Dodgeball

“But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2.16

Sometimes my thought-life is a dodgeball game—
except that I’m the only one on my
side of the line—and when at length I try
to launch my views, distracting thoughts take aim
at my attention; a barrage of lame
and frivolous ideas rains down from I
don’t know where, interrupting, zipping by
my head, and dazing me. I try to tame
and organize my thoughts, but to my shame
and consternation, they elude me, fly
off somewhere else, or otherwise defy
me as I try to set them in their frame.
__But when distracting thoughts my thoughts assail,
__the mind of Christ allows me to prevail.

 

 

No Stories Here

a villanelle

I am not much for story, I admit.
Though story is on every writer urged,
it has but little place in my remit.

To gain more readership, one has to fit
his thoughts in plot, with characters converged.
But I’m not much for story, I admit.

I lack the cleverness, panache, or wit
to see my work with story fully merged;
thus, story isn’t part of my remit.

Some might say, I suppose, that I should quit
the craft, and my credentials should be purged,
since I’m not much for story. I admit

there’s room for much improvement in that bit
of lit for which my plodding pen has splurged—
but such is my vocation, my remit.

So I’ll continue, thoroughly submerged
in plotless words, digested and disgorged.
For I’m not much for story. I admit
it, and embrace my plotless, plain remit.

 

 

Desuetude

on deferring to my editor

I wonder why good words, precise words, fall
into disuse. Too difficult to say?
Or to remember how to spell? Are they
the victims of our laziness? Our small
minds? Or do we who want to use them lack
the fortitude to risk the smirk, the “What?”,
or the red pen insisting they be cut,
and substituted for? But if they pack
the meaning we intend, then should we not
defend our choice of words, insist on their
propriety and excellence, and dare
the readers to discover a new thought?
__But then, the writer’s task—it may sound crude—
__is to avoid the fate of desuetude.

 

 

T.M. Moore’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and he has published five volumes of verse through his ministry’s imprint, Waxed Tablet Publications. He is Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, he and his wife, Susie, reside in Essex Junction, VT.


Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.”

28 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    TMM – I like all three of these submissions very much, and am greatly impressed by the technical competence demonstrated by the second. And the fate of “desuetude” is by no means cut and dried. As a word that defines itself I use it quite regularly whenever I can in order to relieve the monotony of “disuse” and add a bit of elegant variation. Another useful word that (almost) defines itself is floccinaucinihilipilification.

    Reply
    • T.M.

      Thanks, Peter. I’m not even going to try that word. I can see Susie’s pen attacking it even now, writing in the margin that this word is worthless. She’d be right, no?

      Reply
  2. Amy Foreman

    Nearly flawless poetry, as usual, T.M. I really enjoyed these. My only beef is with the line, “in words devoid of plot, digested and disgorged,” which has six iambs instead of five like the rest of the sonnet.

    Love the couplet at the end of “Dodgeball.” Great stuff!

    Reply
    • T.M.

      Thanks for catching that, and for your kind words. In fact, I had caught it before submitting to Evan, then sent the wrong copy. Here’s my stanza as I intended it. Evan, can you repair it?

      So I’ll continue, thoroughly submerged
      in plotless words, digested and disgorged.
      For I’m not much for story. I admit
      it, and embrace my plotless, plain remit.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Desuetude” is the best of these three pieces, both in technical structure and subject.

    The use of uncommon or recherche or even obsolescent words is one of the prerogatives of a poet. It is not our job to pander to the preferences and debased tastes of anonymous readers, but to produce perfect text. And sometimes perfection will demand the use of rare vocabulary. The High Modernists like Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot knew this, and much of their work is studded with unusual or foreign diction. It was the Lowbrow Modernists like William Carlos Williams who thought otherwise, and unfortunately they carried the day, demanding a “democratic” poetry. But we here at the SCP don’t have to pay attention to those simplistic types.

    If an editor tells you that you have to delete difficult or older terms from your poem, or substitute words from a fourth-grade basal vocabulary list, then you have the wrong kind of editor. Drop him. He’s part of the problem.

    Reply
  4. Monty

    I’ve been virtually absent from these pages for the last 4 months, TM: have you submitted many other pieces in that time? If so, I’ll try to dig ‘em out. But it’s pleasing to note that nothing’s changed in that time regarding the quality of your writing. All three of the above pieces contain the sort of traits that I’ve come to associate with your stuff: Palatable and thought-provoking subjects; Well crafted; Highly polished; Strictly disciplined; And, seemingly, always genuinely felt by yourself.

    Reply
    • T. M.

      Thanks. I think you’ll find several pieces contributed here over the last four months.

      Reply
  5. James Tweedie

    Unlike my esteemed colleagues,, the word “desuetude” was not previously in my vocabulary and, to be honest, I’m not sure it will be there in the future. Even so, the poem was a great success and left me laughing out loud . . . once I looked up the definition of the word!

    Reply
    • Monty

      . . . and as if to show why the word ‘esteemed’ could never be attributed to me: ‘desuetude’ hitherto wasn’t in my vocabulary either. And like yourself, it won’t be there in the future.

      Whilst not ungrateful to learn of its existence . . . my own vocabulary, and that of my social circle, naturally and constantly uses the most informal of synonyms (or slang terms) at all times. Thus, if a thing is ‘desuetude’.. we’d say any of the following: it’s worn-out; it’s clapped-out; it’s knackered; it’s history; it’s ready for the bin; it’s f***ed. I wouldn’t or couldn’t dare say ‘desuetude’ amongst chums!

      Reply
  6. C.B. Anderson

    T.M., “No Stories Here” is not quite a proper villanelle, in that the first line of the last stanza should rhyme with the last line of the stanza directly above. This should be an easy fix and would also allow you to keep the B rhymes perfect. As things stand, “disgorged” is the only anomaly in that rhyme sequence. Also, I wondered about the use of “remit” as a noun. I think I understand what you were doing: it’s kind of like saying “the man has no couth” instead of “the man is uncouth.” Or better: “the man ain’t got no forgive” instead of “the man can’t forgive.” Do you have a better explanation?

    Reply
    • T.M.

      How’s this;

      My skillset simply has not been outfit
      for stories. None, at least, has yet emerged.
      For I’m not much for story. I admit
      it, and embrace my plotless, plain remit.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Well, the past participle should be “outfitted,” but I’ll accept “outfit” as a reasonable substitute, by analogy with such words as “forgot” and “begot.”

  7. T. M.

    Thanks for the correction on villanelle structure. I simply overlooked that, and now I have a dozen of the little beggars to recast. I am using remit as an assigned task or even, job description (OED).

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I’ve done this many times myself, but I won’t elaborate on that. Villanelles are pesky beasts that demand our utmost attention, for such fixed forms are either what they are, or else they are something else entirely. I didn’t invent the form; I can only follow the structured rules put in place by those who came before. Otherwise, I would scarcely be able to call it a villanelle.

      Reply
  8. dave Whippman

    “No Stories Here” is cleverly written, and contains a nice irony: you are creating a story out of the fact that you have no story! “Dodgeball” shows the technique of making the rhyme and metre almost unnoticed, saying what you want within the limits of the form while seeming to write quite freely. Good work.

    Reply
    • T.M.

      Many thanks, Dave. I especially appreciate your comment about “making the rhyme and metre almost unnoticed”. I do work hard at that. I think poetry should be conversational and conversation should be poetical. Thanks again.

      Reply
      • James Tweedie

        T.M.

        When it comes to poetry, there is (it seems to me) a balancing act between writing in a way that is fluid and “conversational” without being “ordinary.” Classical poetry, bounded by various forms, is by its very nature, extra-ordinary. I once read that during the Elizabethan era, when people weren’t speaking French in court they would often express themselves in English by speaking in pentameter. We do not do this today, so I would say that, as regards Classical poetry, making it sound “conversational” may, in fact, be missing an opportunity to elevate language to a different level. As a public speaker, I have spent my entire vocational life as a pastor attempting to communicate both simple and complex ideas in as clear a way as possible, usually choosing to use the most common Anglo-Saxon words that I could find. In my poetry, however, I feel the freedom to embrace a larger vocabulary, even to the point where I will use words that others may have to “look up” (such as “desuetude”) if needed. In a sunset sonnet I wrote yesterday, I used the phrase, “And lumined, limnous light is swept aside.” I do not, of course, talk like that in ordinary conversation, but, then again, I do not want my poetry to sound “ordinary.”

  9. T.M.

    James: I agree with you, and the apostle Paul, that all speech should seek to edify others (Eph. 4.29), and that, as far as is possible, we should season our words with grace (Col. 4.6), so that they will be received and processed as we hope. I don’t disagree with your point about the power of poetry to elevate language and thought. I just want to make sure that I communicate first. I once published a translation of Ecclesiastes in heroic couplets. The publisher (IVP) assembled the staff to read a lengthy portion of it to them, prior to release. He told me that he was shocked, upon finishing the reading, to realize that that he was reading iambic pentameter in rhymed couplets. He’d approved the entire book and set it to press, before he realized what he had. That realization only came from reading out loud. Perhaps you were led to look up “desuetude” because of the conversational manner of the rest of the poem? And as for “lumined, limnous light”, I long to converse with people who use such words in normal speech. I’d enjoy chatting with you sometime about your work and your poetry. I, too, have a pastoral background, and I’m sure we’d connect in many ways. If you’re interested, Evan can give you my email address, and we’ll set something up.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      TMM – I hope it was realised at the outset that I DON’T really use words like desuetude “all the time” to relieve the monotony of words like “disuse,” as stated at the beginning of these comments. Sometimes, on the contrary, my blood boils at the mere sight of seemingly innocuous words like require, purchase, obtain, and expire because they sound to me like the words of somebody with a small vocabulary trying to show off when need, buy, get and die will do as well or better. There is no point on earth in using the longer of two virtually exact synonyms for the sake of it in ordinary prose, and it’s noticeable, as James implies above, that words from Latin tend to be sesquipedalian (as is the word sesquipedalian itself) and those from Anglo-Saxon tend to be short, as, unsurprisingly, is the word short. The Fowler brothers always recommended Anglo-Saxon over Latin and no doubt would have deplored the burgeoning of Greek words, especially from the seventeenth century onward, even more than that of Latin in ridiculous words like triskaidekaphobia and stegocephalous. There is no use using words like this in a note to the milkman or a list for the greengrocer or for any of the myriad occasions when the chief criterion of good vocabulary is the success with which it conveys a thought from one mind to another. As Dr Salemi points out, though, the use of arcane or recherché words certainly finds a place in poetry where our chief business is not necessarily to make instant plain sense at a first reading or to kowtow to those whom we presume to second-guess will have a tiny vocabulary (and how patronising is that?) but to convey precision in our thoughts and descriptions in what of its nature should be a highly condensed mode of communication. When I was at school I wrote a poem in which I used the word “filemot” to describe the colour of an eagle’s wing. I needed a dactyl and this word gave me a dactyl, an accurate description of the colour I wanted to describe, an opportunity to use a precocious and otherwise seemingly useless piece of vocabulary and a chance to show off. It was shorter and more descriptive than “dead leaf coloured” AND the astute and classically educated could probably work out what it means anyway without recourse to a dictionary. This is another one of those words perhaps we should use as often as we can before it falls into a state of irrecoverable desuetude.

      Reply
      • T.M.

        Peter: I think it’s a good idea, if only to provoke wonder and exercise sclerotic tongues, to include a rare word at times. But I have to be careful, both that I’m not just showing off, and that I don’t put off or lose my reader. I write mostly prose – about 12,000 words a week – for thousands of readers in some 120 countries. You may find an arresting word in that mess from time to time, but not very often. In my poetry I look for opportunities to bring the music and wonder of such words into the service of the poem, but these are not frequent. When I employ them, it has to be in a context that is either so interesting or enjoyable, that the reader will take the time to look up the word and have the “Aha!” experience I hoped it would create. Like desuetude. Susie chopped it from a prose piece, and rightly so, and that provoked the poem, leaving the pow for the final word.

      • Monty

        Nearly as pleasing as the poem itself . . is to now’ve learnt how it came into being. This epitomises how a subject can be “genuinely felt” by a poet.

  10. C.B. Anderson

    A poem I wrote, published many years ago (in THINK JOURNAL, volume 2, Issue Two, in 2009), has as its first stanza this:

    Should usufruct give way to desuetude,
    As when the ripened bounties of an orchard
    That’s been abandoned are allowed to fall
    And rot, the bough of providence is tortured
    And crippled, nevermore a source of food
    Or comfort growing near the common wall

    The title of this poem is “The Fruit of the Tree” and it appears in its entirety in my first book, MORTAL SOUP AND THE BLUE YONDER.

    My point is that poets are and should be collectors of unusual words, for why should a writer be deprived of anything existing in the arsenal of any given language? It’s a resource that writers should employ without fear, despite what the philistines have to say about it.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Absolutely right, Kip. As poets we are the custodians of ALL of our linguistic heritage, including the items that have to be dusted off and polished.

      I wrote an essay on this subject several years ago, titled “The Arsenal of Artifice.” I compared poetry to a military arsenal filled with rare and antique weaponry that was still functional.

      Reply
    • Monty

      Having learnt in this present discourse of the word ‘desuetude’; and having, seconds ago, looked-up the word ‘usufruct’ . . I can now appreciate what a beautiful stanza you’ve given us above, CB. Everything about poetry that makes me purr is contained in that one stanza: it’s so real. ‘Twas like reading a stanza from one of Hardy’s poems. And this little treasure within: “..the bough of providence.. nevermore.. growing near the common wall”. It’s as good as it gets.

      I find myself wondering if you used the same rhyme-scheme (ABC BAC) for the succeeding stanzas . . in fact, I wanna see the whole poem . . IN FACT, I find myself wanting a copy of Mortal Soup. I didn’t know you had a book in the public domain (and given that you referred to it above as your ‘first’ book.. I assume that the correct wording would be ‘books in the public domain’). How can I get a copy . . Amazon or some such? And I hope it ain’t expensive! I’ll pay anything up to 8€ for it.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Monty,

        Generally, whenever I write a poem with complicated stanzas I am consistent throughout, just as I am with simpler stanzas. I’m pretty sure the book, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder, is still available from Amazon, for a reasonable discounted price. But I don’t know how the Euro stands with the Dollar these days. In the book are many poems with complicated (nonce) stanzas such as the fragment cited above, and many other gems in received fixed forms.

  11. Monty

    I was only jesting about the money, CB: trying to put a limited price on your head . . but you didn’t take the bait.
    Well, I duly checked with Amazon . . and there it was, in (my favoured) paperback version. And after parting with some Euros (I won’t tell you how many) I was informed that a can of mortal soup will shortly be arriving at my house in the blue yonder of southern France . . and eagerly awaited it is.

    Reply

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