Birch Polypore (revised)

1lankest
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Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by 1lankest » Mon Feb 11, 2019 5:52 pm

Version 3

They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh - uncle Dave insists -
himself unshaven, grey for drink.

Quite who he means goes unexplained. Just They:
gentry, brigands, clergy? All, perhaps,

given need of grooming. It’s not - he assures me -
for the pedant’s sober curiosity to pry or probe

so with a nephew’s loyalty
I descend the moss-slick slope

to the tree below
clinging precariously

to a limestone shelf,
roots exposed

to the Tywi’s up-draughting cold.
Alone, teetering on the ledge

and calling back above the river’s din,
I assure him what he says is true: this corky shroom

though ripening on the bark
is firm enough to the finger’s touch, to whet the wits
of even the rustiest old blade.

Revision

They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh - uncle Dave insists -
himself unshaven, grey for drink. Quite who he means
goes unexplained. Just They: gentry? brigands? clergy? Either,

all perhaps, given need of grooming. It’s not - he assures me -
for the pedant’s sober curiosity to pry or probe, but with
a nephew’s unerring loyalty descend the moss-slick slope

to the specimen tree ten feet below, clinging precariously
to a limestone shelf, roots exposed to the Tywi’s
up-draughting cold. Alone, teetering on the ledge, calling back

above the river’s din, I assure him what he says is true:
this corky shroom, though ripening on the bark, is firm enough
to the finger’s touch, to whet the wits of even the rustiest

old blade.

Original


They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh - or so my uncle Dave insists -
himself unshaven and grey for drink.

Quite who he means goes unexplained. Just They:
gentry, brigands, clergy? All, perhaps, given need

of grooming, the cleanest cut. It’s not - he assures me -
for the pedant’s sober curiosity to pry or probe

but with a nephew’s unerring loyalty
descend the moss-slick slope

to the specimen tree
ten feet below, clinging precariously

to a limestone shelf,
roots exposed

to the Tywi’s up-draughting cold.
Alone, teetering on the ledge

and calling back above the river’s din,
I assure him what he says is true: this corky shroom

though softening on the bark
is firm enough to the finger’s touch, to whet the wits
of even the rustiest old blade.
Last edited by 1lankest on Sun Feb 17, 2019 8:50 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by Perry » Mon Feb 11, 2019 9:37 pm

I'm not going to give a critique now, but make some observations. You seem to be wandering back and forth between the present tense and the past tense. That may be because there is dialogue in the poem. If that's the case, I suggest you put the dialogue in quotes or italics. Also, your sentence structure isn't very good. A poem like this could use a little clarity.

I'll come back later and say something about the meaning. But in the mean time, if you polished it up a little, that would be helpful.
Last edited by Perry on Tue Feb 12, 2019 8:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by 1lankest » Tue Feb 12, 2019 7:09 am

Perry, the poem is in the present tense, apart from the first line which is implied speech.
Can you give me an example of the sentences that aren’t structured well?

Luke

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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by Perry » Tue Feb 12, 2019 8:59 am

You're right; I was wrong. The sentence structure isn't the problem, and on closer reading the tenses seem okay -- although your punctuation could be improved in places. My apologies. I think I was tired when I first read it.

Still, it took me five close readings before I finally understood the poem. Maybe that's me, though. Perhaps I have poor comprehension. The days when a poem could be understood on first reading seem to be gone, and I miss those days. Modern poems always seem to need interprtation. When I write a poem, I explain as I go, and I seem to be the only one doing that. Most poets write what they feel and expect the reader to figure it out. Now that I've read the poem through ten times, I see that it is actually clearer than most poems are these days.

The mixture of long and short lines gives the poem a chaotic feel.

Shouldn't "clung" be "clinging"?

So am I to believe that the men in the town were sharpening their razors on a fungus growing out of a birch tree? It was a different world back then.
Last edited by Perry on Tue Feb 12, 2019 10:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by 1lankest » Tue Feb 12, 2019 5:59 pm

Thanks for returning Perry. You are right about ‘clinging’ - I’ll change it. And you’re right in your interpretation. There are deeper layers there (I hope!) but I don’t want to impose my intended meaning on the readership.

Luke

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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by NotQuiteSure » Tue Feb 12, 2019 7:10 pm

.
Hi Luke.

Not keen on the format, feels like it's interrupting itself
but it has some (a lot!) of very pleasing sonics and reads
well. Enjoyed it.

S2 - if 'goes unexplained' then why the 'gentry...' ?

S3 - the cleanest cut - approaches cliché
I think, 'It is not' rather than 'It's not', given 'pedant'.

S4 - 'unerring' ?

S5 - 'specimen' doesn't seem to be doing much.

S9 - Is 'firm' right, given the context?
Genuine question: why is it softening?
Would rather that was in the piece, rather than
the obvious 'on the bark'.
(Not sure about 'rustiest' - 'bluntest' or 'dullest'
might have a bit more bite?)


They’d strop their razors ['pon] its stony flesh
- or so my uncle Dave insists -
himself unshaven
[,] grey for drink. [Though]
Quite who he means goes unexplained.

Just They. [Any and all, who, hirsute and hamstrung,
found themselves in need of grooming, perhaps.]
It’s not - he assures me - for the pedant
[with their] sober curiosity to [question him. No.]

[A] nephew [of] unerring loyalty [should,
unhesitatingly] descend the moss-slick slope
[There,] to the [indicated] tree ten feet below, clinging
[on] precariously to a limestone shelf, roots exposed

to the Tywi’s up-draughting cold. [T]eetering on the ledge,
alone, and calling above the river’s din, I
[re]assure him
that what he says is true: though softening
[it is still] firm
enough to whet the wits of even the rustiest old blade.



Regards, Not.


.

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Re: Birch Polypore

Post by 1lankest » Wed Feb 13, 2019 9:56 am

Not, thanks for your thoughts.

I agree the format might be too chaotic as Perry suggested too.

As ever I appreciate your detailed crit but I just think there’s a stylistic difference between us and I couldn’t possibly make all the changes you suggest without ripping the heart out of my poetry. We have to write differently, lest writing should die a uniform, dull death.

What’s wrong with ‘unerring?

Specimen is a scientific term, indicating the aged uncle is a natural historian/biologist (hence the sharpening of the rusty wits).

I’ve certainly taken some of yours and Perry’s thoughts onboard and have revised accordingly.

Best,

Luke

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by NotQuiteSure » Wed Feb 13, 2019 11:48 am

.
Hi Luke,

much improved for the revision (though the last two words have
the look of an accident rather than intentional placement). The
new form looks better, reads easier, and offers more interesting
enjambments.

Still lost on the list in L3 (given 'unexplained') and 'brigands'
(for instance) clashes with 'shroom' (1400s vs 1970s).

'Unerring' - always right/accurate ? - just makes me scratch my
head. Especially given the 'uncle' seems to have something of
the thirst about him. Are you using it as an alternative to
'steadfast' ?

'Specimen' - if that's the case then surely it should be 'his specimen
tree' ? No way to make the connection without the pronoun.
(Does it matter what the uncle is/was? 'grey for drink' and 'sober'
were sufficient hints that his wits might be 'rusty'.)
It's also another phrase that 'corky shroom' clashes with.

'to the fingers touch' - think you can cut this, it's strongly implied
by 'firm enough'.

1lankest wrote:
Wed Feb 13, 2019 9:56 am
I couldn’t possibly make all the changes you suggest
Never thought you could/would, that's why they're suggestions.

Regards, Not.



.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by capricorn » Wed Feb 13, 2019 7:29 pm

Great revision, Luke. The new format is much better, makes the whole poem flow. Only problem is the last 2 words that look lonely stuck on the end -- easily sorted though.

Eira

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by bjondon » Thu Feb 14, 2019 2:58 pm

Nice one Luke. Made me chuckle.
Great revision too.
Actually I like that lone shelf - like the polypore itself.
Not entirely sure about that last twinkle of 'wits'.
Jules

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by 1lankest » Thu Feb 14, 2019 9:18 pm

Thanks Jules, Eira, Not,

I agree the last two words are redicuous. What was I thinking!

Quite happy with this now.

Not - ta. The list of groups of people are meant to reflect N’s questioning of his uncle - who are they? The fact they appear timeless is kind of the point: context hasn’t been provided.

Luke

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by Perry » Fri Feb 15, 2019 2:08 am

I really do think that I was tired the first time I read this poem, because now it seems perfectly clear to me, and I quite like it. In fact, there is good texture and rhythm to the language, and an overall warmth that is very pleasing.

I definitely feel that taking it out of the spread-out free verse format has improved it. However, I hadn't envisioned such long lines. You may not realize this, but the first line below is perfect iambic pentameter, so why not let that establish your meter?

They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh --
uncle Dave insists -- himself unshaven, grey
for drink. Quite who he means goes unexplained.

Just They: gentry? brigands? clergy? Either,
or all perhaps, given need of grooming.
It’s not -- he assures me -- for the pedant's

sober curiosity to pry or probe,
but with a nephew’s unerring loyalty
I descend the moss-slick slope to the old tree

ten feet below, clinging precariously
to a limestone shelf, roots exposed to the Tywi’s
up-draughting cold. Alone, teetering on

the ledge, calling back above the river’s din,
I assure him that what he says is true:
this corky shroom, though ripening on the bark,

is firm enough to the finger’s touch, to whet
the wits of even the rustiest old blade.

===

Now, before I continue, let me just say that I don't consider this to be a rewrite because almost all I did was to change the line lengths. It does end up with a short stanza at the end, but the line lengths feel more natural to me. The ten-syllable length (give or take a syllable) seems to be a natural unit for human beings to ingest poetry; and since your opening phrase is ten syllables long, it seems to be a natural for this poem.

You'll notice that I replaced "specimen" with "old" for the sake of the meter, and I also inserted "I" before "descend". Unless I'm reading it wrong, it needs "I" to make it a complete sentence. "Specimen" always sounded too clinical to me. I have also added a "that" to fill out one line.

I really am sorry for being lazy the first time I read the poem. I really do think it is quite good now that I am completely familiar with it. There is a creativity to the language which is very pleasing. I hate to say this, but it sounds similar to something I might write. You've written it in long sentences, and you've mixed up the phrases in an interesting way.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by David » Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:02 pm

I like it, but - sorry to be a contrarian - I prefer the original format. Much better, I think.

I particularly like the last line.

Cheers

David

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by 1lankest » Sat Feb 16, 2019 8:09 am

Perry, thanks so much for returning - really no need to apologise!
Glad you like it more, on further reading. I am prone to iambic writing, as you are, and I do like your reorganisation here - I’m torn between your version and my original, which David has crept in to advocate like the proverbial cat...

Thanks David, glad you like it. I must admit it’s nice when someone likes an original but you’re heavily outnumbered and I’m, as ever, conflicted.

Cheers

Luke

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by Perry » Sat Feb 16, 2019 9:42 am

It's not for me to tell you how to write, Luke. If you like free verse, then put it in free verse. My only advice is to find a good reason for each line break.

I reacted badly to your original poem because very long lines mixed with very short lines feel chaotic to me. Not just chaotic, but as if the poet is trying to force pauses on me (the reader) with the line breaks. Let the pauses be determined by the language, and then coordinate the pauses with the line breaks, like MacLeish did in "Ars Poetica" (the last poem posted in the Poems That You Love thread).
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by David » Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:51 am

1lankest wrote:
Sat Feb 16, 2019 8:09 am
Thanks David, glad you like it. I must admit it’s nice when someone likes an original but you’re heavily outnumbered and I’m, as ever, conflicted.
I'm often conflicted too, Luke. It's a fruitful state to be in - in poetical terms, at least. Re the numbers, though, as Groucho Marx might have said: "who are you going to believe, me or all these other guys?" Logic suggests "all these other guys", I know.

He actually said - actually Chico, not Groucho, I now find! - “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” The case is less clear-cut here. I know which one I prefer, but I have a weakness - a fatal one, perhaps - for the sort of etiolated form of the original. And in this case, it’s almost a concrete poem. The form subtly reflects the action of the poem. I think, anyway.

Cheers

David

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by Perry » Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:00 am

I figured out what you were doing when you wrote that sentence without "I" before "descend". It makes for a very complex sentence. If you are not going to insert "I", I think you should insert "to" in the same place.

How do you like these line breaks?

They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh --
or so my uncle Dave insists --
himself unshaven and grey for drink.

Quite who he means goes unexplained. Just They:
gentry, brigands, clergy? All, perhaps, given need
of grooming, the cleanest cut.

It’s not -- he assures me -- for the pedant’s sober curiosity
to pry or probe, but with a nephew’s unerring loyalty
to descend the moss-slick slope

to the specimen tree ten feet below,
clinging precariously to a limestone shelf,
roots exposed to the Tywi’s up-draughting cold.

Alone, teetering on the ledge
and calling back above the river’s din,
I assure him that what he says is true:

this corky shroom, though softening on the bark,
is firm enough to the finger’s touch
to whet the wits of even the rustiest old blade.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by 1lankest » Sun Feb 17, 2019 8:47 am

Thanks David, Perry, appreciate your returns. It’s an interesting one, this question of form. I agree, Perry, the line breaks and enjambments should, most of the time, fit as naturally to the metre as possible. However, there’s also a place for poems where the form mirrors or hints at the poem’s themes/subjects.

I’m glad, David, you think my poem does that, it was intended too but I changed it as no one seems to pick up on it. The stanzas like ledges, or bracket fungus, the enjambments suggestive of falling (from a ledge, into old age, oblivion, drunkenness...)

On this basis, whilst I like your revised lines, Perry, I will trust my own eyes on this one and revert to the original with some word changes such as you’ve suggested, Perry.

Thanks again, both.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by JamesM » Sun Feb 17, 2019 12:50 pm

Hello there,
I'm with David on this one too. Yeah, there are a few awkward enjambments, but overall a really enjoyable piece.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by NotQuiteSure » Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:29 pm

.
Hi Luke,

just some enjambment suggestions, mainly :)

Incidentally, cutting/pasting this highlighted the three 'to's (S5-7)
and I wonder if you might consider replacing the first
and third (see below)

Do you need the 'though' before 'ripening'?

Doubt it would work, really, but came across the term 'manscaping' recently
and wondered if it would make an amusing substitute for 'grooming'?


They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh
- uncle Dave insists
(, lecturing) - himself unshaven, grey for drink. Quite

who he means goes unexplained. Just They:
gentry, brigands, clergy? All, perhaps
, (desirous) of grooming.

It’s not - he assures me
(, prodding) - for the pedant’s sober curiosity
to pry or probe
[but to] descend (immediately, loyal nephew

this) moss-slick slope (where) the tree below(,) cling(s) precariously
to a limestone shelf, roots exposed
(in) the Tywi’s up-draughting cold. Alone,

teetering on the ledge and calling back above the river’s din, I assure him
what he says is true: this
(specimen), ripening on the bark, is firm enough

to whet the wits of even the rustiest old blade.



Regards, Not.



.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by Perry » Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:59 pm

"The stanzas like ledges, or bracket fungus, the enjambments suggestive of falling (from a ledge, into old age, oblivion, drunkenness...)"

Luke, a poem is not a picture. Enjambments that are supposed to create an image of the poem's meaning don't work, in my opinon. A poem is literature, not visual art. It's up to you, though. I won't say any more on this.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by 1lankest » Mon Feb 18, 2019 10:04 am

Thanks James, Not, Perry.

Really enjoying this thread and I appreciate your thoughts.

Essentially I agree with you, Perry, but all art is interconnected (there’s lyricism and poetry in visual art, for instance) and I don’t see why literary meaning shouldn’t be enhanced by visual clues.

L

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by JJWilliamson » Wed Feb 20, 2019 8:48 am

Hi, Luke

I'm late to this one so much has already been said about this and that. I personally have no problem with
your format, mainly because your rhythms work very well indeed. The words flow smoothly and the iambic pattern
is broken by some well placed substitutions. I know I struggle to tame the meter in my writing, so the judicial,
and sometime accidental, alternatives help to establish a believable rhythm.

Content wise, I thought the entire story was excellent, with some lovely ideas and word choices. The introduction
of the 'polypore' in the title immediately piqued my interest, and when the bushcraft emerged I was hooked.
The relationship between uncle and nephew was also very warming, at least it was for me, as the old sage passed on
his knowledge to an eager student. Yes, I liked that touch.

Some minor thoughts for your perusal:
1lankest wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2019 5:52 pm
Version 3

They’d strop their razors on its stony flesh - uncle Dave insists -
himself unshaven, grey for drink. ...What does 'grey for drink' mean?

Quite who he means goes unexplained. Just They:
gentry, brigands, clergy? All, perhaps,

given need of grooming. It’s not - he assures me -
for the pedant’s sober curiosity to pry or probe ...Ha! great line. 'sober' takes me back to 'grey for drink'. I'm just not sure. Is this a deliberate juxtaposition?

so with a nephew’s loyalty
I descend the moss-slick slope

to the tree below
clinging precariously ...The tree is clinging and not the nephew? Yes, I think so, but paused for a second or two. "Roots clinging precariously" perhaps.

to a limestone shelf,
roots exposed

to the Tywi’s up-draughting cold.
Alone, teetering on the ledge

and calling back above the river’s din,
I assure him what he says is true: this corky shroom ...I wondered about 'says' and "said", given the telling is past tense by this time. Not sure, though.

though ripening on the bark
is firm enough to the finger’s touch, to whet the wits
of even the rustiest old blade.
...Ha! An amusing close and delightful reference to the old hand, the aging uncle, AND the razor.
All in all, a truly lovely poem and one to remember. If I found this poem in a magazine on a holiday flight I'd read it more than a few times. I have this thing about poetry and flying. Nothing sinister. :)

Best

JJ
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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by Perry » Wed Feb 20, 2019 10:34 am

I personally have no problems with the things that JJ pointed out. "Grey for drink" makes sense to me, and I especially like the word "sober". I have no problem with the "clinging" line, and I think that "says" is the right word, not "said". I hope you won't get angry at me for saying this, JJ. You disagreed with me also by saying that you like the poem in free verse.

Poets need to know whether members agree or disagree with the advice that comes from other members.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: Birch Polypore (revised)

Post by JJWilliamson » Wed Feb 20, 2019 1:30 pm

Perry, for goodness sake, I was not addressing you at all.

My comments are for Luke to consider, and when I give my opinion it is just that: an opinion. You are entitled to your pov and I see you've expressed it in the said thread several times, so please resist the temptation to leap in as if you were the last word on everything. If you, even for a second, believe that I would discourage somebody from employing meter then you're simply not thinking clearly.

I'm also beginning to wonder if you're doing this sort of thing on purpose, because you're frequently displaying antagonistic tendencies which smack of baiting.

I did read the thread but when I wrote my critique I never gave you a thought.

JJ
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