The blind poet awakes and feels his way
Into the living room, where light of day
Will find his daughters ready to preserve
The words of truth and beauty that disturb
His sleep, and roll forth from him like a spool
Of thread that needs a needle to give rule
To winding chaos. So with pens in hand
His loyal scribes in readiness will stand
As witnesses to every syllable.
“It’s time!” His voice embarks with biblical
Authority, then founders on some trash
Along the kitchen floor he’s fumbling past.
“Oh, sorry dad, this morning Mary swore
She’d bag that up.” — “Did not, it was your chore!”
“No worries,” said the bard. “I have new thoughts
To dictate, bursting forth like cannon shots
Inside my head! I need your willing pens
To focus all the light from my deep lens!”
“I’m kind of busy, dad,” the youngest wailed,
Not looking up from polishing her nails.
“I’m going to a friend’s,” the elder said,
Then added, “Deborah, take him back to bed.”
—“It’s you who should be taking care of father!”
—“I do! The other day I changed his water.”
“What nonsense, let’s begin,” the bard declared.
His daughters failed to hear him o’er the blare
The television made. “What was that, dad?”
He paused a moment, raised a hand to grab
His head. The noise was crowding out the verses
He had composed while waiting for his nurses,
So loving and so true, to bring for him
The breakfast that would fuel his weakened limbs.
“What was it I had said? I can’t recall.”
A glance between the girls conveyed it all:
Poor dad is more forgetful every year.
“Here dad, just sit down. Let’s get your mind clear,”
And Mary led him to the radio
Where static pulverized his mind to dough,
Then put his headphones on and navigated
The stations to Car Talk, a show he hated.
He threw the headphones off, and in a rage
Began some silly rant that showed his age:
“I’m tired of seeing modern life abuse
Our grand traditions like outdated views.
I’ve a good deal of wisdom in this head
And wish to get it out before I’m dead,
So grant a little time to my endeavor.”
But Deborah nonchalantly said, “Whatever.”
—“Let’s please resume with Homer, in the Greek.”
—“The Simpsons isn’t on until next week.”
More sympathetic, Mary pulled a book
Assigned in English class, and turned to look
For the best page, then read in a soft coo
A poem penned by Maya Angelou.
The old poet put his headphones back on.
“Just never mind,” he said, and sat withdrawn.
The caged bird doesn’t sing so well when shrunk
By malnutrition from unhealthy junk.

 

 

Andrew Benson Brown was a graduate student at George Mason University before taking too many classes outside his discipline coincided with the reality of Debt. He now works as a children’s caseworker in rural Missouri. In his spare time he reads obscure classics, writes things of little market value, and exercises far more than is befitting for a modern intellectual.


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.”

17 Responses

  1. James Sale

    A very nice conceit – it made me laugh. I particularly liked the nurses/verses rhyme and the swipe at one of our contemporary ‘greats’. Yeh, right!

    Reply
    • Andrew Brown

      Glad you liked it, James. As you’re an excellent narrative poet yourself, your appreciation means a lot. Feminine rhymes are always a good way to add to the humor. And yes, couldn’t resist that final dig!

      Reply
  2. Sally Cook

    More than a conceit, James — much more
    I see in this poem sadness, a nightmare masquerading as the typical pablum we are constantly being fed. How did the boundaries get to be so narrow, the depth so short? This has to be one of the best poems I have ever read on this site.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Yes, of course, you are right, Sally; with British reticence I didn’t want to over-egg the meal, but it speaks a compelling truth. Which is why it speaks so powerfully. Thanks.

      Reply
    • Andrew Brown

      That’s very high praise coming from you, Sally. Thank you.

      I fear the Pablum Alums from Marshmallow University will only swell in the years to come…if only this coronavirus were wiping out the cold souls instead of the old souls.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is really quite funny! Poor Milton, brought back to life in 2020 America, with three airhead daughters who don’t care a rap for his poetic ambitions!

    The picture that Mr. Mantyk has chosen for illustration has always intrigued me, since it hangs in one of the stairwell foyers at the New York Public Library here in New York City. I often stopped to study it, and I imagined that all three girls did seem a bit bored and impatient with their father. A.B. Brown’s poem makes that thought come alive.

    From the glorious John Milton to the worthless crap-spouter Maya Angelou. What a cultural comedown!

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Hi Joe, on the subject of paintings, I have an original from 1822 by James Barry of Milton Composing PL – his daughters are in it. It’s a black and white sketch. We can’t upload pics here, but perhaps I should get a photo shot and send to Evan as it might be of interest to Milton lovers – of which I count myself somewhere towards the head of queue!

      Reply
    • Andrew Brown

      I was exposed to Maya Angelou several times in undergraduate courses…never learned anything about poor Milton until I listened to some Great Courses audio lectures on his stuff in more recent years. Thank god for those—the Teaching Company is virtually the last place you can get a non-politicized education in the classics these days (short of taking a class with you, I imagine…which I’m sure your own students don’t appreciate like they should).

      Reply
  4. Monty

    First of all, Andrew, congratulations on gathering the very notion of Milton and his clan in the 21st century: that was a capture in itself. And then . . the clarity of your writing: your gorgeous use of language: imaginative metaphors; it was a pleasure just to read it as language, narrative aside.

    I must confess to my mild displeasure at the inconsistency of rhymes, but your piece contains so many other delights, it’s easy to overlook that blemish. In ‘delights’, I’m referring to such nuggets as ‘..will stand as witnesses to every syllable’; ‘..words of truth and beauty which disturbs his sleep’; ‘loyal scribes’; ‘biblical authority’; and the memorable ‘..like a spool of thread that needs a needle to give rule to winding chaos’ . . which is surely metaphor-usage in its purest form! Quality stuff. I also liked the fact that you imagined a radio-show containing ‘talk of cars’ to be the exact type of show that a dedicated poet would detest. I’m sure you’re not wrong.

    I’m impelled to ask three questions, Andrew:

    1/ L10-L11: ‘“It’s time!” His voice embarks with biblical authority, then founders on some trash..’ . . as ‘founder’ means ‘to fall’, I initially read it as “..and just as he’s saying ‘it’s time’, he slips on something which’d been left on the floor, and HE FALLS (flounders) to the ground”. Upon closer inspection, I now assume that you mean it’s his VOICE which founders (in dismay, at sensing the trash on the floor), as opposed to he HIMSELF founders . . . is that right?

    2/ L4: ‘..words of truth and beauty which disturbs his sleep’: given that the sentence contains the plural ‘words’, should it not be followed by the singular ‘disturb’, as opposed to ‘disturbs’? For example: ‘The barking dogs disturb my sleep every night’.. alternatively: ‘The barking dog disturbs my sleep every night’. D’you see what I’m saying? It can be either ‘the dogs disturb’ or ‘the dog disturbs’.. but not ‘the dogs disturbs’ – hence ‘the words disturb’ or ‘the word disturbs’.. but not ‘the words disturbs’.

    3/ L29-30: When you say, “..while waiting for his nurses, so loving and so true, to bring his breakfast”, am I right in assuming that the ‘nurses’ are his daughters? If so, I’m a tad puzzled, ‘coz there are many other parts to the narrative which would suggest that his daughters are not exactly ‘loving and true’! Am I missing something?

    Good stuff, Andrew: I shall keep your name in mind for future reading.

    Reply
    • Andrew Brown

      Thanks very much for your close reading, Monty. Sorry for not responding to your previous post on my other poem, by the way; I only just saw it a few days ago. You were right about the demerits you noted, and I wasn’t put off by the criticism.

      Car Talk was actually a real show that was on National Public Radio for many years–I’m actually pretty sure that, after Prairie Home Companion, it’s the longest running radio show in America. My parents listened to it frequently when we were driving on family outings, and it drove me crazy. It is exactly what you would imagine it to be. Look no further to the closing of the American mind than the wild popularity of a program where people call in to talk about their automobile woes. The long decline from lying on Freud’s couch to sitting on a Mustang hood is now complete; engine oil permeates our psychological furniture. Confirmation of my belief that I am constantly surrounded by people with the souls of used car salesmen.

      I suppose I did get kind of lazy with the near-rhymes. Actually on re-reading it, I just realized that half of the first 12 lines have the near-rhymes of preserve/disturb, syllable/biblical, and trash/past; and then as the poem progresses the near-rhymes become less frequent, and totally absent at the end. Unlike the last poem I submitted to the site, which I re-edited too much, I wrote this one in about a two-hour sitting and barely edited it at all. I think as I went along with the writing and got more into ‘the zone,’ I just got better at thinking of more apt rhymes. (In defense of occasional near-rhyming, though, ‘biblical’ doesn’t actually have any perfect rhymes; and in the other cases, they at least have similar-sounding vowels and different consonants, rather than having the same consonant and different vowels—not sure if there’s a technical term to distinguish these two, but I feel like the latter is a different species of slant rhyme, and is lazier than the former).

      I am curious as to your thoughts on the necessity of altering tense or plurality to make it fit with the rhyme, or whether it’s acceptable to have the imperfect ‘wailed/nails,’ and ‘declared/blare.’

      In lines 10-11, yes, I imagine him stopping in his monologue as he almost falls over the trash. I can see how that is confusing.

      That’s weird about you noting the ‘disturbs’ in line 4, that must have been changed since I’m reading it in the singular now on the site. In any case, thanks for catching it.

      Yes, I intended the nurses to mean his daughters; as for the ‘so loving and so true,’ I was trying to imply that the old bard is still at this point clinging to his delusive perception of them, as in the beginning of the poem, that they are dutiful at heart. I guess I could change that a bit to make it more clear: ‘still loving and still true,’ maybe? Or ‘so selfish yet still true.’ I’ll fiddle with it.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Andrew,

        Partial rhymes in which the stressed vowel sounds correspond are called assonance rhymes. I don’t see how attempted rhymes where the initial consonants of the stressed syllables are the same but the vowels are different can be considered any kind of rhyme at all. “preserve/disturb” is pretty good: in essence, the rhyme is “serve/turb.” The vowels assonate, and the final consonants (“v” & “b”), though a fricative and a plosive stop, respectively, are labial in that they rely on the lips; and both are voiced consonants. Such liberties are especially well taken when used in song lyrics. “Syllable/Biblical” is a stretch. The only assonance is “-lable/lical,” but both are nearly doubled schwas, and no one wants to rhyme schwas. To be fair, “Syl-” & “Bib” both carry a short “i” sound, but, oddly, the partial rhyme seems to be carried by the identical rhythm of the two words. There are hard and fast rules for perfect rhymes, but I doubt that there are any such rules for partial rhymes, except that the poet must make a reader believe them.

      • Andrew Brown

        C.B.,

        Thanks for that technical analysis. I never thought about schwas in relation to poetic function, so I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

        I spent a few minutes googling slant rhymes, and found an exposition by former poet laureate Billy Collins, where he distinguished between assonant and consonant slant rhymes, and even talked about ‘pararhyme,’ where words have the same beginning and ending consonant sounds but are different in the middle (‘sold’ and ‘spelled’). Rhyme has in the minds of some taken on a very broad definition, and I never would have thought of this latter type especially as falling into the category. Though this Billy Collins is ‘renowned’ enough to give lectures in the Masterclass series, and has even been dubbed ‘the most popular poet in America,’ and receives six-figure advances for his work, I found the couple of poems of his that I managed to finish really, really boring.
        When a poet is described as “accessible” by critics, I take it to be a warning sign that I am about to be reading dull free verse employing a grade-school vocabulary, and with such titles to his books as ‘Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes,’ we have now entered a realm where the chief poetic faculty is Titillation.

        I have heard it said that one definition of a Golden Age is a period when poets can make a living as poets, and while there are “poets” out there today who are making a killing like never before, I can’t help but think that we are living in an Age of Lead.

      • Monty

        First of all, Andrew, I wasn’t even aware that you’d posted another poem recently upon which I commented: I’ve since seen the poem in question; I’d forgotten all about it.

        Regarding the poem above: if may refer to your points chronologically . .

        1/ It was irrelevant to me whether the radio show was a real or imagined; I just liked the fact that your words enabled me to imagine ‘talk of cars’ as being anathema to a genuine man-of-letters. I can also relate to your example of Car Talk being the longest-running show as being indicative of “the closing of the American mind”. It’s a macho thing, ain’t it, they think it displays manhood. (When I was younger, English girls used to joke that American males leave their jeans in the fridge overnight, to wear the next day). My, how they’ve got their priorities wrong. I assume you must sometimes feel like shouting “get a life” from the rooftops!

        2/ I’ve got no hesitation in telling you that I find your admission – “I wrote this (poem) in about a two-hour sitting, and barely edited it at all” – to be an absolute crime against poetry. I’m incredulous. You seem to think that the writing of a poem is about sitting down and knocking it out as quick as possible with ‘minimal’ editing . . bang, it’s finished. It’s not about that, Andrew it’s the exact opposite! It’s about ‘maximum’ editing. It’s about not being bothered if the editing of a poem takes longer than the writing of it. Editing is everything! In this particular case, the lack of editing has manifested itself in the ambiguities I referred to:
        a/ Not making it clear to the reader that it was his voice which foundered, as opposed to he himself foundering (slipping-up on the trash)..
        b/ Not making it clear that it was just him (Milton) deluding himself that his daughters were “so loving and true”, when the rest of the poem tells us that they’re anything but.
        You’ve since said of the ‘founders’ bit: “I can see how that’s confusing” . . but if you’d spent more time editing the poem before submitting it, you might’ve seen at the time that it’s confusing. And of the ‘so loving, so true’ bit, you’ve since said “I guess I could make it more clear” . . but with proper editing, you might’ve seen at the time how you could make it more clear. That’s the absolute essence of editing: to iron out the bits that “you can see how that’s confusing”. Not just with poetry but with any kind of writing, the prime duty of the author is to not leave the reader confused over something. I say again: editing is everything. The biggest surprise for me – given that you spent only 2 hours, with minimal editing – was that you still managed to produce such a quality piece. Which would suggest that if you gave a bit more time and consideration.. you could produce masterpieces.

        3/ For me personally, there can never be a “necessity” to alter tense or plurality to fit a rhyme. Tense and plurality is what it is, and must be strictly adhered to . . and to attempt altering it for ANY reason will result in only one thing – bad diction. Language is there to be used, not altered. Equally, a rhyme should never suffer to fit in with tense and plurality. They have to both work properly in conjunction with each other . . that’s poetry!

        4/ I’m puzzled now. Either Mr Mantyk has since changed ‘disturbs’ to the singular . . or I was hallucinating when I first spotted it! I really don’t know which.

        5/ We’ve all got our own views on the use of rhyme in poetry. I’m a bit fussy, me; in general, I only really recognise full-rhyme. I appreciate that other types – near-rhyme, assonance-rhyme, etc – are valid in poetry, and I’m aware that, when used effectively, they can lend a poem a different kind of sophistication. I’ve actually read some quality near-rhyme stuff by the likes of Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas. But in those poems, each and every line is a near-rhyme – from start to finish. They don’t deviate from ‘near’ to ‘full’, and then back to ‘near’! What I don’t like to see – what, in fact, really dismays me – is the use of different types of rhyme in a single poem.

        In my own ideal world, it would be compulsory for a poem to contain only full-rhymes from start to finish.. only near-rhymes from start to finish.. or only assonance rhymes from start to finish . . with no mixing. One or the other, not a combination of several. (This way, they could each attain their own, unambiguous referencing: full-rhyme poem.. near-rhyme poem.. assonance-rhyme poem.) Hence (staying for the moment in my own world) when I see a single poem containing such mixtures, I can’t help but think immediately of sloppiness, laziness or convenience. In some cases, it can even disfigure a poem for me. But (now back in the real world) I’ve grown to accept that many contributors to these pages are willingly prone to such mixing, and I try to judge such poems on other merits (as I did with ‘Milton’). And over time, I’ve gradually been able to discern between those contributors who think nothing of mixing their rhymes . . and those for whom committing such an act would be like putting mustard on their corn-flakes!

      • Monty

        First of all, Andrew, I wasn’t even aware that you’d posted another poem recently upon which I commented: I’ve since seen the poem in question; I’d forgotten all about it.

        Regarding the poem above: if may refer to your points chronologically . .

        1/ It was irrelevant to me whether the radio show was a real or imagined; I just liked the fact that your words enabled me to imagine ‘talk of cars’ as being anathema to a genuine man-of-letters. I can also relate to your example of Car Talk being the longest-running show as being indicative of “the closing of the American mind”. It’s a macho thing, ain’t it, they think it displays manhood. (When I was younger, English girls used to joke that American males leave their jeans in the fridge overnight, to wear the next day). My, how they’ve got their priorities wrong. I assume you must sometimes feel like shouting “get a life” from the rooftops!

        2/ I’ve got no hesitation in telling you that I find your admission – “I wrote this (poem) in about a two-hour sitting, and barely edited it at all” – to be an absolute crime against poetry. I’m incredulous. You seem to think that the writing of a poem is about sitting down and knocking it out as quick as possible with ‘minimal’ editing . . bang, it’s finished. It’s not about that, Andrew it’s the exact opposite! It’s about ‘maximum’ editing. It’s about not being bothered if the editing of a poem takes longer than the writing of it. Editing is everything! In this particular case, the lack of editing has manifested itself in the ambiguities I referred to:
        a/ Not making it clear to the reader that it was his voice which foundered, as opposed to he himself foundering (slipping-up on the trash)..
        b/ Not making it clear that it was just him (Milton) deluding himself that his daughters were “so loving and true”, when the rest of the poem tells us that they’re anything but.
        You’ve since said of the ‘founders’ bit: “I can see how that’s confusing” . . but if you’d spent more time editing the poem before submitting it, you might’ve seen at the time that it’s “confusing”. And of the ‘so loving, so true’ bit, you’ve since said “I guess I could make it more clear” . . but with proper editing, you might’ve seen at the time how you could make it more clear. That’s the absolute essence of editing: to iron out the bits that “you can see how that’s confusing”. Not just with poetry but with any kind of writing, the prime duty of the author is to not leave the reader confused over something. I say again: editing is everything. The biggest surprise for me – given that you spent only 2 hours, with minimal editing – was that you still managed to produce such a quality piece. Which would suggest that if you gave a bit more time and consideration.. you could produce masterpieces.

        3/ For me personally, there can never be a “necessity” to alter tense or plurality to fit a rhyme. Tense and plurality is what it is, and must be strictly adhered to . . and to attempt altering it for ANY reason will result in only one thing – bad diction. Language is there to be used, not altered. Equally, a rhyme should never suffer to fit in with tense and plurality. They have to both work properly in conjunction with each other . . that’s poetry!

        4/ We’ve all got our own views on the use of rhyme in poetry. I’m a bit fussy, me; in general, I only recognise full-rhyme. I acknowledge that other types – near-rhyme, assonance-rhyme, etc – are valid in poetry, and I’ve read some quality near-rhyme stuff by the likes of Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas, hence I accept their use. But those poems contain near-rhymes from start to finish. They don’t deviate from ‘near’ to ‘full’. What I don’t like to see – and what, I confess, really dismays me – is the use of different types of rhyme in a single poem. In my own ideal world, it would be compulsory for a poem to contain only full-rhymes from start to finish.. or only near-rhymes from start to finish.. or only assonance rhymes from start to finish . . with no mixing. When I see a poem which is two-thirds full-rhyme and one-third near rhyme, I can’t help but think of only one reason for it – laziness and convenience.

  5. David Watt

    Andrew, I like the time shift idea of your poem. I wonder if your idea stems from time shifts in Paradise Lost, such as the shift into the future in Book 3: ‘he wings his way towards the new-created world’.
    In any case, I enjoyed your narrative, and the humorous dialogue.

    Reply
    • Andrew

      Thanks, David. I didn’t have any explicit parallels in mind to Paradise Lost, no. Of course, if you would like to attribute such learned allusions to my work, it would make me seem much smarter!

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Andrew,

        Regarding Billy Collins, I once read a fourteen-line poem he wrote the purpose of which was to ridicule the sonnet. He used such phrases as “bongo beat.” I find some of his poems amusing, but any mastery of traditional craft he might once have possessed he has long since abandoned. This is to say that he sometimes writes decent formatted prose.

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