Letters We Wrote

dedicated to Diane Fournier

Across the months of summer and the states,
We wrote our lengthy letters, wrote our lives –
Descriptions of our summer days and dates,
Each to our mailbox drawn like bees to hives.
We wrote our girlish gossip so that we
Might keep our friendship fast though miles apart;
We wrote our hopes and dreams of what might be,
Our thoughts, concerns, and what lay on our heart.
Each summer, while in Yellowstone, she wrote;
And I, in Antioch, would do the same.
Whoever wrote the longest then would gloat!
My thirty-eight-page letter won the game.
I’m glad we could not text or email then:
I treasure all those letters writ by pen.

 

Rethinking Sixteen Candles

For many years Jake Ryan was the king
Of dreamy guys you someday hoped to meet;
In “Sixteen Candles” he makes Sam’s heart sing,
And when they finally kiss it’s, oh, so sweet.

The innocent Samantha wins our hearts,
And though Jake has a girlfriend, we don’t care –
We root for Sam, and when to her he darts,
For his drunk girlfriend we’ve no tears to spare.

Not only does Samantha he now seek;
His girlfriend he soon makes a sacrifice.
He gives her, with his sports car, to the Geek;
And she, too drunk to notice, pays the price.

How did we laugh and not, with jaws agape,
Realize the truth: that he approved her rape?

 

Tonya McQuade is an English teacher at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, CA, and lives with her husband in San Jose, CA. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade and is currently a member of Poetry Center San Jose. She has been published in Poetry.com’s America at the Millennium: The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century, Pushpen Press’s Three: An Anthology of Flash Non-Fiction, and California Teacher Association’s digital California Educator. 


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22 Responses

  1. Joseph Tessitore

    Wow!
    You do know how to end a poem, and both so very different!

    Well done!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe,

      I suggest that you give these poems some closer scrutiny. Parse them, decipher what the actual meaning of the separate lines actually is in standard English, and then get back to me.

      Reply
      • Joseph Tessitore

        I did get that there was a lot of not-so-wonderful grammar in both of them (and from a high school English teacher, yet!), but I felt like I had to give her the benefit of the doubt.
        Since there was so much of it, I thought she might be riffing, and since I’m not of the riffing generation, I’m simply not qualified to comment on it.

      • Joseph Tessitore

        I just remembered that there was another thing in play for me here when I gave her the benefit of the doubt – Evan posted it, and I trust his judgment.

    • Joseph Tessitore

      The other thing, C.B., is that I was very deliberately commenting only on her endings.

      Reply
    • Tonya McQuade

      Thanks, Joseph. I’ve been out of the country traveling with family, and I am just now getting to respond to the comments on my poems. I’m glad you liked the endings – I try to offer a “twist” to add food for thought. And you’re right – I do like to play a bit with syntax in my poetry. I see from others’ comments that some disagree with that approach and find it too ungrammatical. I have to say, I wonder what they think of poets like e.e. cummings and others who choose to play with language. I also teach my students more than 50 different sentence patterns to use in their writing – and while some may be less common, they learn that syntax does not always follow a standard format. I find it interesting that so many here, in their comments, focus solely on the style and meter without seeming to pay any attention to the messages of the poems – I teach my students to look first to meaning, though of course we also look at language and style. I wrote the second poem after reading Molly Ringwald’s editorial on her own rethinking of the movie “Sixteen Candles” – a movie I grew up with and had always really liked, but her comments certainly made me think differently. At any rate, I appreciate that you were able to read for meaning as well.

      Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    Almost, but not quite. Read Sally Cook, Gail White et. al. and you will get a better idea of what true feminist writing is all about. Too much strained diction here, and a glaring grammatical infelicity in line seven of the second poem leaves us wondering what the hell the writer was trying to convey.

    “Not only does Samantha he now seek”

    is one of the worst English lines I have ever read. What in the world is this supposed to mean?

    Reply
    • E. V.

      I believe what was meant is that not only does Jake dump his girlfriend for Samantha, but he further hurts her by enabling “the geek” to (possibly) rape her. The meaning seemed clear to me.

      Reply
      • Tonya Ann McQuade

        Thanks – and yes, that is the meaning I was trying to convey. It seems perfectly clear to me. I will repeat the comment here that I just typed above. I’ve been out of the country traveling with family, and I am just now getting to respond to the comments on my poems (to which I was first alerted by someone’s email urging me to not be discouraged by all the “bashing” – that’s how I learned my poems had finally been published). I do like to play a bit with syntax in my poetry. I see from others’ comments that some disagree with that approach and find it too ungrammatical. I have to say, I wonder what they think of poets like e.e. cummings and others who choose to play with language. I also teach my students more than 50 different sentence patterns to use in their writing – and while some may be less common, they learn that syntax does not always follow a standard format. I find it interesting that so many here, in their comments, focus solely on the style and meter without seeming to pay any attention to the messages of the poems – I teach my students to look first to meaning, though of course we also look at language and style. I wrote the second poem after reading Molly Ringwald’s editorial on her own rethinking of the movie “Sixteen Candles” – a movie I grew up with and had always really liked, but her comments certainly made me think differently. At any rate, I appreciate that you were able to read for meaning as well.

  3. Michael Dashiell

    I thought the letter poem was pretty, graceful and smooth. The second one was ironic and funny. I may have seen a little of this movie. It was an 80s film, right?

    Reply
    • Tonya Ann McQuade

      Thanks, Michael. And yes – the movie came out in the 1980’s, when I was in high school, and it was definitely a movie I grew up with and enjoyed. I wrote my poem as a response to Molly Ringwald’s editorial about her own “rethinking” of the movie.

      Reply
  4. E. V.

    Tonya, the skillfully written ending of Rethinking 16 Candles reflects your superb poetic ability. Although I do believe the poem is fine in its current state, you have the option to revise it. If you decide that certain criticisms have merit, then use them to improve upon what you’ve already produced. However, do NOT give up on this poem; it’s a winner!

    Reply
  5. Monty

    I found the first poem to be a sweet little reminisce, affectionally written, about our earlier mode of communication; although I don’t know the meaning of “keep our friendship fast”.

    As has been mentioned, some of the diction in the 2nd poem is a tad hazy; it may just be one of those everyday cases where the author knows exactly what they mean by a certain line . . but they mightn’t have re-read it thoroughly enough to ensure that the diction will be clear to others (or as many others as possible). The line highlighted above by C.B., for example – “Not only does Samantha he now seek” – is patently bad diction, but the meaning was obviously clear to the author, and after a momentary jar, it can become clear to the reader; but the ‘jar’ could’ve been avoided just by swapping 2 words around so it reads as: “Not only Samantha does he now seek”.

    Also, the fact that the line starts with “Not only” seems incorrect in relation to the succeeding line. For example, one might say (paraphrased): “Not only does he now seek Samantha/He’s also got his eye on her sister” . . then the “not only” is valid. But if one were to say: Not only does he now seek Samantha/He soon makes his girlfriend a sacrifice” . . the “not only” sounds redundant to me.

    In view of the above: I find myself nothing short of perplexed that one commenter has described the 2nd poem as “skillfully written”, with “superb poetic ability”. Does such “ability” include or preclude the necessary act of an author re-reading their work many times over . . meticulously . . line by line?

    Reply
      • Monty

        It ain’t a case being ‘back’; it’s a case of finding a bit of wifi for an hour every few days. I’m currently in Nepal for 4 months; and the Himalayan existence is deliciously inconducive to such things.

    • E. V.

      @ Monty: Please permit “that one commenter” (gee, I wonder to whom you were referring?) to clarify things for you. Had you “meticulously” read my comment, you’d have understood that I was praising the final couplet of “Rethinking 16 Candles”. I believe that the best barometer of an individual’s capabilities is found in his finest performance. For Tonya, that is the ending of the 2nd poem. If Tonya can compose that last couplet, then she IS capable of becoming a poetic contender. Any other criticisms merely make an argument for more learning, practice, revisions, editing, etc., etc.

      Reply
      • Monty

        Of course you’re perfectly right, E.V. – that was a blatant oversight on my behalf for not noticing that you were referring only to the final couplet, and not the 2nd poem as a whole . . for which I sheepishly retract my comment. I blatantly jumped the gun, and fully deserve your stylish emphasis on the word ‘meticulously’.

        I agree that the final couplet to which you refer is strong in every poetic sense; surely the best 2 lines of the poem (although, not having an inkling about the subject-matter, I’m obviously unaware of it’s significance in relation to the narrative) . . but one can’t judge a poem on a couplet! One can, as you have, use a couplet to judge the potentiality of the author to write decent poetry; but then it comes down to whether one wants to judge a ‘poem’ or the ‘potentiality of its author’. I was judging the former: you the latter . . both of which could be referred to as ‘practical’ (it seems equally helpful to me for one to be told where they’re going ‘right: as well as where they’re going wrong).

        Regarding the ‘commenter’ thing: it was nothing more sinister than the fact that whenever I refer to a ‘comment’, I refer to just that: the comment . . not the commenter. There was no attempt at any kind of concealment; it’s the comments themselves to which I sometimes respond . . to name the commenter is unnecessary.

  6. Martin Rizley

    I enjoyed the first poem especially and found that it read very smoothly, with a steady meter and inventive turns of phrase. I agree with the sentiment, as well, and have expressed to others a certain nostalgic longing for the pre-email days of handwritten letters that can be treasured years later.
    One way to smooth out the seventh line of the second poem is to place Jake in a more prominent position to identify him as the subject of the sentence. You could rewrite it perhaps like this: “Not only does he now Samantha seek,” or “Not only now does Jake Samantha seek.” This last sentence inverts the standard order of subject-verb-object for subject-object-verb, but there are a number of examples of such inversion in classical poetry. You could smooth the grammar in a similar manner in the next by saying, for example, “He makes his former girl a sacrifice.”

    Reply
    • Monty

      Your first suggestion sounds good, Martin: “Not only does he now Samantha seek” . . in fact, that may be the best remedy for that line. But your second suggestion: “Not only now does Jake Samantha seek” . . seems wrong for two reasons: a/ A reader could assume that the emphasis is on the word “now” . . b/ It could be interpreted as Samantha seeking Jake.

      Reply
      • Martin Rizley

        I agree with you; the second suggestion is problematic, for the reasons you mentioned.

    • Tonya McQuade

      I’m glad you enjoyed the first poem. Letters are certainly things to treasure, I believe, more than emails! Thanks for your suggestions on the second poem – the first suggestion seems, to me, the smoother alternative.

      Reply

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