I am the raging tempest tossed
upon the fretful sea;
you are the calm and quiet gale
that steadies me.

And yet I am the raging sea
as well as all its roar;
and you are even, still, the sure
that calms the shore.

And I am blackened night as when
the ship has sunk away;
and then I see your light which shines
as if a day.

And in the dark and cold, alone
I cry for one to hear,
and then you come; you are the lifeboat
drawing near.

This vessel that you are is strong
to bear all my within,
for you receive the charge with grace
and take me in.

You tilt against the whirling swirl
and navigate the course
so far from tumult, where I dwell
with ever force.

Your shoulder is against the gale
and me against your chest,
and we against the hollow grey
I come to rest.

I find mercurial repose
upon a curious shore;
because you gently landed me,
I ask no more.

And so we are of polar force
that meets in synergy:
you are the shaman of the waves;
I am the sea.

 

 

Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, a chapbook of thirty-seven sonnets, and Longer Thoughts (Shanti Arts, 2020). She is a retired classical singer and voice teacher who has written for Classical Singer magazine. She recently released an album entitled Lullabies: Traditional American and International Songs which is available on all streaming services.


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58 Responses

  1. Angel L Villanueva

    A lovely poem and delightful read. I like the imagery presented, as well as the varying syllabic rhythm of each stanza.

    Reply
  2. Dana

    This poem is WONDERFUL! The images it provokes, and the parallels it promotes,… it is amazing!!!

    I commend you!!! Write more,… please!!!

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for the kind comments Dana, I appreciate it very much!

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Quite nicely done. The metrical rhythm of the poem suggests the movements of the sea.

    Can I make one suggestion? In quatrain four, the word “lifeboat” in line three is out of sync with all the other third lines. All of those others end with a monosyllable. Can’t you find some substitute monosyllabic word to replace “lifeboat,” which is intrinsically awkward, clunky, and out of place in this mellifluous poem?

    It should be easy, since you don’t need the final word in the third line to be a rhyme with anything.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you Dr. Salemi for your kind comments, I appreciate them all very much.

      I will have to give the “lifeboat” issue some thought. Thank you so much for suggesting a way to improve the poem.

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, to fortify regularity, the last two lines of that stanza might have gone:

      You are the boat
      That’s drawing near.

      Reply
  4. Mark F. Stone

    Theresa, Very nice job on this poem. My favorite phrases are “whirling swirl” and “the sure that calms the shore.” With regard to Professor Salemi’s suggestion, one option is that you could replace “you are the lifeboat drawing near” with “a lifeboat that is drawing near.” Mark

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for your kind comments, Mark, I appreciate them very much. Thank you also for the suggestion about “lifeboat.” I will have to give yours and Dr. Salemi’s suggestions some thought.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Here’s one possibility:

        and then you come, like rescue’s craft
        drawing near.

        By doing this you get to use the perfect word “craft” (sometimes it refers to a small boat or skiff), while emphasizing the sense of “rescue” that the entire poem dwells upon.

        Mark, the problem with “lifeboat” is that it simply is an ugly and ungainly word that doesn’t fit in this beautiful poem.

  5. Mark F. Stone

    Theresa and Professor Salemi, My wife and I put our heads together and came up with three possibilities: “a beacon who is drawing near”, “a lodestar who is drawing near”, and “a guiding light who’s drawing near.” Of course, the last one may cause people to think of the soap opera by that name. Mark

    Reply
    • Mark F. Stone

      Or, if we had alliteration, then perhaps something like: “a lodestar soul who lingers near.”

      Reply
  6. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you Dr. Salemi, C.B., and Mark for your further comments and perspectives. I will give these all some thought. I appreciate you all taking the time to try to improve my poem.

    Reply
  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Theresa’s poem is a fine bit of work. What has come up in this discussion thread about the poem is a point that needs to be raised more frequently at the SCP. It concerns diction in general.

    Some words, by their very nature, are what I call “prosaic.” This doesn’t mean they can’t be used in poetry, but rather that they are limited, by accepted decorum, to only certain genres of poetry. Words such as “lifeboat” or “typewriter” or “golf club” or “prosthesis” may work perfectly well in a comic or satiric poem, or in light verse. But they really have no good place in LYRIC poetry, which is what Theresa’s poem is.

    If you use a prosaic word in lyric poetry, you slip into what Alexander Pope called “bathos,” or unintended absurdity and comedy. And bathos is the death of poetry, since it utterly undermines the desired effect that your poem is attempting to bring about. Pope’s excellent essay “Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry” is the locus classicus for understanding this pitfall.

    That’s why we have to be careful here about the desire to “stir the pot,” as someone has urged in another discussion thread. Saying that “Anything goes!” in formal poetry is an invitation to bathos and absurdity.

    Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      I think the point about diction is an important one. Particularly if the aim is to invoke a quintessential classical ambience. Of course the required vernacular is a moving target. 200 years ago, to Keats, the Elizabethan language of Chapman seemed perfect for translations of Homer. Now, Pope seems just right, suitable old but still clear, while Chapman seems so old now as to be quaint and a little obscure. I am in favour of the classical vibe in the extreme when the mood is right but there must be some room for variety – a spectrum. And when one is feeling even more ambitious, one might take on a bigger challenge, to take on something from the modern world, and classisize it, mythologise it, alchemically glorify it so that it can in some way integrate itself into the cannon. Bit by bit, we could classisize the modern world. In theory.

      Reply
  8. William Glyn-Jones

    I like this a lot. The lifeboat line is okay. That verse is 3+4 =7 then a hexameter, like the others. Yes it is the most non-timeless word in the poem, but it’s fine to have the odd contradiction in a poem, or it can pass by so smoothly one hardly notices it! That said if a stress didn’t fall on “are” it might work even better. What about just “for you’re” instead of “You are”? Or something like that. But as I say, all good. I was challenged slightly by “as if a day”. A day is a period of time, so a light can’t be a day, but rather something you see in the day. I might have said “as if t’were day” or “as of the day” or something like that, but it’s minor thing. It is a good one.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I don’t quite follow what you’re saying. Take another section from the poem (in the first quatrain) as a template:

      you are the calm and quiet gale
      that steadies me.

      The scansion of that is as follows:

      / x x / x / x /
      x / x /

      That’s basically the way the parallel sections of the other quatrains are supposed to scan, with the usual variation in stress placement. Now look at the one in question:

      and then you come; you are the lifeboat
      drawing near.

      The scansion there is as follows:

      x / x / x / x / x (or / /)
      / x /

      The problem is that “lifeboat,” which is essentially a compound word, can be scanned either as LIFE-BOAT (two separate stresses), or LIFE-boat (a trochee). In either case, it doesn’t belong at the end of the line, since it is awkward as well as prosaic. This explains why Theresa’s following short line
      “drawing near”) does not begin with a short syllable — she is instinctively hearing the syllable “boat” as carrying over to be put in front of “drawing.”

      As for “lifeboat” being “an odd contradiction,” there aren’t supposed to be any odd contradictions in a poem. An “odd contradiction” is just another way of saying bathos.

      Bathos is a menace in formal poetry, since it is like a land mine that the poet can suddenly and unexpectedly step on to destroy his poem. Just one bad word choice can set it off. Here’s a perfect example of bathos from what was supposed to be a serious poem published at some Christian evangelical website a few years ago:

      You need deep cleansing of your soul
      To make your wounded spirit whole.
      God’s laving grace will soothe your hurt
      And be the bathtub for sin’s dirt.

      Anyone who can read that without laughing hysterically simply doesn’t understand how dangerous bathos is. Notice that “bathtub” (like “lifeboat” is another one of those clunky, prosaic compound words.

      Reply
      • William Glyn-Jones

        Joseph thanks for this detailed response and it is a joy to be arguing with someone intelligent! You are certainly correct that I see the “boat” as carrying over. In every other verse, line 3 does not end with a trochee, but line 4 starts with the unstressed syllable of an iamb, then in this verse line 3 ends with a trochee, and lo and behold, unlike all the others, line for doesn’t start with an unstressed syllable – coincidence? Clearly not – and mathematically all is resolved. And you must keep in mind that there are hints of a less formal mode here due to the fact that lines 1 and 2 suggest the Ballad form – a four and a three, that run together like a 7. It’s an interesting fusion of the fluidity of ballad and the formality of Sapphic ode – the very synergy of sea and shore that the poem is about. Theresa hasn’t labelled it lyric. And if it was purely classical it wouldn’t have words like shaman (a Siberian word) and synergy (although form a Greek root, its use in English is relatively modern). I see now that you are hearing a pause that is not notated, and I do agree that much poetry relies on pauses at the end of a line for its rhythm, but in this case I think it’s too close to the ballad to have a pause between 1&2 or 3&4. That’s my opinion.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        “There aren’t supposed to be” is quite a weird philosophy for a poet. According to who? The only issue is whether it works. I’m a keen proponent of meter and verse but only because I think they work, not because someone says that’s what poetry is supposed to be. I think all this lifeboat stuff is a distraction form the one bit that really ought to change because it is a logical/grammatical non sequitur – “as if a day”. As if the light was a day? What does this mean? Doesn’t anyone else think this has to become “as of the day”? I.e. as if it was a light of the day time?

  9. William Glyn-Jones

    Joseph, “and then you come, like rescue’s craft drawing near“ is a bit odd because either you have to place a stress on “ing” or make drawing one syllable, which leaves it as pentameter when this line should be hexameter, and inventing a new phrase where there already is a word everyone knows could actually sound more absurd than just using the word. To be honest the verse would probably work perfectly well if it just ended “And then across the waves I see you drawing near.” We already know it must be in the role of rescuer from the context, so that would be enough, and we could guess it must be in a boat. But the line as it is in the poem is fine.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you William for your kind comments and suggestions, I appreciate it very much!

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Your difficulty comes from attempting to read two separate lines as one. Theresa has her line breaks there for a purpose. The short lines that end her quatrains are independent lines; they aren’t just carry-overs from the preceding line. Like the choriambic bob-lines that end a Sapphic stanza, they function independently.

      My suggested fix went like this:

      and then you come, like rescue’s craft
      drawing near.

      The scansion would be:

      x / x / x / x /
      / x /

      Your objection seems to be that the short final line needs an unstressed syllable to start, or otherwise there would be two stressed syllables next to each other. But the previous line ends with a solid pause after “craft.” There is no carry-over (except in enjambed sense) to the following shorter line. If you demand an unstressed syllable in that bob-line, try this:

      and then you come, like rescue’s craft,
      that’s drawing near.

      Again, a perennial problem here at the SCP seems to be this compulsion to count syllables, rather than understanding that stress is is the basic consideration in metrical poetry.

      Reply
      • William Glyn-Jones

        I don’t take the line breaks so heavily. If they started with capitals I might, but I’m not sure it would change my reading of the meter. Try reading the poem like this and I think you’ll find it has a pleasing rhythm. Bracket indicate unspoken pauses for breath). No pauses between 1&2 or 3&4, only between 2&3 and 4&1. Pause for 1 “beat” between 2&3, and two “beats” between 4 and line 1 of next verse. I.e. (excuse my notation method!):

        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum
        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum (& pause)
        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum
        Ti tum Ti tum (& pause & pause)

        I feel sure this is how Theresa hears it.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        My last word on the subject:

        This line’s a fireside ballad in
        a tavern in a cove
        While this line’s carved in marble
        In an apple grove

  10. David Watt

    Theresa, your lovely poem maintains a sense of movement through every stanza. The consistent flow of wind and sea imagery is very well done.

    Having had the benefit of previous comments, I would opt for:

    “You are the craft
    That’s drawing near.”

    That is, if you were inclined to make a slight amendment to your fine poem.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you David for your kind comments and suggestion. I have certainly been given food for thought. I appreciate it very much.

      Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      But….but….I just don’t think craft is right for this poem. It’s a sincere, and emotionally authentic and passionate poem. It doesn’t adhere to classical rules or meter for the sake of being “correct”, but uses meter for its real purpose: to empower the emotion of the thing. ‘Craft’ is too mannered. This isn’t a mannered poem. Craft where I’m from is used in a light way. Here in England we still sometimes use that word but we do so slightly ironically, in contexts that are leisured, pleasurable, fun. ‘A fine craft!’ But lifeboats – they are used in swelling storms to rescue people – and that is what Theresa is talking about, so I continue to argue that we leave that line alone!

      Reply
    • William Glyn- Jones

      Raft might work. Essential need when drowning is to float, and essential nature of a raft is that it floats. While essential nature of craft is, well, well-crafted. A bit snazzy. When you’re drowning you don’t need to cruise off in something fancy. A few logs lashed together will suffice. So maybe:

      You are the raft
      That’s drawing near.

      Except then you’d need a different verb as a raft wouldn’t really draw near.

      Floating near, perhaps

      But maybe this has been over explored now!

      Reply
  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    To William —

    Well, we all tend to read things somewhat differently. First of all, I do believe that confusion over where a line ends or starts could be easily dissipated if we just all went back to beginning every poetic line WITH A CAPITAL LETTER, as our ancestors did ever since the goddamned beginning of print culture. One of the worst consequences of the stupid modernist revolution was to change that sensible practice for the idiocy of refusing capitalization unless the line began a new sentence, or started with a proper name.

    Second, it’s a major mistake to think that a poem isn’t worthwhile unless it’s “sincere,” “emotionally authentic,” and “passionate.” This is the half-baked twaddle of Romanticism. The very first thing a poem has to be is an excellent linguistic artifact. You can “empower emotion” by watching a soap opera, or listening to a drunk’s sob-story. Poetry demands something much higher and richer, and more difficult.

    Actually, Theresa’s poem is a highly mannered one. Just imagine the savagely violent reaction it would receive if posted anywhere on the poetic internet other than here at the SCP. It would be damned, cursed, ridiculed, and berated as a horridly reactionary and hopelessly old-fashioned piece. It is, in fact, a very fine poem. But fine poems are made of language and structure, not of feelings.

    Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      Agreed with much of this. I’m not anti mannered. I’m a fan of Pope – his Homer works better than any. And I love poems where the word-craft is more important than the emotional authenticity. But Theresa’s is quite emotional and raw and that’s good too, because it’s tempered by meter, rhyme etc.

      Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      Agree with much of this. I’m not anti mannered. I’m a fan of Pope – his Homer works better than any. And I love poems where the word-craft is more important than the emotional authenticity. But Theresa’s is quite emotional and raw and that’s good too, because it’s tempered by meter, rhyme etc.

      Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      Much as I admire Pope and can’t agree with Keats for preferring Chapman’s Homer, there is an exquisite beauty to some Romantic poetry. Anyone who can’t see the beauty of Keat’s ode To Autumn, Shelley’s to the Skylark, Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is massively missing out!

      Reply
  12. William Glyn-Jones

    Given me an idea:

    This line’s a fireside ballad in a tavern in a cove
    While this line’s carved in marble in an apple grove
    Then these two lines are jaunty and comic and quick
    For their anapaests live in an old limerick
    While this one’s in heroic five-stress time
    And then a couple short and fast
    Now lead us on until at last
    Our five-foot hero finds his partner rhyme
    If I could make this fourteen lines
    I’d slap a label on it
    I’d jump up high and shout hurrah
    And call the thing a sonnet
    With two more stanzas it could be an ode
    My word! That’s fourteen lines – well I’ll be blowed!

    Reply
  13. Bruce Dale Wise

    1. Mr. Salemi has pointed out, some words “by their very nature” are prosaic. He goes on to say, they are “limited by accepted decorum” to only certain genres of poetry, like comic, satiric or light verse. They have no good place in lyric poetry.

    2. Take, for example, the term “lifeboat”. According to Merriam-Webster the first usage of the word “lifeboat” in its modern sense was in 1797, some time after inventor Lionel Lukin’s non-submersible patented craft of 1785, and Henry Greathead’s claim of 1790. Pope could not have even used the word. After that, there were the poem “The Lifeboat” by George Robert Sims (1847-1922), the hymn of M. M. Brabham (1909-1965), “The Lifeboat”, and more recently, the lyric “Lifeboat” from the Heathers dark comedy of 1988, none of which I would label simply comic, satiric, or light.

    3. On what should be allowed in poetry, I think Mr. Salemi is absolutely right that it is an important topic that should be brought up “more frequently at the SCP”. However, I approach the problem from another point of view. I think too many words are “banished by use” from poetry, even here @ SCP. Since Plato, prose has dominated Western Civilization, and poetry has been shoved from the Republic. But it has not gone willingly. And my thought is that it should fight its way back into a more prominent place in the Republic. [You may say that I’m a dreamer, and I may be the only one.] Though the following poem is not much (for so many reasons), I had to indulge, as I think I have never used the word “lifeboat” in a poem.

    The Little Lifeboat
    by W. S. “Eel” Bericuda

    The little lifeboat floats adrift upon the raging sea,
    and though it’s tossed about, o, quite a bit, it does not sink.
    Around it sharks may circle, threatening its tiny space;
    but maybe it will keep its passengers unharmed and safe.
    The little lifeboat travels up and down the rolling waves,
    the only thing that stands between the people and their graves.
    Around it seaweed’s seen, and maybe plastic bottles too;
    occasionally one may even see a fishy school.
    But its main purpose is to keep its passengers alive;
    and it will be successful if each one of them survives.

    4. One of places I have striven to unite poetry and prose is in the bilding. I have used the word typewriter many times; here is one instance from a decade ago. Again, I do not claim much for this ekphrastic sketch; but my main point is I believe no word should be banned from Poetry.

    An Oil on Canvas
    by Red Was Iceblue

    The painting QWERTY is by Robert Cottingham.
    It is an oil on canvas of 2004,
    a section of Postmodern flotsam and jetsam.
    The picture’s view is looking down into the core
    of a typewriter on a bright orange background,
    which lies along the picture’s left and top sides more.
    It contrasts with the black, blue, white, and silver bound
    together in the platen, spools, typebars and keys
    in such a crisp and striking way it does astound.
    It is amazing how an artifact can please,
    so placed with such precision, and how lighting can
    produce a clarity one wishes would not cease.

    5. As for Ms. Rodriguez not using capitals at the front of her lines, I think it is fine. To me aesthetically (and I know others like Mr. Salemi, feel differently), it has a sparer, cleaner, more classic look, yet, at the same time, seems more modern.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Bruce, I’m tired and out of sorts, but someone has told just told me that you posted this comment last week, and that I ought to reply to it since it is largely directed against me.

      First off, let me ask a question. Aren’t you ever in the slightest bit embarrassed at being obtuse enough to post two of your own poems in the middle of a discussion thread about someone else’s work? This thread was about Theresa Rodriguez’s poem, and simple courtesy would dictate that comments should be about her work, and whatever specific aesthetic questions to which her work might give rise.

      Second, you mention three poems that make use of the word “lifeboat,” presumably as a way to contradict what I have said concerning decorum in lyric poetry. Let’s consider all three of them.

      George Robert Sims’s poem “The Lifeboat” is a low-grade colloquial narrative piece in fake sailor dialect. Do you seriously suggest that this poem can be brought forward in connection with a discussion of decorum in lyric poetry?

      M.M. Brabham’s “The Lifeboat” is a painfully crummy congregational hymn, meant to be sung to organ music. It is insulting and simple-minded to compare this vulgar thing with Theresa’s fine poem.

      The lifeboat poem by The Heathers is just an amateurish song from a pop musical. What bearing does anything of this nature have on the discussion at hand, which pertains to poetic decorum in diction? Did you just pull these three worthless poems out of thin air, to try to impress us all?

      You say “I believe no word should be banned from poetry.” That’s just fine, because I believe the same thing. But if you had actually been following the discussion here, instead of looking for some way to intrude yourself and your work, you would have noticed that the issue was not one of banning words, but of employing diction that is appropriate to levels of usage in different genres.

      Reply
      • Wic E. Ruse Blade

        1. I doubt BDW is embarrassed. Next to his obtusity, Mr. Salemi demonstrates simple courtesy. If he wants to use his poetry as an example, BDW should post poems in the manner of Mr. Glyn-Jones.

        2. I would say it’s obvious BDW was contradicting Mr. Salemi’s eminent statement about appropriate diction.

        3. How can BDW present such a low-grade, colloquial narrative in a thread on Ms. Rodriguez’ fine “ballad-like” poem?

        4. How could BDW present such a painfully crummy Protestant hymn, which could be sung to organ music? It is insulting, simple-minded, and vulgar.

        5. I suspect BDW was giving several amateurish examples of lyrics using the word “lifeboat”.

        6. Why BDW would intrude himself and his words I can’t imagine. He obviously wasn’t following the “discussion here”.

  14. James Sale

    Glad this poem was published, as I particularly picked it out in my review of Theresa’s work on these pages:”And again, the concluding stanza of “Shaman of the Waves” also captures something of her intense yet understated erotic power:

    And so we are of polar force
    that meets in synergy;
    you are the shaman of the waves;
    I am the sea.”

    To see the full review of her work, go to: https://classicalpoets.org/2019/11/26/review-poetry-by-theresa-rodriguez/ and do comment if you feel moved to do so. I am glad her work is attracting such interest and debate.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you again, James, for your wonderful review and your encouragement!

      Reply
  15. Joseph S. Salemi

    James —

    I have just left a lengthy comment at your review of Theresa’s book, which touches on some issues of diction, style, and what we mean by “classical” poetry around here.

    Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      I now think of that lifeboat line as the exception which – if not proves – then, reveals the rule. It’s nice to know what rhythm the poet had in mind, and if it wasn’t for that line, and it’s carried over syllable, we could read it with various types of pause at the end of the line. But once we see the carry over, we know the ballad-like rhythm intended. So in a sense it the poem needs that one exception, one might argue?

      Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      In many ways I think of meter and rhyme as being rhetorical devices, like any other, there for the poet to use to achieve or amplify a certain effect. The difference I suppose is that they are so powerful that without them, well there’s not a lot left! But it’s still the poet’s choice. I wrote this today, free-verse – most unusually for me, but to make a point:

      My Eclogue IV

      Has the circle of the centuries turned round
      Has some great cosmic gong clanged to say
      “Free verse be uninvented, only ryhme!
      Let everything be said in metered time!”?

      Even in Arcadia
      There will still be the odd flock
      That wanders unshepherded
      Or loose-shepherded by untutored or muse-deaf swain
      Under the ilexes
      Nibbling at the herbs

      I am a persistent purveyor of classic verse
      But I relinquish any mantle of prosodic cleansing
      Ridding the World of some imagined threat
      As if the World is so delicate it would shatter at the shock of a few unshepherded lines
      “The enemy! Free verse.” No.

      Where would one stop
      Policing every written and spoken utterance across the World
      Till all the World’s a Jacobean play?

      It may not have the resounding resonance
      Nor appear quite so much a creation carefully crafted
      It may seem rather dated now
      A bit Twentieth Century
      Harking back to beatniks, cigarettes and polo necks
      Half baked
      Modern grown old
      Barking madly from the comfort of an armchair
      In a home for the elderly and infirm
      But at the end of the day, a lack of meter and rhyme
      From time to time
      Does, at least, no harm.

      The World’s embrace is wide enough
      For many things.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The last sentence in your poem is a nice sentiment.

        Too bad the purveyors of free verse garbage who run things in the po-biz world don’t agree with it.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        Yes you’re right there! I was reading something one of them said recently: poetry that follows the rules is the definition of bad poetry. It made me furious. All poetry from the classical tradition is bad? So ridiculous. And it made me want to retract the above foray into free verse. To try to make amends I then penned this:

        There’s no such thing as free-form verse
        As any layman knows
        Cos if the thing’s well formed it’s verse
        And if it’s not it’s prose

        There’s nothing wrong with prose, it can be
        Arty and poetic
        But if you want to call it verse
        Uh-uh, mmm-mmm. Forget it.

  16. Monty

    Well, the context of the comments on your poem seem to’ve gone to the moon and back, Theresa, and everywhere in between; and yet, surprisingly, no one’s alluded to (what I see as) some basic errors of diction. But it may be the case that they’re not errors at all: that phrasing is used differently on that side of the pond. Perhaps you could inform me.

    In British-English, a ‘gale’ signifies a ‘strong wind’; but you refer (L3) to “the calm and quiet gale”. How? Is ‘gale’ used differently over there?

    (L9) “And I am blackened night”.. what does that mean? I could grasp it if it went: ‘And I am THE blackened night’.. or ‘And I am blackened LIKE THE night’.. but as it stands . . is that just U.S. speak?

    Similarly (L12) “..your light which shines as if a day” sounds strange to me. I could understand if it went “as if THE day”.. or even “as if day”.. but even they would take second-place to what is surely the simplest diction: “And then I see your light which shines just like the day”.

    Also, over here we may say (L10) ‘The ship has sunk without a trace’.. but we would never say “The ship has sunk away”. ‘The ship sailed away’.. yes, but “The ship sunk away”? Away to where?

    In the same vein, I can’t grasp (L18) “..is strong to bear all my within”. What is that? Even allowing for U.S. speak, surely that’s crooked! It’d make some sort of sense to me if it went, for example: ‘The vessel that you are is strong, and bears my whole within’.

    Again, I can make no sense of (L23) “..where I dwell with ever force”.. what is “ever force”?

    The same with (L27) “..The hollow grey I come to rest”. To me, that could only make sense if there was a full-stop after ‘grey’.

    Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      Hi Monty. On the same side of the pond as you. I see the point about gale, but perhaps there was some reason for a paradox there? I am blackened night actually sounds fine to me: as a Greek thing, perhaps, the Goddess Night, so it doesn’t need the.
      I do TOTALLY agree with you about the “shines as if a day” bit. Just a question a grammar – no amount of wrangling allows me to find a way of reading that which makes grammatical sense. I actually raised this twice in the comments above, I suggested some alternatives such as “as if t’were day” and am glad you raised this as I was beginning to think I was the mad one!

      To bear all my within – I can just about make that work by making my within a noun – that which is within me. Poetic speak. Challenging but interesting.

      Ever force is even more challenging, but there could be such a thing I suppose. The problem is that one can’t help thinking it is just a clumsy way to say ever with force. So I agree it’s a bit odd.

      You can stretch grammar to the limit with poetry to make interesting language but it’s that one about light shining as if a day that really jars because instead of creating interesting language, it just leaves you in a hole trying to match the parts up. As if what was a day? The light? How can light be a day? it’s not grammatically correct if you can match it up. E.g. she sang as if an angel. That’s fine – just a very contracted form of as if she was an angel. The light shone as if it was a day… That only comes close to working if ‘it’ refers to ‘the time’ but even then the article “a” messes it up. what time is it? It’s a day. Which day? I really want to hear from anyone who thinks that line is ok, to explain why. Grammatical mistakes are ok I’m poetry if they are deliberate – enallage I believe it’s called, a rhetorical figure – but if they don’t look deliberate then I think they are to be avoided if you want a good poem to become a great classic. it is still a good poem though.

      Reply
  17. Monty

    I must tell you, Will, that some of your suggestions for the anomalies I highlighted have left me more baffled than I initially was.

    1/ I’m ignorant of the “Greek thing”, so that’s wasted on me. But I did notice your use of the word “perhaps”, which sounded an alarm-bell in my head. You said that ‘blackened night’ “sounds fine to you”, which would indicate that you’re entirely sure about it’s meaning; but then you say “as a Greek thing, PERHAPS”.. which indicates that you’re NOT so sure, and are indeed just surmising. It may be the case that the only way you can make me see any sense in those words is to put them into a sentence or two of your own to demonstrate their meaning. If you choose to do so, don’t forget that the line I quoted wasn’t just ‘I am blackened night’.. it was ‘..and I am blackened night’.

    2/ I don’t think anyone would disagree that “shines as if a day” doesn’t work either side of the pond; and indeed wouldn’t work anywhere in the English-speaking world.

    3/ Regarding the line “To bear all my within”: your suggestion that it was meant to mean ‘that which is within me’ is probably right, and was more than likely the author’s own meaning, but the line as it stands (even allowing for ‘poetic speak’) doesn’t represent that. It doesn’t represent anything. If that line was to mean as you suggest, it would be better written as ‘to bear my inner whole’.

    You say “‘ever force’ is even more challenging”: but it doesn’t challenge me in the slightest. I don’t have to look twice at it to conclude that it’s meaningless. And your venturing that “there could be something in it, I suppose” asserts nothing. You’re just answering a question with another question. You said yourself: “It’s a bit odd”.. and I say more than a bit! We shouldn’t be debating what the line SHOULD mean. In poetry, it’s for the reader to ascertain what a line DOES mean . . not what it SHOULD mean.

    What d’you make of the line: “The hollow grey I come to rest”? And again, I’m not asking you to suggest what the line SHOULD mean; I’m asking you to suggest what it DOES mean, as it stands on the page. Similarly, can you describe, in your own words, how a ship could “sink away”?

    And as for “gale”: I feel that you’re clutching at straws to venture ‘perhaps there was some reason for a paradox there’. It IS a paradox, but there can be no reason for it. I can see that you’re just trying to be diplomatic, Will, but in this case, it’d be easier to just accept that “gale” was just a patent misuse of a word: no more, no less.

    Thus, given that you’ve mentioned nothing to dissuade me of my belief that the highlighted lines make no sense; and given that the author of the poem hasn’t responded to my invitation to explain some or all of the said lines . . I must conclude that my above claims are all valid. And if they’re valid, that suggests that the poem is not very well written. Hence, it was mildly surprising to note comments above such as “quite nicely done”.. “very nice job”.. “a beautiful poem”.. “a fine bit of work”.. which fly in the face of all the glaring, elementary errors of basic English diction. One must suspect that this is indicative of how conveniently errors are overlooked in the name of chumminess. It may’ve been no less surprising to learn that another commenter “particularly picked it out” (whatever that means) in his review of the author’s work. But one quickly realised that these were the words only of a self-proclaimed ‘reviewer’ who once famously admitted on these pages that he doesn’t like to speak ill of other people’s poems; at which point his delusions of being a bona fide reviewer flew straight outta the window.

    p.s. Before reading your above comment, Will, I’d never before heard the word ‘enallage’. I’ve since done a bit of digging, and it seems to be a very interesting and far-reaching word, albeit a tad ambiguous. My only fear is that it could – in the worst case – be used as an excuse for one prepared to flout the rules of grammar.

    Reply
    • William Glyn- Jones

      Don’t get me wrong – I was actually agreeing with pretty much all your points – hence “a bit odd” – (except the one about blackened night which the more I think about, seems perfectly fine) – but yes I WAS being more diplomatic, but not out of chumminess. There IS something good about this poem which makes it feel worth defending a little, and I think it’s down to rhetoric, to the repeating structure, to balance of opposites. The general structure is one that could have been used in a GREAT poem, but it’s not that, because of some problems with word choice. I think peoples positive reactions have been genuine. And a reaction is a reaction. End of.

      As for blackened night – what’s the issue? I am night. Perfectly normal grammar, if you allow for personification, as with Greek gods etc. And blackened is a perfectly normal adjective. Pronoun/Subject verb adjective noun/object – it couldn’t be more standard.

      Reply
    • William Glyn-Jones

      Monty – I agree about the and before the blackened night line. There are too many ands in this, just there for rhythm but without meaning, without thought. We all do it sometimes, be honest. Likewise the “and yet” at the start of verse two can only be for rhythm. There isn’t actually a reason for “yet”. Lose the and at the start of the blackened night line and, yes, a “the” before blackened night becomes the obvious rhythmic replacement. And sunk away isn’t the best. If it was the Sun sinking it would make a little more sense. I think a better version, fitting well with the rest of the poem, might be:

      I am the blackened night
      From which all ships have fled away
      But then I see your shining light
      You are the day

      Reply
      • Monty

        Of course you’re right in saying “there IS something good about this poem”. The very fact that someone sits down to compose a poem from a concept in their mind is in itself ‘something good’; and the world would certainly be a better place if more people were so inclined . . but I’m fussy about my poetry, Will. Not in a snobbish way, but I’ve grown to expect certain standards from poetry I read, and that standard doesn’t entail ‘tolerating the bad in a poem to seek the good’. For a poem to grab me, I’ve got to be able to read it unhindered from start to finish. The moment I reach a line or sentence from which I can make no sense – and after subsequent re-readings I decide that it simply doesn’t make sense – I’m immediately distracted from whatever the poem’s meant to convey. And if the same thing happens every few lines, it’s all over for me. I lose all interest in whatever “something good” is in the piece. Now, you may say that that’s a fault of mine; that I should seek the ‘good’ in a poem and tolerate the ‘bad’; but we can’t change the way we feel about something, can we? Us humans can change many things about ourselves, but we can’t change our feelings. Feelings just happen to us, whether we want them to or not; and whether others agree with them or not.

        Be assured that the word “chumminess” wasn’t directed at you. There’s a coterie of 4-5 people at SCP (some who’ve met in person) who routinely praise each other’s work, and routinely turn a blind eye to any shortcomings. It’s gradually become so predictable on these pages that once one knows the signs, one can predict it before it even happens. This is no better exemplified than in the above poem and some of its accompanying comment(er)s. I’m certain that between us we’ve shown that some of the above faults are unmissable; and yet missed they were by all other commenters. In some cases conveniently so, one suspects. (Incredibly, the comments instead went to the moon and back on whether the word ‘lifeboat’ is allowed to be used in a poem, which caused at least one person to shout from the rooftops: “Of course it’s allowed! As is canoe; steamer; boat; yacht; ferry; barge; ship.. and more. If we have a list in our head of many different types of seacraft, what’s to tell us that we can use some of the words from that list, but not others?“) There are then others at SCP who’re not in said coterie, but steadfastly adhere to ‘polite’ comments only; and we all know the perils that lurk within ‘politeness’ when it’s used disingenuously.

        I didn’t “get you wrong”, Will: I knew you could see the same faults as clearly as I; I just felt that in your honest and diplomatic attempt to search for ANY potential meaning – no matter how flimsy – you were looking for something which wasn’t there. But you seem to’ve dug your heels in over “blackened night”; I wish I could see what you can see! I can easily make sense of your analogy: ‘I am night’, ‘coz it’s easy to see how that could – very loosely and only poetically – be used in a sentence, e.g. ‘If being in a good mood is day, and being in a bad mood is night; then at this moment I am night’ . . see? I can put ‘I am night’ in a sentence. But the ‘blackened’ just throws me off every time. Forgetting the word ‘night’ momentarily, the main thrust of the whole line is: “I am blackened” (the ‘night’ is just an optional/additional adjective). And if I was to encounter those three words on their own, I’d say they could only be used in the context of a/ Someone who’s been painted black all over by their friends.. at a festival, maybe. b/ Someone going to a fancy-dress party dressed as a Caribbean rasta. Either of those people could conceivably utter the words ‘I am blackened’ (although in normal speech it’d be ‘I’ve been blackened’). Additionally, I s’pose, one who’s just had their reputation tarnished may say ‘I’ve been blackened’ (although, the normal diction would be ‘my name’s been blackened). But other than those examples, I can’t think of any other sentence in which one could use the words ‘I am blackened’. And if we re-insert the word ‘night’, then we surely, SURELY have to insert the word ‘the’: ‘I am the blackened night’. Additionally – for the ideal diction – we could also add the word ‘like’, as in: ‘I am like the blackened night’.. or: ‘I am blackened like the night’. Those examples would seem to be what the line in the poem was trying to say all along.

        I can’t go any further, Will: it’s past me. If you can still see something I can’t, I do hope you’re able to explain it to me; ‘coz I’m a tad curious now as to whether I’m missing something plainly obvious.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      I suppose the reason the poem somehow succeeds despite everything is that the entire point of the poem is the poet’s admission, self-characterisation, as a chaotic tempest. It actually needs to be a bit rough around the edges or else that characterisation would appear false!!!

      Reply
      • Monty

        I agree with your description of the poem, Will; it does appear to be confessional.
        But a poem’s subject-matter shouldn’t justify the omission of necessary conjunctions.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        That’s true. You’re being quite persuasive. But I suppose the one thing I would add is that comments here could be used in a supportive, constructive way, so that if you pick out the positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean you think it’s the greatest poem ever, but it does sweeten the medicine, allowing you to slip in the odd suggestion without coming across heavy handed. BTW I never thought of “blackened” as referring to “I”; to me it’s just “I am night” and the night is blackened. Reminiscent of Hesiod’s Theogeny: “ From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus.”

      • Monty

        Let’s forget about the ‘blackened’ thing, Will. It’s apparent that neither of us can see what the other sees; let’s just leave it at that.

        Regarding modes/levels of criticism: any apparently negative comments I make on these pages are borne out of the high esteem in which I hold SCP, and the standard of poetry I’ve come to expect from it. If you want any elaboration on this subject . . . Somewhere on this page, nestled between the adverts, you’ll find a search-bar. If you enter the name David Paul Behrens, you’ll then be taken to one of his poems ‘Seabirds’.. and in the accompanying comments you’ll notice that two chaps who rightly criticised the poorly-written poem – Messrs Anderson and Southerland – were, in turn, criticised by other commenters for their bluntness. I then made a comment in defence of the two chaps . . which unintentionally developed into a lengthy rant-cum-essay on poetry-criticism here at SCP. If you care to read it, Will, it’ll explain fully why I believe seemingly-harsh criticism is vital here at SCP.

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