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by james ritchie 

Posted: 08 April 2011
Word Count: 118

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Spring Offensive.

Daffodil regiments line the road
a pageant of yellow ranks stand
four rows thick; spring’s shining
army, heads held high to the sun.

Beyond the road, across a field where
tall trees guard the distance;
in the warm air that holds a hint of winter,
Magpie squadrons fly.

Through hatchling leaves they precision
plunge into enemy held hedgerows,
hurling the weak from their nests
killing for their kind.

By May the carnage is complete.
The big birds have their way and
the mutilated young of the fled or
dead, lie strewn in the field.

The Magpies leave for other fields
their winged shadows cross the road;
where another rotten generation
bow their heads to the ground.

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Comments by other Members

FelixBenson at 23:31 on 08 April 2011  Report this post
Hi James,

I missed commenting on your last poem, unfortunately, but I read it, and as with this one you have some arresting lines and images.
This analogy to trench warfare works well in highlighting the brutality of nature in Spring - the front line, the attack from the air, there is much interplay between images of war and nature - they feed meaning and connotation into one another. Capitalising magpies gives them an ominous authority too, encouraging us to think who they might represent in the human world of warfare. And the images are stark, as is appropriate, drawing comparisons with WW1 and 2 but also those more recent wars which have been fully covered by the media, leaving us with all too vivid pictures in our heads.

You seem to be saying it's here, this brutality, it's all around us, in what might seem beautiful and *poetic* scenes of daffodils and Spring. This brutality is in every aspect of nature.

Much as I think this works well, I wonder if you have overplayed the war allusion in some lines? I might be inclined to drop a few of the more overt references. The more you spell this out the more you are in danger of diluting it. I'm aware that changing some of these lines might mess with your form a bit (you have some nice half-rhymes too, by the way), but I think you will get more return and a stronger effect from implying rather than stating this allusion in some of the lines. For example your first stanza very clearly sets the scene, and indicates the allusion. So in the second stanza,

Tall troops of trees guard the distance;
In the warm air that holds a hint of winter,
Murderous Magpies fly.

I might be inclined to drop 'troops' (you already have 'guard' in that same line so troops overstates it a bit) and 'Murderous' is probably not necessary. In subsequent stanzas, you show how murderous the magpies are, and that is much more effective than telling the reader that they are murderous.

Also I would suggest thinking about this stanza:
Tiny yellow lined beaks open, empty.
Tiny black eyes open, printed with pain.
Fledgling wings never flew, never
Knew the freedom of summer flight.

You could cut:
Knew the freedom of summer flight.

Leaving a more understated :
Fledgling wings never flew

I think this stanza is in danger of getting a little bit sentimental, and it's shame to undermine that stark tone. However, deleting that line definitely messes with your quatrains, so I am not sure if that change is going to make sense at all, unless you have an alternative line.

Just some ideas which, if you think sounds wrong to you, I hope you will feel free to completely ignore... but hopefully the feedback is useful in some way.

Good poem.



james ritchie at 12:45 on 11 April 2011  Report this post
Thanks Kirsty, your comments are detailed and very useful. I get your concerns about over sentimentality, but the description of the dead birds is meant to graphically illustrate the aftermath of conflict and the loss going forward. There's lots I could lose in the poem and I think your suggestions for the second stanza are spot on.

james ritchie at 12:56 on 11 April 2011  Report this post
Note to Kirsty; you're right I've re-read the 5th stanza and it's not needed. Thanks again.

FelixBenson at 17:36 on 11 April 2011  Report this post
Hi James

Glad my comments were of some use. I think the redraft really works, it gives the poem a short and brutal feel - just like the subject. Those last two stanzas really demonstrate that ruthlessness.

There's nothing here that overtly draws conclusions for the reader, the poem just leads them there by the images and the action. Reading it again now, I feel a much harder 'hit' from those strong images.

Especially this image, which really gives me the shivers:

The Magpies leave for other fields
their winged shadows cross the road;

and the ending packs a double punch:
where another rotten generation
bow their heads to the ground.

Very good stuff.


James Graham at 11:59 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Came late to this but I agree with the points made by Kirsty, and like the way you have revised the poem. It may have been (to begin with) a little overdone in places, but on the whole I like the way you hit hard with strong imagery. It’s a disruption of conventional, taken-for-granted notions of Spring - ‘Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses’ (George Herbert) - and even, by extension, a wake-up call to us to question our conventional notions generally.


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