.

Eyes on the Prize

__What time it is
Can be determined only by the Sun.
__The choice is his,
By whom all duties have been duly done,

__To set the pace
Whereby all useful progress shall be measured.
__In such a race,
Ambition and persistence will be treasured

__Like golden coins.
A lineage of champions has sprung
__From out the loins
Of heroes who as yet remain unsung.

__Be one of these,
And not the victim that a mother mourns,
__And bend no knees,
But grab the alpha bull right by the horns.

.

.

Old Friends

The wisdom earned from having lived for many
long years is overvalued. Or, to be
completely frank, there simply isn’t any
a sensible adult would bend a knee

to. Sure, it’s often true that people gray
with age are first to note the errors in
the execution of their everyday
activities, but they (unless there’s been

a revelation) seldom understand
that wisdom is collective, shared among
the denizens who sift the shifting sand,
among senescent lifers and the young.

It’s not your place to judge the things I do—
as if opinion ever really mattered—
and I am wrong for criticizing you,

for when the hourglass has at last been shattered,
when we’ve forgotten what we thought we knew,
we’ll laugh at all the sand our footfalls scattered.

.

.

C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press


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33 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    These are wonderful.
    Something stirs beneath them and reverberates within them that calls me back to them again and again.

    On the extremely rare occasions when I believe that I’ve written a line ( let alone an entire poem) that does the same, I am overjoyed.

    And they connect! I don’t know how, but I know that they do.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I don’t know how they connect either, Joe, but I’m glad you think they do.

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        Two points on the surface; both reference bending the knee, and I didn’t have to go to the dictionary for either one of them.
        I do sense a deeper connection, which hopefully will reveal itself on further reading.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both poems are masterly in execution, and profound in their thought. But I expect nothing less than that from Kip.

    In “Eyes on the Prize,” the third quatrain has a magnificent and arresting image of “golden coins” as a “lineage of champions,” sprung from the loins of unsung heroes. This is one of those rare but wonderful instances where a rhyme (coins – loins) comes together with simile to create a perfect metaphor. Many poets can create rhymes, similes, and metaphors. But putting them all together in one swoop? That’s the mark of an expert.

    The same thing happens in quatrain 5 of “Old Friends,” where Anderson zeroes in on the word “hourglass” (where scansion forces the reader to compress the two syllables), and when the hourglass is “shattered” at the end of the line, the subsequent image of “scattered” sand reverts to it, but now blending with the familiar trope of persons leaving footprints in the sand. This is all as tightly woven as a tapestry.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      You wouldn’t know it, Joseph, but the second poem is somewhat about my hope to reconcile with old friends with whom I’ve recently had some some deep political differences. Wish me luck. Though wet sand holds footprints much better than dry sand does, in either instance the prints are quite delible. Thank you for your sharp analysis.

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        I wonder about “deep political differences” because, as far as I can see, politics no longer exists.
        Is there still a give and take for the greater good?
        Hasn’t everything become ideological – the ideal at any cost – including family and friends? If so, then the pessimism that Benjamin speaks about is grounded in reality.
        “Be of good cheer, I have defeated the world.” comes to mind. Easier said than done?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Politics (the struggle for worldly power) will always exist. What has changed now in America is that politics will no longer be practiced democratically, but by totalitarian force. This fraudulent
        2020 election, the complete subservience of Mainstream Media to the left, and the savage polarizing of opinions, are symptoms of that change.

  3. Benjamen Grinberg

    There seems to be something tragic about the last line. As if all of one’s earthly doings are but sand scatterings. Though I think it refers to the depth of knowledge anyone can actually posses. But that too seems pessimistic

    Reply
    • Benjamen Grinberg

      On second view, it’s probably more accurate to say that “we’ll laugh at all the sand our footfalls scattered.” is a reference to opinions that we possess. And as the saying goes, they are like bellybuttons or the like. Making something special of them is like scattering sand.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Or maybe, Benjamen, it simply refers to another old saying: Let bygones be bygones.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    C.B Sometimes the back story for a poem is so hidden that the poet’s reason for writing it is difficult for the reader to discern. This can lead to all sorts of speculative interpretations that miss the poet’s internalized meaning by a mile.

    The Old Friends poem is beautifully told and I could feel the emotion that you put into it, particularly towards the end. But it was your brief explanatory comment to Joseph that threw the whole thing into focus for me and gave new meaning to the imagery of sand and the passage of time.

    I hope that your attempt to reconcile with your friends is successful to the point of bringing back the laughter..

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I hope so too, James, and perhaps if you had been my pastor I would still be going to church, but right now it’s not a laughing matter.

      Reply
  5. Yael

    These are both beautiful and thought provoking poems. I really like the interesting sentence breaks and line arrangements in the second one; it causes me to go back and try reading it with different rhythms in mind.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m not sure what you mean by “different rhythms,” Yael, but I would like to. Sometimes things just happen, where the author must confess to limited control of the narrative. Joe T. is absolutely correct in his observation about the “bended knee” thing. One must be humble, not only before God, but also before the happenstance that allows a reader to pick up on something that resonates in the deep recesses of the mind.

      Reply
      • Yael

        Okay, I’ll try to explain myself in this way.
        Somewhere in my mind there is a music track that’s always active and when I read poetry the music track intersects with the language part of my brain, which is a mixture of German, English, French and other bits and pieces. There’s a variety of pronunciations and ways of reading and understanding available inside my head and I have a fertile imagination which aims to entertain my brain. How the words that I’m reading create images in my mind influences how these images evoke moods, and different moods influence the rhythms that I feel, which can change the images which I’m perceiving while reading and re-reading.

      • C.B. Anderson

        OK, Yael. Without being too specific, I can understand that you have your own approach to reading poetry. And who doesn’t?! If I have managed to trigger even the slightest response in a reader, then I have succeeded in my mission, though if the truth be told, I mostly write poems because it amuses me to do so.

  6. David Watt

    The concluding stanza of “Old Friends” left the deepest imprint on me.
    It’s simply an outstanding pairing of images.
    Both poems reflect deep thoughts extremely well.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I look forward to the time, David, when I have something to laugh about other than the (rare) public appearances of Joe Biden.

      Reply
  7. Julian D. Woodruff

    These are splendid, C.B. In “Prize” the contrasting line lengths, clearly projected through rhyme, accentuate the particulars in the message. In “Friends” there is a different strategy, a striking insistence on enjambment early, its partial lifting in stanza 3, and then the alignment of syntax and line length in the last 2 stanzas: original, brilliant, and most effective in driving home the message in those last 2 stanzads with ringing clarity. The reduction of the rhyming pattern in these 2 stanza underlines the effect. None of this is nes to you, I know, but for the record …

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      You might be surprised, Julian, by how much is new to me. In this comment section I have learned much about my poems that I didn’t know, much less plan. Another thing I have learned about typos: if I look to my keyboard I can see adjacent letters that work much better to resolve a posted non-word into something that fulfills the demands of normal English diction. Heh-heh. By now, I suspect that you and I might be considered old friends.

      Reply
      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Sorry, C.B.
        My excuse this time: I was interrupted in the middle of composing my response, then was going as fast as I could before my phone ran out of gas.
        But I think “stanzad” should be added to the OED.

  8. Yael

    Exactly, C.B.!
    “If I have managed to trigger even the slightest response in a reader, then I have succeeded in my mission, though if the truth be told, I mostly write poems because it amuses me to do so.”
    Truth be told, now that I have read your poems and the comments too, I feel much more like I do now than I did earlier.

    Reply
  9. Margaret Coats

    C. B., I understood and admired “Eyes on the Prize” right away. Not so with “Old Friends.” Your comment on your purpose helped, as did some of the following discussion, but I still have some question as to how the second poem hangs together. And this seems a little strange, because I don’t disagree with anything you say.

    The poem concerns wisdom, and your first point is perfectly valid, as we can easily point out old fools. But did anyone ever really believe that the wisdom of age came from merely living many years? You yourself say otherwise in “Eyes on the Prize,” where you speak about the merit of all duties duly done, and the precedence thus conferred. And whatever respect is due to age alone, not proceeding from the aged person’s wisdom, seems to be a matter of compassion, or anticipation that we might someday be in the same state, not a matter of undue worship. But then you try to solve the problem of too much veneration for a certain supposed wisdom that older people have, by accusing them of not recognizing that wisdom is collective. Really? If we had honest elections, could we vote to discern it?

    But here again, I don’t disagree. When we think of all the wisdom poetry there has been from ancient times to about the 18th century, wisdom was a lyric genre that gave beautiful expression to certain shared commonplaces. The young basically agreed with these proverbs even if they were tempted to disregard them, and the old had confirmed them through experience. The Romantics, however, valued feeling or impulse above wisdom, and in art as in life esteemed change, novelty, originality. Originality does have artistic value, but in the old sense this could be described as knowing what the ancients did, being able to imitate them, and doing what they (or the masters among them) had done, granting that those masters produced unique achievements.

    Now the sand and the hourglass are good images, but it looks to me like your last lines simply abandon the wisdom question, except that you focus with total absorption on the proverb, “Judge not.” Next-to-last line specifically abandons learning to get to the laughter in the final line. Maybe this says conviviality trumps thought. Is that the prize your eyes are on in this poem? Friendship is a greater good than conviviality, but are you reducing it to one of its attributes?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Sometimes, Margaret, I wish I could run my poems by you before sending them out. The problem is that I tend to run on from one idea to the next without exerting the exacting care of a Swiss watchmaker. The logical deficiencies you note are there, and are real, but perhaps I can explain some of them. “Seldom understand that wisdom is collective” probably refers to the notion that seniors (such as myself) might not always embrace the saying “from the mouths of babes.” In the final tercets I have indeed departed from authoritative wisdom to indulge in a bit of psychological savvy, namely, that in the end, at the end of time, personal relationships will be deemed more important than any epistemological dicta.

      And I reject any connection between the two poems here. The juxtaposition was a pure accident, due to the Editor’s selection from a field of four, all of which, in any case, were nothing more than fictive artifacts.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Quite true. And if a poem is a fictive artifact, its meaning is always subservient to the formal demands of rhyme, meter, genre, figures, tropes, and phonic ambience. This doesn’t mean that a poem can be irrational or absurd, but it does mean that it shouldn’t be subjected to overly logical analysis or catechetical interrogation.

      • C.B. Anderson

        That’s a relief, Joseph. I don’t attempt to express wisdom for the ages to come or to solve the universe. Leo Yankevich once (at least) warned about this. But I certainly do appreciate a close reading by someone such as Dr. Coats. If, while doing what I do, I can also tie down every logical and thematic connection, then why not do so? I’ve noticed that in your own work there are seldom, if ever, loose ends for anyone to worry about. I think this is the discipline of practice and the practice of discipline. If I live another twenty years I might get better at it.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Margaret,
      I don’t want to argue with you about these poems (other than to say I got wrapped up in CB’s technique and should have looked more critically at content), but your comment on originality and the Romantics begs at least some nuance. In the musical realm, both Haydn and Beethoven, neither a Romantic, are on record as prizing originality: “I was forced to become original” (Haydn); “Art demands of us something new” (Beethoven). Surely there are contemporaneous writers who expressed comparable sentiments.
      You make me want to go back through Charles Rosen’s book on the musical Romanrics to see how he might have addressed the issue.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        I did put a little nuance there by talking about originality “in the old sense.” And that is the sense in which Haydn was forced to be original, and Beethoven wanted to do something new. Beethoven is an excellent example of “old originality.” From my little knowledge of it, music history sees him as spanning a transition from classic to Romantic. Especially in his own “late period,” he did formal innovation and expressed intense feeling (but what artist doesn’t try to do that?). And how did Beethoven approach this? He renewed his study of Bach!

        My quibble with Romanticist “originality” is that the word comes to mean rejection of the past, and ultimately hatred of the past and refusal to master a craft. Instead, there is reliance on some spirit that may amount to no more than personal feeling. This led English Romantic poets to preserve bad juvenilia as triumphs of youthful feeling (the greater Romantics did go on to study their craft). Every new poem good or bad, with or without traditional theme and form, is original in some sense, and thus there is little value in originality alone.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Thanks for responding, Margaret. I think we’re closer to agreeing, although I am a little uncertain inasmuch as I am largely unfamiliar with the literary world of that time, especially poets’ early productions, and you furnish no specific examples. In the world of music, I would say 1) Beethoven’s status as a Romantic, even as a transitional figure, is much debated; 2) his and Schubert’s juvenilia survive, though neither treasured them (despite Schubert’s having produced several immortal songs and important instrumental works in his teens, similarly Mendelssohn; 3) the earlier works of some musical Romantics (notably, Schumann) are generally valued more highly than their later works; 4) Brahms (who might be called a post-Romantic or Classical throwback but is still closely tied to Schubert and Schumann) was distinctive in destroying almost all his juvenilia, but was also ruthlessly critical of his mature work.
        All this might seem a bit beyond the bounds of a poetry website, but maybe you or some others would like to contribute comments on the practices, artistic development, and shortcomings of one or another of the Romantic poets. They seem to hold a critical position in the minds of several regulars here.

  10. Margaret Coats

    This is a reply to C. B. I’m opening a new box lest it get mixed with what Julian and I had to say, and appear in uncomfortably short lines.

    Please be assured that I do not read the above poems as a pair. I did find something you said in “Eyes on the Prize” as relevant to my points on “Old Friends,” but that was precisely because the idea was not included or even considered in “Old Friends.” No connection between the poems; the contrast was mine, not yours!

    “Old Friends” made me think of a few lost friendships of my own. In my situation, two friendships endured for years despite differences of opinion and lifestyle (although arguments can indeed break off friendship). What ultimately killed them, I believe now, was fading and failure of the will to be friends. Intellect and epistemology had nothing to do with it, nor did losing touch. I can think of many friends who, like myself, probably cherish a latent will to be friends. That means we could reconnect easily if it were practical. But not these two where the will is gone.

    Whatever the problem between old friends, your shattered hourglass image applies in a way not yet mentioned. Shattered glass on beach sands is dangerous and can be painful. Although you seem to consider the passing of two friends in your next-to-last line, the glass can also warn friends to make amends while there is time, and not wait until the survivor steps on broken glass to experience pain with no remedy except prayer for the deceased.

    Reply

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