet, triplet, triplet, dotted quarter note (second line), and so on, for the length of the piece, with nary a triplet or dotted quarter note removed or added.

        I’m honestly trying to scan it differently than this, so I can understand what you’re saying . . . but I just can’t help feeling the dactyls. . . And they WERE intentional. Oh, well. 🙂

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Yes, in the case of jumpy meters like the dactylic, they have to be as smooth as an oil slick, with no uncertain spots. They also generally require more than the usual number of polysyllabic words. These days you tend to find the dactylic used in those “Higgledy-Piggledy” light verse concoctions based someone’s dactylic name:

        Higgledy-Piggledy
        William C. Jefferson
        Tried to fit into a pair of tight pants;
        Found that his curvature wouldn’t allow for it–
        He wore a wide toga-wrap to the school dance.

        Of course the dactylic need not always be used for comic verse — I employed it once for a serious criticism of female psychology. But the foot does tend to suggest the playful and the facetious. The other thing is that the reader MUST pick up on the meter immediately, and not have the slightest doubt about it.

    • Joe Quintanilla

      Funny how my mind works. At first reading I didn’t notice the dactylic meter and the poem, though nice, didn’t really stand. Once you pointed out the dactylic metering and I reread the poem, it became beautiful! Now, I can not help but to see the dactylic metering. The brain is a funny thing.

      Reply
      • Amy Foreman

        Interesting, Joe. Maybe your first reading was like C.B.’s. Anyway, glad you gave it a second shot, and thanks for weighing in!

  4. Charlie Southerland

    Hi, Amy-

    Your poem is barely formal. It isn’t a matter of dactyls or trochees or triplets in musical beats. I read music fairly well, am a musician. Your “meter” is all over the place. Seven beats in one line, 6 beats in several, 5 and 4 in others. Yes, there is some rising and falling in the lines, but that doesn’t save the poem. It is too irregular for a formal poem.

    While I love math and try to be mindful of meter and scansion, this poem is scattershot. I love sound in poetry and believe it is foremost when writing a poem; meter is secondary, but important to me. I would be laughed out of the country for writing something like this, let alone submitting it for publication.

    You must learn craft. It is essential. Surely there have to be standards for publishing formal poems. You have made an attempt to defend the work. You will doubtless make others. Please don’t. Learn the craft. Learn the craft. Learn the craft.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      It’s a good thing you didn’t write this, Mr. Southerland, or submit it for publication. I would hate to see anyone laughed out of his country. 😉

      Reply
      • Charlie Southerland

        Thanks, Amy, you sure took the pressure off of me. But then, I scrutinize everything I write before sending it to an editor, because, God, I’d hate to embarrass myself. Know what I mean?

  5. James A. Tweedie

    I must say that the meter eluded me at first reading as well, but now, along with Joe, I find it clear, clean, and consistent throughout. Perhaps Evan should sponsor a new contest called, “Aural Illusions!”

    Reply
  6. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Amy,

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us! To me, the poem works. First in terms of its narrative and meaning, and second in terms of its rhyme and meter. The two together give it a mini-Homer-ish feeling.

    Depending on what you want to accomplish, it could be modified. The meter could be more clear if the Potter was not so clearly a representation of God and was lower case. Putting “Swifty He” as your first two words throws a wrench in the dactyls from the get-go. Should you want to bring out the meter, you may rewrite the beginning such that it is very strong and clear for at least the first line or more.

    Also, the meaning could be expanded such that we have an instance of someone seeing a seemingly naturally formed evil, say a child dying young or another terrible sorrow of the world (whatever perhaps sparked this poem), for which we are given a new vision by the revelation of the poem.

    But the above are choices of the poet. There may be a different overall vision at work here which I cannot make out. Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Thank you, Evan. I will take your suggestions to heart. A change in the first line and an expansion of the metaphor into some real-life example may, indeed, improve the poem. Appreciate your thoughts.

      Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    Amy,

    What I meant to say was not that beats were added or left out, but that the accented syllables were often in the wrong place to sustain a consistent dactylic meter. Dactyls are difficult to manage, as I wrote once before in regard to my “Garden Waltz”. Everything is possible, but some things are more difficult than others, and some things more worth doing than others — it’s a risk/reward calculation that one must make. And I thank Joe Salemi for clarifying my initial half-baked criticism of your attempt at a pure dactylic poem. But, as I wrote earlier, it’s a rather nice poem if the reader doesn’t get hung up on technical details.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Thank you to both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Salemi for taking time to explain your thoughts on dactylic meter. Apparently, this poem’s dactyls are a bit too shy for universal recognition. Some see them and others do not. I cannot chide your ear for not hearing what I wanted it to hear; I can only realize that “Re-formation,” as it stands, does not impress triple meter upon all its readers–and that is the fault of the writer, not the reader. Blessings.

      Reply
  8. J. Simon Harris

    This is a very nice poem, and I love the idea of it: the comparison of God with a potter, drawn from Jeremiah, as the quote indicates. There are many things good about it, including much of the language, the general flow, and many of the rhymes (which some other commenters here have pointed out).

    That said, it could definitely be improved. I agree with many of the comments here. To me, the two most important changes come from Mr. Stone and Mr. Mantyk. First, you should use articles where they are expected in natural English; you don’t want your language to sound as though it were trimmed to fit the verse, but rather it should seem natural, as if there were no other way to write the sentence and it just happens to fit perfectly in the verse. Omitting articles sounds unnatural (many non-native speakers omit articles, for instance).

    Second, I would get rid of the capitalization of “Potter” and its pronouns. Just like the biblical metaphor, the poem is more interesting when the potter is ambiguously God or man. Plus, as Mr. Mantyk points out, the capitalization can impact your metrics for the reader, because there is a subconscious tendency to emphasize capitalized words.

    The meter is not strictly dactylic, but the dactyls do seem to govern the overall flow and feel of the poem. As a reader, if I try to impose dactyls on the verse, it sounds forced in many places; but if I read the poem with natural emphases, it actually flows very nicely. Whether this is a success or a failure depends on one’s preferences and interpretations, but I see it as mostly a success (I say “mostly”, since there are a few places where the poem gets jumpy).

    Reply
  9. Amy Foreman

    Thank, Mr. Harris, for sharing these helpful suggestions. I agree about the capitalization, and the possible preference for ambiguity on the potter’s identity in this case. The poem can be a bit more nuanced with that easy fix.

    I also hear both you and Mr. Stone about the articles that should come before nouns, notably “urn.”

    If I ever choose to “put this out there” again in the future, I want to implement several of the suggestions I’ve gotten here. If I get “mulling time” in the near future, I will post my amended version here!

    Blessings–

    Reply

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