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New Year`s Day

by Swoo 

Posted: 06 January 2007
Word Count: 103

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New Year’s Day

On New Year’s Day I walked the old tow path along the Thames.
Well-dressed couples, well-meaning, all their resolutions
wrapped around them, cuddled and pledged that this one, yes,
would be the best.

For two long hours I stepped on twigs and roots,
catching the breath of fog and mulch, the horizon
a smudge of trees and cold cloud.
Mud underfoot. Grey slaps of water.

On the opposite bank, old willow trees
slid their naked fingers
into the tide.

A body
swollen and still, lay trapped in the tangle
the hair pulled downstream
like arrows pointing
to a journey interrupted.

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Comments by other Members

joanie at 16:14 on 07 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Swoo. I enjoyed this; the opening lulled me into a peaceful riverside walk - lovely. I especially liked
all their resolutions
wrapped around them, cuddled and pledged

Then the tone began to change. I 'like' the depressive vocabulary of the second stanza then
old willow trees
slid their naked fingers
into the tide.
started to set the scene for the final, thought-provoking lines. The last line is very effective, I thought.



I meant to say that the matter-of-fact feel of this, even in the final chilling description, works well.

James Graham at 20:23 on 07 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Swoo - This is in a different style from your last poem - the voice here tells what happened conversationally. You use 'poetic language' in such a way as not to lose the informal tone: such things as the parallels 'well-dressed' and 'well-meaning', a poetic device drawing attention to an intended irony, but at the same time natural, the kind of word play an intelligent person might use off the cuff. The same applies to 'their resolutions/ wrapped round them', a turn of phrase that might occur spontaneously. The descriptions of place are still in the conversational mode - 'the breath of fog and mulch', 'a smudge of trees and cold cloud' - phrases that might easily be thought of by an articulate, intelligent speaker while describing her experience.

Could the telling of the part about the body perhaps be more informal, closer to spoken language? E.g.

Then I saw something, trapped in the tangle.
It was a body, swollen and still...

I have to say I find the ending a bit disappointing. I visualise the hair flowing in the current, but it doesn't seem much like arrows. The hair is almost as fluid as the river, but arrows are solid and stiff. I feel the dead woman's hair should be compared with something else more in keeping with its fluidity. Anyway, these arrows aren't so much the kind that are fired from a bow as the kind that point us to the exit or the next village, and these kinds of arrows are just as solid and stiff but even less like hair drifting in the current. What strikes me is that the hair seems still alive - an illusion that would be powerfully sad and ironic to the observer.

And 'a journey interrupted' seems rather commonplace. Life's a journey...this thought doesn't quite match the depth of feeling the poem's speaker would have after making this sudden discovery. It's a thought that might come from someone less imaginative, but it doesn't really match the imaginative way the speaker has described the rest of her walk up to that point. I find myself expecting something more surprising - a way of responding to the hair and the body that runs a little deeper.

Then when you put arrows and journey together you have 'arrows pointing to a journey' which is slightly confusing. Arrows pointing to a destination, to the end of a journey that will never be completed...maybe that's what you meant, but it doesn't quite say that.

I'm being very critical this time - though only of the last two lines. The way the poem ends...well, I can see what you mean by it, but it could be much stronger. There could be a more telling response to this death and to the flowing hair.

Did this really happen?


Swoo at 20:51 on 09 January 2007  Report this post
Hi James and Joanie
I'm grateful, as always, for your comments. This is a very new one and clearly needs more work. I appreciate your comments about the last lines, James - they troubled me too, for the same reasons - the arrows are wrong, I kept saying, but another image wouldn't reveal itself to me. But there's a feeling that I wanted to capture about hair struggling to carry on the journey that the body couldn't continue. Or something. I also had a line 'an indifference of herons' which I wanted to put in but it ended up sounding cheesy.
I wrote it as prose, initially, wanting to get the scenario out, but I can see that it lacks 'oomph' and emotion. I felt quite detached and remote at the time.
It's sort of a true story - I was walking along the Thames this recent new year's day, and watched - not for the first time - police and lifeboats searching for a body. It transpired that they didn't find it - him - until three days later. A young guy dived in from a pub balcony overhanging the river on NY eve, waved to his friends and then disappeared.
I think - but only think - that I probably walked past his body at some point. There's a lot I want to say about the whole experience, but I guess the pot needs to simmer for a little while longer.

(and I have just used the Dialectizer - see the link in the WriteWords Lounge - to translate the whole poem into Redneck - it reads SO much better!)


James Graham at 11:09 on 12 January 2007  Report this post
I think that's what the poem should aim for at the end - to capture that sense that the hair seems still alive and that it's 'struggling to carry on the journey that the body couldn't continue'. It's a strong poetic idea because the abstract thought about sudden, premature death - a broken journey - is focused on a visual image. It's a matter of finding the right closing lines - easily said! Something quite oblique, not too obvious...groping in the dark I think of something about the 'living' hair wanting to go down the river, past the city and down to the sea. (Getting into Lady of Shalott territory.) Whatever, my instinct would be to try to keep it concrete. An extended ending, a couple more lines, is a possibility too. It'll happen...give it time!


DJC at 18:00 on 13 January 2007  Report this post
Swoo - love the juxtaposition here between the walk and the body. I would add two words only:

On the opposite bank, old willow trees
slid their naked fingers
into the tide.

And a body
swollen and still, lying trapped in the tangle
the hair pulled downstream
like arrows pointing
to a journey interrupted.

To me the word 'and' and the change to 'lying' makes the image seem part of the rest of it, which makes it even more sinister.


Swoo at 19:11 on 13 January 2007  Report this post
Thanks Darren - I appreciate your thoughts. I like using 'And', even though I am so trying to get out of using these tiny yet crucial words (and, but, so, then, yet etc etc). I must have read somewhere that they are irrelevant. Hmmmm.
I think however that poetry can give us permission to change grammatical rules whichever way we damn well feel like. I like your changes, they work, thanks.
I put this piece up as a real work in progress - something which usually would stay in a notebook for a few weeks at least, but there's something exhilaratingly scary about sending the bare bones of something out into the ether!
I'm heartened by James' comment a while back that he had a poem as a work in progress for seven years!
But I'm sure someone else could write the poem that I want to read, if anyone understands this feeling, about that new years day. Just don't know that I'm the right person to write it.

Tina at 05:41 on 20 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Swoo

Late to this as ever - just to say that I really enjoyed your images - the easiness of the walk leading to something much more sinister - as a frequent canal walker since childhood I do feel that they are very evokative places and can well imagine the scene AND like the canal which flows slowly your poem is evolving in the same way.

So many points I really enjoyed but many have been commented on above so won't repeat that. I do agree with James about the arrows and can see the point you were trying to make too. Hair in water has almost a life of its own don't you think whether the owner is dead or alive?


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