~dusting this thing off~ Oh, hey, Internet. How’s it hanging?
So maybe I took slightly more of an absence than I intended, but I do think it was one that I needed. There’s been an undue amount of stress, agita, drama, and other synonyms for the same complex of blah floating around, as you are probably aware from my constant griping on here. As much fun as the April challenge was, it was a great relief to just shut off a little bit for ten days. But I can’t keep away from you guys for long, so here we go again. As I said in my last post, I’m going to be focusing less on drafts on here (while I focus on revising them/working on a couple of nutty ideas offline), and doing more musings, readings, promptings, etc. I hope to take a page from Margo in this regard, whose blog is always a good indicator of the blogosphere’s pulse. If you don’t know her blog, do go visit! But for now, the triumphant return of the Refinery!
“Bust the Horizon” by Pamela K. Sayers
First, my apologies again to Pamela for the delay in getting this up: her email got lost in the shuffle when it first came in, and then April was running before I found out, and then I had the nerve to take off for ten days. So this post is two months overdue, basically. And Pamela lives in the shadow of a (currently-erupting, I believe) Mexican volcano, so she has it tough enough. But aside from that, her life has the kind of arc I dream about my own taking (up and moving to another country, living as an expat, teaching English and taking it easy – except when there is a volcano erupting), and her work has a characteristic lushness to it that reflects that trajectory. So, bear that in mind as we launch into her poem today:
Cul-de-sac moon of a mother’s love
shines on the silent sun, counting pearls in
Sun shines soul’s abundance
as the moon swallows riverbanks,
spilling into night.
Fingers touch, healing wounds, scars lift
from vision, smiles form peace,
faces reveal skylines —
bust the horizon.
Aerial seas float paper boats;
alabaster winters wave-kiss
pages – unfound embedded,
this child’s life.
Where alchemist fire melds spiritual
metal, pride-heart dies silver
on desert sand, or a carousel
riding on godbent tranquillity
suspended forever in wishes from stars.
There is no sorry in visual sensation, no
wrong walkways through rootless trees,
Mother’s cul-de-sac yields begotten;
dance hope fades in willowed song.
Appropriate for Mother’s Day tomorrow, don’t you think? Let’s have a deeper look.
- I think the overall sticking point I have with the poem is the articulation of some of the concepts and feelings. While I believe I understand the premise of the poem, its evolution and the necessity for its being, I’m getting tripped up repeatedly by some of the ways images and ideas are expressed. For example, the second-to-last stanza: there are some wonderful notions in there, like fire acting as an alchemist or the starry sky as a carousel (of fortune, perhaps, with those wishes?). But the verb “melds” confuses me a bit, the hyphenated “pride-heart” doesn’t really sing to me, and I’m not sure how something rides on godbent tranquility. I’m not in the habit of re-writing in Refineries, but here’s a general note that I think will serve Pamela well: take each stanza and separate out each image into its own piece. Write as its own complete sentence or phrase that is completely straightforward outside the context of the poem. Link them all back together — which, yes, will result in a much longer piece — and then start picking out pieces, trying to reduce phrases to synonymous words, etc.
- Similarly, and yet not at all the same, is the intention of the poem. The poem opens with a dense and cryptic image, the “cul-de-sac moon”, which immediately demands the reader’s scrutiny. (Note: consider carefully whether you want to open with such a mystic image.) But I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from that description. It may be Pamela’s desire to let the reader interpret it as s/he will, but given the clear maternal tone of the rest of the poem (unless I am misreading it entirely), she seems to want us to go in a particular direction. “Cul-de-sac” makes me think of being trapped, a limitation of perception; I’m not sure it fits with the poem’s idea. It could be a purely visual image: maybe along the lines of, A mother’s love scoops sunlight / into its cul-de-sac, or something, creating a firmer idea of refuge and physical shape. (I know, I just said I wouldn’t re-write. Poets are liars.) There are other moments the intention seems to get a bit muddled in the poem: going back to the second-to-last stanza, that dying on desert sand. Or, the last two lines of the poem, which I find very hard to interpret. Choose your words carefully, and before not putting one in, or excising one, make absolutely sure the poem doesn’t need it.
- I don’t want to prattle away the dreamlike quality of the poem, which is sometimes reason enough to write a poem. But if your poem doesn’t demand the feel of a dream — if the poem itself is the dream — you must take pains to lead your reader. That free-form imagination is a wonderful excuse to get all these feelings and visions out in almost any shape, but to share it with us, we need to be awed without being confused. Of course, every poem should make it easy, at least possible, for the reader to get into it; dream poems just require a particular effort. Remember that we are not inside your head with you, and we may not understand all of the things keyed in your mind by this or that image/feeling. It’s better to spell things out and have it click in the reader’s mind. You want them to go, “oh, wow!” rather than “that’s interesting, but what?”
But aside from that:
- I love some of the sounds happening in this poem. Particularly in the second stanza, with that relentless sibilance, there are moments when certain consonants echo around the poem like ripples in a lake. And even though there are words whose choice I would dispute for semantic reasons, like meld, they are beautifully lyrical. I do think that at certain points (like the second stanza, again), a bit of rhythm through unstressed syllables to break up the heavy beats of each word would serve the poem well. But overall, Pamela has picked these verbs and nouns and adjectives like ripe fruit, and they have a significant weight in the poem. It demands a slow, steady reading.
- And the theme is a complex one, at least, as far as I can tell. We often think of poems as a pithy, terse method to pick apart the most sweeping of ideas, but that’s often not the case. Instead, what the best short poems do is examine a seemingly insignificant aspect of a broad topic, like motherhood, and outline it completely, until by the end the reader understands how that one facet stands as a microcosm for the whole. Of course, other poems go deep and explanatory, and are much longer; that’s fine too. But with this one, I feel as though Pamela is trying to cover every aspect of mother’s love in all its forms, and also trying to keep it as tightly metaphorical as possible. My advice would be: don’t be afraid to expand such a rich topic! Or, if you want to keep it tight and metaphorical (which I prefer, from both sides of a poem), zoom in on one element — that “scars lift” makes me think of a healing mother — and use the metaphor of the moon and/or the sun to demonstrate the wide sweep of that interpretation, how it applies universally to a mother’s identity.
- To go back to some of those images I picked out before, even though I may question the reason behind using some of them, the beauty of them flies hard and fast: the paper boats, the rootless trees, etc. If the poem can find a justification for them to be in there, I hope that they’ll stay; they give the poem its feel, which is a terrible thing to sacrifice. (It is not, however, a terrible thing to mitigate if necessary when the trade-off is creating an entryway for the reader.) I can’t speak to the inspiration for the poem, but I suspect that there is a great deal of honesty in Pamela’s choice of metaphors here. Perhaps they really did come in a dream, since it certainly feels like they did. And they seem unadulterated, kept whole and undistilled, which shows a faith in the reader’s ability to accept, swallow, digest, and be nourished by them.
A couple more things:
- I’m not wild about the title. I think it’s that “bust” jumping out at me, when the poem is so smooth and weighty. If the title is to be a line from the poem, I think there are better ones.
- The first two lines of the last stanza, in concept, are probably my favorite part; a nice moral to round out the poem.
- …though I do feel they could be worded a bit better.
- The metaphor of simple, human things becoming celestial is a good one. Chase it! Hunt it down and make it work in the poem, even if you have to use a net and night-vision goggles.
- I do worry that there were actually a couple of words missed entirely in the poem. I recommend re-reading and making sure they didn’t fall by the wayside by accident (rather than on purpose).
Thanks again to Pamela for providing the sacred cow for us to, I don’t know, make steaks out of. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so I hope the Refinery hasn’t lost its sharp-but-meant-to-be-helpful edge. And for those of you who are in April withdrawal and need a prompt, here’s one:
Write about a personal relationship using a celestial metaphor: heavenly bodies, space, weather, etc. Don’t make it about two specific people, but make the interaction they have specific. Have the poem be six stanzas long, each no more than five lines; in the fifth and sixth stanzas, the reader should begin to see how this metaphorical interaction represents the whole relationship. Include the words “skyline”, “suspended”, and “paper”.