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by woodsville 

Posted: 25 July 2010
Word Count: 141
Summary: A poem inspired by people who should know better.

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The compass needle led me astray along avenues
mapped with hedged borders and webbed ponds. Where
dragon fly’s pirouetted.

I passed carpets of lego like brick tightening
at dogged opinion sung from cloistered spots.
Stepping and cursing in the breeze.

Clap-happy lips cast down scoundrels, wasters and
palsied old step takers. They replaced a less provisional
crew who fastened private discontents.

Once a brazenness touched their souls, but later distilled regrets,
bequeathing a permanent emptiness. Still re-invented sins,
wrap cling film tight to freshen prejudice.

Habits and rituals arrest swollen, frozen flesh.
This pale battalion watched waiting to cut the quick
not sharing the gaze.

A spoil of black smoke arose from yet another barbeque,
gardens of peripheral vision, not aware of narrow lives
or shelved dreams in the offy.

Tomorrow they will give again self-effacing smiles,
hiding a toasted confidence.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 13:29 on 27 July 2010  Report this post
Hello again, Patrick. I went back to your poem ‘Knots’ and recall struggling a little to begin with, but your reply was: ‘If I were the reader and someone provided me with a pretty deep subject and called it knots, but didn't actually leave me in knots, I would feel a bit short changed’. Some poems can’t be a stroll in the park; we (readers) have to work at them, get to know them gradually. In the best instances the result can be very satisfying - the reader’s personal sense of achievement comes into it as well as appreciation of the depth and coherence of the poem. Reading ‘Knots’ again, I do get that sense of a job well done - the writer’s job and the reader’s job, yours and mine!

Something similar applies to this poem. To begin with I find it quite hard to assimilate, cryptic in places, especially around the middle of the poem. These lines haven’t given up their secrets yet:

They replaced a less provisional
crew who fastened private discontents.

Once a brazenness touched their souls, but later distilled regrets,
bequeathing a permanent emptiness.

‘Habits and rituals arrest swollen, frozen flesh’ is still a puzzle too. But time and some more cerebral exercise may bring rewards!

I take the poem as a whole to be about the denizens of suburbia. The ‘compass needle’ which ‘led me astray’ suggests to me taking the wrong exit off a roundabout and finding oneself in the middle of Manor Park (Executive Luxury Homes). Very generally the poem speaks of the strangeness of the people who live there, their ‘narrow lives’, and there’s a strong sense of how difficult it is to feel any sense of human solidarity with them.

There are many lines and images which are very telling -

dogged opinion sung from cloistered spots

for example, which calls on a world of monastic retreat and Gregorian chant to express the unreflecting repetition of bourgeois prejudices;

Still re-invented sins,
wrap cling film tight to freshen prejudice

which brings in a little bit of domestic detail and makes good use of it; and

Clap-happy lips cast down scoundrels, wasters and
palsied old step takers

which stingingly exposes some people’s insouciant and habitual dismissal of society’s ‘losers’; no compassion will ever escape from those ‘Clap-happy lips’. Their mind set is as mindless as happy-clappy religion. There’s more; these are just selections.

If this were my poem, I would want to give it more of a setting, even a minimal narrative element. ‘Avenues’ with ‘hedged borders’ are already there, but I’d want to name the street and actually tell a story of taking a wrong turn and finding myself there. Then add a few more concrete details, a car port, a conservatory, a twee house name. All your trenchant ideas about the people who live there could be worked in quite easily. As the poem stands, it reads almost as if it were a fantasy place rather than an actual estate on the edge of town. The poem needs to read more like the product of a visit to a real place.

As I said about ‘Knots’, if you disagree with any of this just get back to me and we can discuss it further.


woodsville at 19:18 on 27 July 2010  Report this post
Thanks James for reviewing this poem. Perhaps as you say there needs to be a skelatol narrative to be more inclusive.

I felt that this was my first aware use of assonance and consonants in slowing down a line or increasing the flow, e.g.

"This pale battalion watched waiting to cut the quick"

this for me sets up a dramatic expectation and dissolves with next stanza

"A spoil of black smoke arose, from yet another barbeque,"

I found that the use of long vouwles slowed down the line and in this case creates tension. The second part of the line smoothes the scan relieving the element of tension. You begin somewhere (a sense of certainty) and end up in another place in this line.

"gardens of peripheral vision," continues this sense of relief or relaxation, but from what?

An objective for me was to show that repeatedly, almost wavelike, there is a then a sense of uncertainty for everyone, but our habits and rituals provide comfort in our situation.

Perhaps Larkin would turn in his grave at this as its not bald enough and too cryptic.

FelixBenson at 21:37 on 28 July 2010  Report this post
HI Patrick

I think James' interpretation helped me find a way into this poem. I can see now (assuming James was correct), that we are in suburbia. I did find it a little too cryptic although once I read James' ocomment I could find those clues and put them together. But the precise meaning or purpose of many of the lines still escapes me. Poems don't always need a point of view or an opinion of course, but I found myself struggling a bit for a foothold here. Sounds are important, clearly you have been working closely with form and effect here, but it didn't occur to me to 'hear' the poem in the way you intended (e.g that 'long vowels slowed down the line and in this case creates tension...' because I was too busy trying find my way through the lines to get a sense of what poem I was in, and where it was going. I am not sure how much tension can be conveyed if the reader has no sense of meaning from the lines, I think you need both. But I expect that is just me. I am sure there are loads of examples that would disprove what I have just said.

That said, it is certainly a poem that makes the reader work, which is a very good thing, and I always appreciate a writer who strives to say things in a different way. Or who does not sounds like anyone else.

A challenging read!



sorry about the winking smilie face - this was not intended ! It just came about becaise of my closed single quotation mark and closed bracket.

woodsville at 22:20 on 28 July 2010  Report this post
Hi Kirsty

Thanks for your comments, I shall have to be more open in future i.e. provide some form of skelotol framework, so that the poem is more inclusive.

I can then concentrate on the detail of the lines once the reader knows where they are at in the sequence. I intend to manage the composition of the next poem to allow a baldness of meaning to stand on a more open, superficial level, with sounds and pace contributing depth.

We'll see how it goes. All the contemporary poetry that I read seems to avoid baldness - maybe I'm misunderstanding stuff.

James Graham at 14:06 on 29 July 2010  Report this post
There’s a good deal of insight in this poem and I find the more challenging lines are becoming clearer as I revisit it. I think the value of introducing a more concrete framework, e.g. a few indications of actual setting or the poem’s narrator actually walking along a suburban street, is that it ensures the reader is engaged with the poem. The reader begins with a recognition of something familiar, and goes on more easily to take up the challenges that follow.

I’m sure many poets find (I certainly do) that some poems are best left aside for a while and returned to. This may be one - but you should return to it because it contains quality material which it would be a shame to lose.


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