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by Swoo 

Posted: 02 December 2006
Word Count: 73
Summary: still struggling with this one
Related Works: Cheater • I am held in the teeth of a lie • Kate • My Girlfriend Exploded • River • Sally • 

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Then we looked up
it was a sky thick with witches

our sweat cooled, cool salt, licks of rocks and old potions.
Our hands done with, finished, our smiles
sweet as pumpkins, carved into our skins.

The moon curved and dark things
hid in webs.

Where are you now? Your tongue has left a trail,
white pebbles in the woods, but you are
not here and there is no-one in the sugar house.

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Comments by other Members

Tina at 08:34 on 29 December 2006  Report this post
Hello Swoo

I am intrigued by this (please excuse very late posting but work work work you know!)

I have written a number of 'dark fairy tale' poems is this one of those or I am reading the wrong Hansel and Gretel messages in:

[quote]white pebbles in the woods, .... and there is no-one in the sugar house.[quote]

I really really liked:

[quote] The moon curved and dark things
hid in webs.[quote]

I think this has a great begiining and some wonderful images but maybe - for me anyway - we need a bit more information to get ourselves to the end of the story.

Many thanks I enjoyed this

Swoo at 14:02 on 29 December 2006  Report this post
Thanks Tina, I appreciate your comments. You're right - it feels unfinished/underwritten to me, too, but I've reached a sticking point and can't move on with it. The Hansel and Gretel/fairy-tale references are deliberate - I'm fascinated by the darkness and sinister images in children's (my childhood's)stories - and want to somehow use those fears to reference adult feelings of lust/abandonment/confusion. Still some way to go though!

Tina at 20:02 on 29 December 2006  Report this post
Swoo you might be interested to read my poem Hansels Story written earlier this year! I too am interested in similar themes to you it seems - oooooohhhhhh spoooooky!

Swoo at 11:28 on 30 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Tina
that's such a good poem. Very powerful and creepy. It is rather spooky, I agree - but very interesting too how despite using the same source of inspiration (and we've even used the same words/images a couple of times) two very different poems appear. I remember being very frightened and bewildered by the cruelty in Hansel and Gretel - the witch's trickery especially. Perhaps that's why I've never liked sweets!
Going to read through the rest of your work now!

Tina at 09:21 on 31 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Swoo

Thanks for comment - I do agree wholeheartedly - all fairy tales fascinate me and have another poem you may be interested in which is not in my archive. It was about Red Riding Hood - if you like I can email you a copy? Or post it here? A theme that really fascinates me is The Snow Queen - such complex images going on - I would love to write about that one day - any ideas???


James Graham at 14:30 on 01 January 2007  Report this post
Swoo, apologies - I don't know how I managed to miss this poem, which has been posted since 2nd December. I'll post a comment soon.


James Graham at 18:37 on 02 January 2007  Report this post
The opening lines are so striking that they galvanised me to read and re-read the whole poem. The lines Tina quoted too, 'The moon curved and dark things/ hid in webs', are very strong.

I think probably it isn't complete yet, but I'm not sure it has such a long way to go. What you say about referencing adult feelings - lust, abandonment, confusion - in the sinister world of childhood stories, already succeeds in the poem, significantly. In adult life, if we are scared or feel lost or vulnerable, the causes of these feelings are 'grown-up' causes but the feelings seem little different from those of a child who has lost her mother in a crowd. Feelings are regressive; the hurt adult becomes a child again. To look in fairy tales for imagery to convey adult fear, foreboding and loss seems a natural way for the imagination to go.

I see in the poem a sexual relationship which was very physical and intimate, but which has ended leaving the poem's speaker desolate. The imagery of the trail in the woods and the abandoned 'sugar house' is a powerful analogue for the depth of these feelings, for the very reason that these are things that haunt childhood. For that reason I think the ending works particularly well.

In the rest of the poem, a sexual experience is over ('our sweat cooled...our hands done with') and in the aftermath there is menace, foreboding. The lovers look up and find that the sky is full of witches, and dark things are lurking. I don't think there's any guilt involved...that's not what the 'dark things' are about. The best interpretation I can put on it is that it seems something like Kierkegaard's 'angst', 'a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in the free human being'. It's visualised in Edvard Munch's 'Scream'. At those times when we do the most human things, when we are intimate and feel most alive, sometimes those 'dark things' remind us of their presence. More than anything else, perhaps, they represent our fear of losing whatever we have today that's good.

The spookiest thing for me - which adds an extra frisson to all the above - is the mirror-image of the pumpkin smiles and the curved moon. (Cunningly reinforced by the sounds of 'carved' and 'curved'.) In a way that would be almost impossible to paraphrase, this seems to bring the 'dark things' even nearer.

Maybe this is going off at a tangent, but the witches image does suggest to me, not only the menacing witches of fairy tales but also my more rational understanding of witches as demonised and persecuted women. That women could use a tool of the housewife's trade - the broom - as a means of magical transport to take them to their assignations with the Devil, was one of many calumnies against them. The occupant of the sugar house is a female outcast, a woman who had refused to conform, who had not been pressed into the ranks of the chattel-wives. I'm not sure if these connotations of witches are relevant - except that there's an adult-child dichotomy in the poem, and this is a 'grown-up' view of witches to set beside the childhood one.

Sorry to be so late commenting, but I hope some of this might help in any revision you want to make.


Swoo at 22:17 on 02 January 2007  Report this post
Thank you James for such incredibly detailed feedback. It is so fascinating to see how someone interprets a poem, and as always, enormously gratifying that you clearly take so much time and effort with your comments. I was especially pleased that you liked the ending - this was the one image I was really struggling with - specifically because I'm trying to refer to the 'sugar-house' as a place of safety and refuge, but in the Hansel and Gretel story it isn't, of course - it's a trap. So therefore why would someone be disappointed there was noone there? And that's where my own rigour and control over my analogies goes wandering off into the woods, never to be seen again...
I don't know if anyone else ever gets the feeling that they've just run out of juice with a poem. I'm at that point with this one. I'll leave it to sit for a few weeks and see if I can get any further with it.
Thanks again, James.

James Graham at 19:29 on 03 January 2007  Report this post
Running out of juice - tell me about it. My personal record is seven years from starting a poem to finishing it. Well, it's not finished exactly, but it'll have to do. Some are just slow-growing plants.

I'll keep a copy of 'Hallowe'en' and keep taking a look at it, and see if anything new occurs to me.


James Graham at 19:31 on 05 January 2007  Report this post
I've given this a little more thought, and I'm pretty much convinced that the poem should be left essentially as it is - i.e. that even if you change a word or two here and there, the four stanzas, the four 'capsules' of ideas, should stay essentially the same. The witches image; sweat, hands, pumpkin smiles; moon, dark things, web; the trail, the woods and the sugar house - none of this should be lost.

The end result may not be the 'easiest' of poems, but it will be one that can be understood intuitively. Some (if not all) readers should respond to the juxtaposition of adult loss with dark things from childhood imagination. ('Some, if not all'...applies to every poet who ever wrote!)

At all costs don't lose the 'sugar house' image - but the suggestion of disappointment at no-one being there could maybe be lost. The following vary from daft to just possible:

and there is someone in the sugar house

and is there someone in the sugar house?

you are/ not here and I see the terrible sugar house

and I have come again to the sugar house

and there is only the sugar house

Mainly daft! But what I mean is that you may be able to change it so that the last line simply presents the sugar house without characterising it in any way, or if it does characterise it, presents it as a menace; but drops the idea of there being no-one there.

I'm not sure about 'licks of rocks and old potions'...could be left out?

For me the opening lines would have a better flow if changed to

Then we looked up
and the sky was thick with witches

These are minor changes. As I say, I'm convinced all those 'kernel' ideas in the poem should be kept on board.


Swoo at 07:50 on 06 January 2007  Report this post
James, thanks for revisiting this so soon - very useful comments! It was the first line/two lines that kick started the whole thing - walking the London streets on Hallowe'en and wanting to see some magic in the skies, not just jumbo jets - and I have played around with the details of them obsessively. I wasn't sure about beginning the second line with 'and' ( a habit I'm trying to get out of, I use 'and' all over the place!) - I thought it weakened the impact somehow, but it's one version I've had before and I agree it flows better.
I'll keep the sugar house lines as they are and live with them being confusing (enigmatic??) but will tweak the rocks and old potions bit. I want to keep the sense of alchemy that (good!) sex can sometimes create, but those lines were ones I was particularly gnashing my teeth over.
Many thanks again for your thoughts.

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