Sentenced

February 21, 2014

Those first words would disturb her.
More a fragrance than a sentence,
more a lisp, than a hiss. Just  slip
into a farcical exoskeleton,
the mere costume of which—
the forked tongue tasting the air
beyond all human needs or noses—
suggests the smell of termite nests
amid the posies, a pose of earth
as it rises out of its mold to breathe
the altered air, the spring breezes.
Why shouldn’t your every sentence start
with the formality of a birth?
Why not conjugate before they tear it apart?

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8 Responses to “Sentenced”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    Well done Jim with the musicality of those words; they lisp and hiss, they rise up and echo each other.
    And the omission of a final full stop or period; that sends us back to those first words (period omitted – sic)

  2. extrasimile Says:

    John, sometimes an admission is just an omission. I’m not that subtle

  3. Thomas Davis Says:

    Not that subtle? Then why do I labor so hard to find your meanings?
    Actually, this poem, which is clever, conjugating as it goes, has an echo of Celtic verse forms in it, the alliteration dominating the sound of the poem. You aren’t as rigid with the syllable count as the Celts, though there are a couple of forms such as the Droighneach that are looser with the syllabic rules. Still, this is still free verse in spite of the alliteration.
    …Why shouldn’t your every sentence start
    with the formality of a birth?
    even though
    …Those first words would disturb her.
    More a fragrance than a sentence…
    Sentenced, of course, has multiple meanings in the poem. A poem about language, it is also a poem about birth and life and how poems and lives start out unformed, an exoskeleton… until.
    Of course,
    …Conjugate. Before they tear it apart
    They I take as critics or even just the “they” that surround us.

  4. extrasimile Says:

    Droighneach eh? That’s one I had to look up, Thomas. Can’t even spell it, much less say it. Now try and do one. Truth to tell, I’m perhaps foolishly not thinking about meter one way or the other. I’ve been reading Emily Dickenson—in particular Helen Vendler’s new book. Emily, after all, used a very simple basic beat—as I understand it, based on the hymns she would have heard and sang in church—and Shakespeare’s sonnets?— but managed to get very subtle verbal patterns out of it. Then there is Yeats’s old thing, of separating ‘the dancer from the dance’. Easy to answer the question. ‘I’m the dancer and this is me dancing.’ To me, people’s speech patterns seem to be floating off—separating the speaker from the speech—from their ‘selves’. Does this make sense? Like speech is somehow independent of the speaker and at the same time dominating his personality—constituting it in fact. Sit at any dinner table with any family—or do a couple of them—and you’ll see what I mean.
    It is possible to think of the world as being continuously destroyed and recreated. Why not start every sentence with (as if it were) a birth.
    Does that ‘they’ refer to critics? No.

  5. Thomas Davis Says:

    As I remember it, Jim, Dickenson primarily used common meter, which alternates between eight and six syllables per line, although she was never religious about her uses of meter, caring more about the sense and image of what she was saying than the form. I know she did some experiments with the ballad form too. The common meter is often found in old church music. You’re right about that. Celtic poetry was generally much more rigid, which is why you do not write Celtic poetry, but alliteration was central to carrying its music and meaning. Your poetry is powerful irrespective of meter in much the same way that Stevens’ poetry is powerful. It is very intellectual, but has an emotional strain in it that makes the reader dig for the meaning. I’ve noticed that the revelation that sometimes comes is not quite what you were getting at writing the poem, but if the poet was not writing from a depth that does not lend itself to meanings beyond their intention, then critics would not have discussions about the poem over centuries as time and fashions change. That does not mean that the serious critic always gets the poem right, of course, but it does mean that as poets our struggle for language, story, image, metaphor, alliteration, meter, rhyme, whatever, triggers meanings that our awareness misses while we are in the thrall and anguish of making song.

  6. Thomas Davis Says:

    Another thought after rereading the poem: Why not start every new sentence as if it were a rebirth? What a wonderful idea!

  7. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas, two things of late have set my mind to thinking—your notion that ‘the revelations that sometimes comes is not what [I] was getting at writing the poem’ and my recent experience with ‘Apollo and Otter’ and John Stevens’ striking comment that changed the whole poem. So I ask, what were my intentions here exactly? [By the way, your use of ‘the’ in ‘the revelations’ hides an issue—your revelations? Mine? Ours? Clearly my intentions and your revelations need not be the same. Though they can’t be wholly different either.] I know I play up the idiot savant thing, but it’s true that I my ‘intensions’ emerge with the poem, in its writing. I never start off saying, ‘I am going to write a poem about…’ and it is common for me to make enormous changes at the last minute.
    One other thought; you write that the poems [or mine?] makes the reader dig for the meaning of the poem. Would that were true. What ‘makes’ some one read a poem?
    By the way [to finish, if not conclude] my neurologist tells me the poems come from a drug called Mirapax. Do I believe it? Not for a New York minute.

  8. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas. Each sentence in a poem is a rebirth..Ddefinition of poetry, no?


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