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Exit wound

by nickb 

Posted: 17 October 2016
Word Count: 259
Summary: Sorry it's been a while....manic year. Not sure if this works or not?

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She hands me a shell, scoured in its nooks.
A slow shape shifter, the concept of itself
thinned in the sluice of the sea. 
Colour turned to bone-bleach,
bright swirls laundered in sea wrack, crab claw.
A rhythmic dissolution.
“Hold it to your ear” she says.
Edges brush my skin,
cold as frosted metal,
damp as an amphibian.
It’s the sound that sucks me in,
a cosmic hiss without perspective,
dislocated from any ground bass
or melodic top line.
Its fine grain swells with the wind
like bonfire smoke
curling in the runnels.
“Hear the sea”?  I nod, unsure.
The sound is encrypted; alien
microwaves crest between worlds.
Time ricochets in my tympanic cavity,
a great ocean surges around a rock.
They closed that beach after a landslip.
The shop’s shutters are salt rusted.
Weeds now perambulate where children
pawed at buckets full of rattling windmills,
cellophaned sticks of rock.
Shortly afterwards
a house fell down the cliff.
They lifted the walkway around the headland,
its pointless stanchions turned black
in the tidal battering.
Nearby I find a limpet.  Unstuck,
it has been rolled over and over;
a large exit wound let out its ghost.
Its emptiness exhales in the wind.
But there is nothing coded in this void,
it is joyous, comforting as a warm counterpane.
I hear the constancy of sunlight,
seaweed being washed up the beach,
the gull horizon cloaked in surf,
and your voice ruffling grass on the cliff top,
leaking in as though through a bedroom window
on a summer evening.

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Comments by other Members

AlanRain at 23:26 on 17 October 2016  Report this post
Nick, I'm not sure about being first to look at this poem when I write mostly metrical, and rhyming, but here I am. For a free-format poem to grab me it has to be imaginative and show the creative instinct of the writer. Ordinary work, or a piece with dull language won't don't it, and I'll pass it by.
So, some of your poem certainly does grab me, although the opening stanza is too ephemeral for me. Frankly, I don't understand what you're aiming for.

“Hold it to your ear” she says.

Is this too obvious? The narrator is clearly a smart person, so he needs to be told? Wouldn't he do it instinctively? Isn't it what we all do?

It’s the sound that sucks me in,
a cosmic hiss without perspective,
dislocated from any ground bass
or melodic top line.

Great lines, although again, the first sucking in by sound is too predictable, but the description of the sound is excellent. The cosmic hiss ... brilliantly evoked.

Again, the next dialogue throws me. It's so mundane. Or is it indicative that the narrator is mentally damaged and has to be spoken to as a child? How can he be unsure if not dislodged from reality? The word 'encrypted' is a clue that the narrator is indeed not sensing the world as most of us sense it.
I like the next stanza a lot for its visual impact. But I wonder if the narrator had any indication it was coming? If not, should he have prophesised it? Is that what the final lines of the preceding stanza referred to? A natural disaster?
I have a problem with the final stanza, which leaves me perplexed. It almost seems to me like it's been lifted from an entirely different poem. The voice is much more assertive than before.
I may have tried to apply too much meaning to the poem, when I should have allowed myself to soak up its ambience. I suppose that's me, and I do tend to look for meaning.
It's a poem that is memorable for parts of it, but as a whole, it doesn't grab me as it might. So, in answer to your question: it partly works.
Of course, others, more attuned to this type of poetry might 'get' it straight away.
I still enjoyed reading it, and some lines are memorable.
ps, why are there so many coastal poems in the poetry groups? I've caught the bug, too.

James Graham at 20:52 on 18 October 2016  Report this post
Hi Nick – Good to see a new poem. On first reading this poem seemed quite obscure, but today I’ve re–read it several times and it has become clearer.
In the first part the narrator first looks closely at, then listens to, a shell. He notes the rather grotesque erosion of the shell, then holding it to his ear hears sounds which he can’t identify and which are disturbing, best expressed in
a cosmic hiss without perspective
and several other words and phrases, notably ‘dislocated’ and ‘encrypted’, as well as in the surprising comparison with a bonfire. The cumulative effect of the imagery is that everything about the shell is very strange; by implication the narrator’s experience of that place, in that particular moment, is very unsettling. Something is wrong.
And indeed something is wrong – in a very recognisable sense. The place is dangerous. In the second part we have an account of how that beach was closed because of major landslips. It’s now a dead resort (or part of a resort). I agree with Alan, by the way, in saying that these lines are visually very strong. They evoke, with apparent regret, the children with their buckets, windmills and rock, no longer able to have fun there. But the simplicity of these lines, contrasted with the figurative denseness of the first part, speaks of positive change, regret being only a small part of it.
In the third part, we are in a different place, most likely a neighbouring beach. Here nothing is strange or unsettling; everything is in harmony. Again a shell is the vehicle; now
there is nothing coded in this void,
it is joyous, comforting as a warm counterpane.
There’s something homely about the sounds the narrator hears; this is picked up again in the closing lines.
In this connection I notice – and I don’t know if it was deliberate – that ‘She’ changes to ‘You’. In part 1 the narrator’s companion is distanced to the third person, but later is brought closer as ‘you’ and seen in the context of ‘a bedroom window on a summer evening’. It's almost as if in the meantime the two have become more intimate. All part of the homeliness and reassurance with which the poem ends.
Something that was wrong has been put right. Danger is averted; safety is assured. We could extrapolate: other kinds of change that seem negative, not only the specific change recounted in the poem, may turn out to be positive. Here I’m trying to pin down the overall meaning of the poem, but I’m still working on it. There's something about your title, for example, and the line where it recurs, which I can't quite grasp yet. You may be able to clarify what you are saying in the poem as a whole.
I get a strong sense of release, even – just possibly – redemption, after reading this. I don’t think any major part is unnecessary or needs to be cut. There may well be necessary ‘tweaks’ though, but these can be dealt with afterwards. Let me know first if my reading seems sensible to you or not.


AlanRain at 21:52 on 19 October 2016  Report this post

Let me know first if my reading seems sensible to you or not.

I'm also interested in the 'real' meaning. But I think any reading is valid, whether it's actually sensible or not. With this work, I feel I could approach it as - say, an autistic child - and come away with a perception that is valid. In fact, the simplistic dialogue that is used invites me to approach it in this, or a similar, way.

I write my poems with a distinct meaning, but it doesn't bother me if readers fail to understand. Not everyone responds to the layers of metaphor and symbolism I often use.

Here, the poem uses obscure language (as James points out,) so ... what lies underneath? Some concept is meant to 'work'.    

nickb at 08:27 on 20 October 2016  Report this post
Hi Alan and James, many thanks for your thoughts.  First of all let me say that you have confirmed my gut feel about the poem in that it is not entirely coherent yet.  I started with two separate images in my head (the closed beach and the old lore that you can hear the sea in a seashell), and somehow the two merged in to this piece.  The starting point is a child (me?) being told about hearing the sea in a seashell, but not being entirely convinced.  Like most old wives tales I think we want to believe but have logical reservations about them, although that doesn't stop us passing them on to our own children of course!

The middle section was intended to reflect the passage of time, how parts of our history close down.  I spent many hours on that beach but now it's inaccessible.  And then the third section was coming back to the shell as an adult.  We continue with the habits we form as a child but have a different reaction to it.  The hole in the shell means you get an entirely different sound effect, and actually what you are hearing is the sea, not an approximation of it.  At the same time though it's a reflection on the past.

Clearly a bit of work to do here to make the whole thing a bit less obscure.  I'll work on it again in light of your comments.

Thanks again,


James Graham at 20:40 on 20 October 2016  Report this post
Reading your explanation, I think I’ve understood the poem quite well. The passage of time certainly comes across, and the way ‘parts of our history close down’. The big mistake I made was to suppose that ‘she’ and ‘you’ were the same person, and that’s because the passage of time from child to adult isn’t clear enough. Presumably ‘She’ is your mother. It explains the tone of what she says: it’s an adult speaking to a child.
You may want to make other changes, but the important one is to make us fully aware of the child in the first part. Could it be as simple as this?
My mother hands me a shell…
I think that removes all doubt. Beyond that, could I suggest you write a few lines capturing a child’s reaction to the shell? As it is, your lines here are full of the complex thoughts of an adult recalling the experience – an adult poet, indeed. You could convey the child’s bewilderment through dialogue or just describe it. This might help - start simply:
My mother hands me a shell.
‘Hold it to your ear’ she says.
Then what he says to his Mum. Then
“Hear the sea”? I nod, unsure.
Another couple of lines, still the child’s feelings or what he says. Then your ‘adult’ lines, perhaps reworked or rearranged a bit. I think it would work well to give a glimpse of the child in this way, and then give your adult reflections on the memory.
Just one more thing. The fact that it’s an adult in part 3 is perfectly clear; it’s the hole that’s not so clear. I think it needs to be stated; something like
There is a hole, the exit wound
That has released its ghost
The plain statement is more than balanced by your very striking metaphor that follows.
This kind of change, maybe not exactly as suggested above, would (I think) go a long way to finalising the poem.

James Graham at 21:04 on 21 October 2016  Report this post
Afterthought: in the first part, put the child's experience of the shell in the present tense, and the adult's thoughts on the experience in the past tense, as they are the outcome of much later reflection. I know part three is in the present too, but I don't think there should be any confusion as there's a difference between actual present and 'flashback' present - use of present tense to recount a vivid memory.


nickb at 10:58 on 24 October 2016  Report this post
Thanks for your thoughts James.  There's clearly a bit of tidying up to do on this one.  I'll try and nail it down over the next couple of weeks.


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