Friday, May 13, 2005

Mr. Fantastic, Machiavellian Superhero

Reviewing Fantastic Four: Authoritative Action by Mark Waid & Howard Porter (Collecting Fantastic Four #503-508)

First I’ll admit my biases:

1. I have been a fan of Fantastic Four comic since the late 70s. I loved to read those “World’s Greatest Comics” reprints of the Lee/Kirby days on FF. I loved what John Byrne did with the series in the 80s. Sure, there have been hundreds of truly awful FF comics. But for the most part, I am predisposed to enjoy their tales.

2. Mark Waid made a great positive impression on me when I encountered him in the flesh at the Baltimore Comic Con 2004. He struck me as personable, funny, intelligent, thoughtful, and extremely knowledgeable about superhero trivia and lore. Having experienced his personality, I was strongly curious about his writing and expected something great.

Having said that I will tell you that Authoritative Action is a marvelous Fantastic Four story! It begins after the defeat of Dr. Doom. The FF are attempting to hold together peace and order in Latveria, the country Doom ruled as a malevolent dictator. Rapidly one realizes that a parallel is being drawn to the U.S. effort to keep the peace in Iraq after toppling Saddam.

Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, is not his usual self. One side of his face has been horribly disfigured during the battle with Doom. The interior wounds are even worse.

Ben (Thing) : I think this Doom thing really messed ya up, Reed. I don’t mean th’ scar.

Reed is shown to be filled with fear and rage, mostly directed at the late Dr. Doom. His inner turmoil drives him to take control of the situation with Machiavellian means.

Reed (Mr. Fantastic) : We keep accomplishing half the job. We beat Victor, but we don’t clean up after him. And only we can. Not the U.N. inspectors. Not some Latverian burgomeister in stockings and a tweed hat. This room’s defenses would have cut them in half.

Reed declares himself the new leader of Latveria, claiming this is a temporary measure to hold things together and to prevent any other countries from scooping up Doom’s inventions and armaments. However, he resorts to manipulation and dishonestly toward the team as a shortcut to reaching his goals.

For example, at one point, Reed conceals from the team that he has taken control of the Doombots. When Johnny and Ben uncover a resistance group that is forming to oppose the Fantastic Four, Reed sends the Doombots to attack the clandestine group. Johnny and Ben rise to the defense of the rebel Latverians, doing their best to hold back the Doombots. Later they come to find out Reed sent the attack fully expecting his partners to fight it back. As a result, Reed hoped the people who come to see the FF as the heroes, and not the adversaries Doom made them out to be. In effect, Reed was manipulating the situation in order to generate dramatic propaganda.

Reed: Once word spreads that you saved them from the last of Victor’s rampaging enforcers, that should cement our popularity. Well done. That was the final asset left to be stripped from Doom: his subjects’ allegiance.

Ben: So we wuz part of a show? A set-up?

Johnny (Human Torch) : You’re out of control! Where to you get off playing us? Answer me!

Meanwhile, the governments of the world put pressure on the United States to remove the FF from power, arguing that it appears the FF are U.S. agents taking power unrightfully. Particularly the Hungarian government claims that Latveria belongs under their control, since Doom forcibly annexed it from them years ago. Even though Nick Fury attempts to stick up for what Reed and the others are trying to do, military force is sent to remove the FF from power. Fury attempts convince Reed to walk away before the battle begins, but Reed will not bend. He has a farther reaching plan that he’s concealed from everyone.

The resolution of the plot was a shocker to me. By the end, the FF incur severe causalities, not at the hands of the military, but in battle against Dr. Doom. Yes, that’s right: Doom resurfaces and does some horrific damage. And Reed’s manipulation and secrecy unintentionally has everything to do with Doom’s opportunity to attack. The ending is brutal and tragic. There is a extreme bit of “Gift of the Magi” O’Henry twist. Reed’s sacrifice for his family and their willingness to risk for him ends up in high sacrifice all around. I found myself shaking my head in surprise and horror.

The story is not entirely dark. Waid has a wonderful sense of the banter between the team members. Comic relief is offered in regular doses.

Johnny: Aren’t Doombots normally a little more formidable than this?

Ben: “This one’s too tough! This one’s not tough enough!” Ain’t you ever happy? Check it out, Goldilocks--this one’s just right!

It’s also nice to see that the last page ends with an absurd announcement from Reed. Waid demonstrates his mastery of tone and pace. I closed the book with anticipation of the next collection.

By the way, the art work of Howard Porter and Norm Rapmund is quite nice too. The Thing’s facial expressions are highly emotive, perhaps the best they’ve been drawn. Not once did I find the art lacking in detail or storytelling ability. ‘Nuff said! Check it out!

Thing Gets Reed's Attention


Thing Gets Reed's Attention Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Dark Tower is Reached

Well, it finally happened. I finally got to the last page of Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga. The journey itself, which began for me in 1985 or so, has been packed with thrills, laughs, chills, and sorrows. The characters of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy have become real people to me, friends I had looked forward to visiting again and again.

All along the way, I tried to imagine what the final stage of the story would yield. What exact would the gunslingers find when they reached the Dark Tower? My most fully realized concept was like something out of J.R.R. Tolkien, a fortress swarming with Orcs, hideous monsters wielding battle axes. I foresaw a climatic final battle where some of our beloved gunslingers would perish, but others would prevail and push through into the Dark Tower. That’s about all I had. Vaguely I wondered if they would find the Creator of the universe sitting at the top, working switchboards and dials. Would they meet God face to face?

Book VII did NOT in fact conclude that way. For the sake of those who haven’t reached that point yet, I won’t let anything else slip. Suffice it to say Stephen King did an admirable job of being the scribe of this vision, this tale. Every word is written with loving attention to detail, with honest emotion (yes, love), and with high respect for the characters.

Although my emotional response to much of the book might give away something of the nature of the events (say sorry), I must say I truly experienced grief in this book. I suppose that is to be expected, since it is the last volume in the series, since King had thoughts of retirement as he wrote it. There is loss here, and I grieve because the people and the whole universe of this vision are real to me. And for that I say, Thank ye, Stephen King.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Significance of Pacing in Left Behind

Warning: This entry contains SPOILERS for the novel Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. If you have yet to read Left Behind and think you might, I suggest coming back to this after you have done so. Also note that while this write up does concentrate heavily on my disappointments, ultimately I found the novel inspirational, suspenseful, and intriguing. I highly recommend it!

Over the last few days, I read the first in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The strength of the novel is its engaging characters and fascinating situations. However, I did encounter moments of disappointment in this novel related to pacing. Particularly the last quarter of Left Behind suffers from forced plotting at high velocity. Things happen so fast that the author’s controlling hand is exposed and suspension of disbelief is broken.

The speed at which the Antichrist rises to power is too quick. The problem isn’t the lack of means on the part of the Antichrist, since there are supernatural forces and fulfillment of prophecy at work here. The difficulty is in the duration of time as portrayed in the novel. We are asked to believe that all the events, personalities, logistics, and apparatus involved in his rise to power would fall into place in lockstep and at the pace of a manufacturing die cutter. Within a matter of days after the disappearances, Carpathia, the Antichrist, has gone from being a nobody to the leader of the U.N.. He has also maneuvered the world-wide media, the governments of the world, and the infrastructure of the U.N exactly where he wants it. Given the climatic scene where he demonstrates his hypnotic powers and reveals his ruthless bent for evil, we can see how he accomplished it, but it just happens too fast. The supporting sub-structure of power would not coalesce that quickly. There’s not enough time for the cause and effect reactions to pan out.

Additionally, there is the immediate domino effect of what happens to Buck‘s career in news reporting. Since Carpathia effectively makes it appear that Buck was not present at an important meeting and press conference, Buck’s boss comes down hard on the reporter, removing him from the managing editor position and trumping him back down to a staff writer role. Not only that but the boss is so outraged and distrustful of Buck, he insists that Buck be moved to Chicago. The boss seems to have gotten amnesia about Buck’s previous skills and performance. Up to this point, we haven’t seen anything to suggest that Carpathia has a direct influence over Buck’s boss, so we can only guess that his outrage and distrust is based on his own reaction to Buck being apparently absent from the media coverage. This about face of the character from high admiration and trust of Buck to complete condemnation strikes me a contrived device of the authors to maneuver Buck where they want him, in Chicago, near the other Christian heroes who are plotting their resistance against Carpathia. And come to think of it, I’m left to wonder why Carpathia would stop at having Buck discredited if he suspects Buck might oppose him or even be ambivalent. A number of people, including a fellow reporter, have already been murdered to protect Carpathia’s unquestioned rise to power. Why not Buck too?

On the flipside, the authors were controlled and steady in their depiction of both Chole’s and Buck’s process of coming to a decision to about Christ. Neither character’s acceptance of the gift of salvation seemed rushed or forced. Both characters are shown to be intellectual and skeptical about the situation and Rayford’s offered explanation/solution. Neither wants to jump into a life of faith without having thought about it awhile. The overall message that comes across due to the pacing of these scenes is that Christians should never jump to conclusions that their witness is not having an effect on those they witness to. This is illustrated in Rayford’s internal thoughts about how Buck is responding his witness. Rayford jumps to the conclusion that Buck is offended and/or bored, when in fact, he is stirred. Often it does take time for people to sort through their biases and assumptions, their intellectual criteria and pride. Don’t expect an immediate response. And don’t jump to the conclusion that you are not getting through.

I’m guessing that the authors of Left Behind had to make an artistic choice about where they could slow down and speed up the pace. The novel is after all 468 pages long (granted with very wide margins). More pages and a slower pace at the end probably wouldn't have improved it over all. Perhaps it makes complete sense for them to have stretched things out during the exploration phase for Chole and Buck, emphasizing the realism of their conversions. The maneuverings in the last 25-50 pages are less significant because they are simply setting up the stage for the next phase of the series. I’d much rather have them rush the aspects they did rather than rush the dramatization of the conversions. The realism of the conversion process has much more significance for Christian readers and may in fact help encourage us all to be more persistent and patient in our witness for Christ.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Studying "Refusing to Baptize a Son" by Rodney Jones

I've invested the better part of a day studying "Refusing to Baptize a Son" by Rodney Jones, from Elegy for the Southern Drawl (1999). I have found that when you invest that kind of time on a single poem, especially one that you found remarkable and musical on your first read, the technique of the poet becomes more apparent. This is important when you aspire to write poetry of a quality that meets or beats those poets whom you admire.

For years, I have admired Rodney Jones' poetry. It is filled with intricate detail, but in a voice that seems natural and conversational. Jones is a ruthless observer of the actions and ideologies of others and of his own psyche. And while his poetry clearly reflects his own atheism, he often looks closely at Christian culture as he is exposed to it through his extended family. In a way, I read Rodney Jones' poetry as a way of looking into the mind and personality of one who perpetually resists the opportunity and invitation of faith.

This poem, in particular, "Refusing to Baptize a Son" deals with his conflict with his mother-in-law, who is described as "agnostic". One gets the sense from the way in which he describes her, that her quest to see her grandson baptized was mostly one of buying an insurance policy, that he should be baptized just in case there is a God, just in case baptism helps in getting you into heaven, if there is a heaven. The speaker of this poem refuses to play the game of going through the motions of doing a "religious" act, even to placate family. The speaker is a man of integrity, in the sense that he will not fake his way through a religion that he does not believe.

Here's what I came up with in my analysis of sound and structure. Rhymes are color coordinated. Beats (or stressed syllables) are in CAPS. Repeated words are underlined. The repeated motif of words starting with the letter "N" is marked by the first letter in CAPS and BOLD.

Analysis of "Refusing to Baptize a Son" by Rodney Jones

While the third stanza ranges from 3-5 beats per line, the predominant pattern is 4 beats per line throughout the poem. Having only 3 beats in line 13 emphasizes the information that the speaker's mother-in-law has died.

Overall Jones' poems come across as speech, spoken out loud. It is interesting to me to uncover that the lines are controlled through a regular beat pattern, indicating careful attention and craft that still creates the illusion of spontaneous speech.

I love in line 7 how booze only begets more booze, as Jones triggers an association with Jesus turning water to wine. It's as if he is saying that the Biblical story is foolishness, that in the here and now we move from drink to drink, each drink progressively stronger than the last. There's the implication that these two got raging drunk as they argued.

The repeated "N" sounds in the third stanza make for more obvious music. All the appearances of "Not" seem to slow the lines down, like rests in a piece of choral music. These pauses coincide with the pause for thought that occurs after her death and after time has passed. It's as if the speaker now has some distance on the argument and is willing to reflect on the issues anew.

From a structural point of view, it is admirable how each stanza has a strong rhyme or two imbedded in it. Jones allows his lines to be playful enough that he does not root out rhymes entirely, but he does keep them unobtrusive by keeping them away from the ends of lines, as they are more likely to appear in traditional rhyming poetry. This stance keeps the focus on the content of the poem, rather than on the style or music.

I like the narrative flow of this poem from the memory of his conflict with his mother-in-law over baptizing his son, to her death and reevaluation of their disagreement, and finally to his hope that his son will remember the love of his grandmother that triggered her desire to have him baptized. This progression leads naturally to his summing up conclusion. One gets the feeling of having accompanied the speaker through a complete train of thought.

I realize that the conflict in this poem is between atheism and agnosticism; however, the topic of baptism is indicative of the subjects that Jones returns to again and again. This poem, like much of Jones' body of work, reveals the inner struggle of an intellectual man with Christianity, and perhaps all religion. Jones repeatedly comes back to his condemnation of Christian beliefs and those who try to force their belief and or valued traditions on him.

When I read Jones' work, I often think that his criticisms betray a restlessness, potentially a nagging turmoil that he can't ever completely deny the faith of others. I think if he completely had rejected faith in God, he wouldn't have to write so much about his opposition to it. In other words, I don't see why he would invest so much in denying Christianity if he were at peace about his own conclusions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Quest for the Biggest and Badest Poetry Toolbox: Part 3-Quantitative Meter

quantitative meter: used in "classical poetry". "Quantity refers to the length of a syllable, how long it takes to pronounce it. A line of ancient Greek or Latin poetry was measured by its number of feet."

foot: "a unit of one or several syllables in a set pattern."

dactyl: "in quantitative meter is a unit consisting of a long syllable followed by two short syllables."

This exercise shows my attempts at quantitative meter, specifically dactylic trimeter (three feet), in English:

Fragmentary Lines


Must I go bright as day round the sky?
Ought I go smooth as acrylic in bolts
Beautiful thoughts in the moon lit night
Thoughts of us fruitful and lounging in
spoon after spoon of impossible
sweetness and dreams without coarse reality
Hopes go beyond every womb, every tomb

Keith Badowski

Note to myself: While they did take time to sound out and think up, constructing fragmentary lines in this pattern was not extremely difficult. It would have been very time consuming to develop enough lines in this patter to piece together a unified poem. I suspect that with practice it would get easier. I can see, however, how in English poetry stress would impose itself as the lines are read. I'd like to experiment more with this pattern to the point of writing a entire short poem.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Quest for the Biggest and Badest Poetry Toolbox: Part 2-Cadence & Caesura

There's no telling who exactly convinced me to keep everything I have ever written. Vaguely I recall one of my English teachers counseling the whole class to never throw any writing away. The theory was that writing could always be rewritten, and if you had the proto-writing, you always had a place to begin again. There was also the hint of preserving your work for posterity, if you ever got good enough that anyone else would want to study your crappy, early writings . . . see how far you came. Suffice it to say, I bought the concept and have copies of just about everything I have ever written since middle school, with a few elementary school efforts still lingering in musty folders too.

As I set out to work on these exercises, suggested by Judson Jerome's The Poet's Handbook, it seemed a natural for me to recycle some of my old undergraduate poems. That way I did not have to start from scratch in the creative process. The proto-writing was there ready, willing, and able to serve. I could concentrate more on the skills that need work, like hearing accents and observing new structural possibilities. It saved me the material generating stage. I could re-use some old bricks.

Deep down there was another motivation for reworking old poems: the deep seeded belief that some of these poems actually deserve to grow up and move out some day. Perhaps by reworking them, I might find the inspiration to revise them to the point that I can send them out as more mature work. Perhaps that's a foolish idea. Perhaps I should burn everything and start anew.

Somehow I don't think that's going to happen. Let's see what actually DID happen . . .

Cadence & Caesura

caesura: "a pause in a line of poetry" (28)

balance: the relationship between "the concepts or images on one side of the caesura and those on the other." Sometimes the balance is "like" things, but could also be "contrast or antithesis". (28)

accent: a "strong stress" (28)

cadenced: "Poetry that is organized by balanced phrases and a loose regularity of strong stresses" (28)

Exercise (4-11-05): Lines with rhetorical breaks and definite cadence, using KJV of Psalms as the model.

Prey

The spider scrambles to surround the fly floundering for its freedom from wicked webs.
So comes the spider to spin its silk and with soundless ease it weakens the fly's wings.

The SPIder SCRAMbles to surROUND // the fly FLOUNDering for its freeDOM from wicKED webs.
So comes the SPIder to SPIN its SILK // and with SOUNDless ease it WEAKens the fly's WINGS.

--Keith Badowski, reworking lines from "The Prayer", circa 1988.

Note to myself: Reading these lines aloud to determine the accents, I already notice how there is a tendency to impose a metric rhythm overtop the cadence. The way I read the lines leans toward putting heavier stress on some words that should only be lightly stressed. For example, I am tempted to read the second line (above) with a steady regular beat, as follows:

So COMES the SPIder to SPIN its SILK // and with SOUNDless EASE it WEAKens the fly's WINGS.

A Wish for Breath

May you compose your songs out of wind as you soar into canyons and strain
to heights as you blow over cities less ancient then the idea of song
which was pushed into our tribe by mothers unable to wait for TV or sugar.

May your notes ever ping like gravel to beckon the buzzing crowds
to draw them into a hum or maybe a tap, anything to push around their plan for the day
to waft inside their air and be breathed but not consumed by lungs
or by speech so plain as to bore. May you wisp across the gleaming points,
may you spread across glowing hives and return my breath to sing.

May you comPOSE your SONGS out of WIND // as you SOAR into CANyons and STRAIN
to HEIGHTS as you BLOW over CITies // less ANCient then the iDEa of SONG
which was PUSHED into our TRIBE by MOthers // unable to WAIT for TeeVEE or suGAR.

May your NOTES ever PING like GRAVel // to BECKon the BUZZing CROWDS
to DRAW them into a HUM or maybe TAP // anything to PUSH around their PLAN for the DAY
to WAFT inside their AIR and be BREATHED // but NOT conSUMED by LUNGS
or by SPEECH so PLAIN as to BORE. // May you WISP across the GLEAMing POINTS,
may you SPREAD across GLOWing HIVES // and reTURN my BREATH to SING.

--Keith Badowski, entirely reworking "A Wish for Singing Breath", circa 1988.

Note to myself: I ought to do this exercise again, concentrating more on using "balance". A few of the lines in my experiment do seem to have balance, but in several instances I made no attempt to balance the concepts or images on either side of the caesura. The lines that seem most balanced to me are these:

The spider scrambles to surround // the fly floundering for its freedom from wicked webs.
(attacker // prey)

May your notes ever ping like gravel // to beckon the buzzing crowds
(sound // sound)

to waft inside their air and be breathed // but not consumed by lungs
(respiration // respiration)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Quest for the Biggest and Badest Poetry Toolbox: Part 1-Line Breaks

Over the last few months, I have been reading deeply in contemporary poetry. At the same time, I have also been generating pages and pages of raw material for my own poems. Whenever I resume this process of study and creative effort, I have the sense that I am missing some vital ingredient, some secret knowledge that would improve the results of my creative endeavor. So I have also found myself eagerly devouring books on the art of writing poetry.

Most of my previous poetry writing tended toward prose poetry, with some intuitive metrical moments thrown in. Mainly this style was due to my inability to master metrics. Periodically I would give metrics some attention, but usually give up on direct study after a few weeks. I'm feeling a sense of creative pressure right now to finally bear down and figure it out, even it takes a substantial time investment. I would also like to experiment with traditional forms in a much more expansive way then ever before.

Here's where things stand at right this moment: I have decided to take a get-back-to-basics approach. The plan is to see what happens if I start from scratch and act as if I am a beginning poet, asking the real naïve questions, and pushing hard to understand the history, definitions, and skills of writing metrical verse.

By no means, will I be limiting my exploration to metrics alone. It is my goal to be open to experimentation in every area of the poetic toolbox. I hope to acquire wide variety of new options in my writing, opening every opportunity as if for the first time.

As I take this journey, my copious notes, favorite quotes, unearthed definitions, and vigorous exercises will be written down. I plan to keep a running journal of my discoveries and realizations. You are invited to take the journey with me.



Notes and Exercises based on The Poet’s Handbook by Judson Jerome, Writer’s Digest Books (1980)

Line Breaks

Jerome’s commentary: “Rhetorical line breaks generally make for rather dull poetry. If. . . regarded as poetry at all, they would have to be called free verse.” (26) Jerome also noted a trend in early 20th century poetry, written in free-verse, using primarily rhetorical breaks.

Rhetorical: ”Line breaks that coincide with natural pauses or units of meaning--phrases or sentences or single words set off for emphasis.” (26)

Free Verse: ”lines that are of any length the poet chooses, without any set measure (or meter). “ (26)

Closed Lines: lines that have closure and resolve tension. Closed lines break at the end of phrases or complete sentences, making the meaning easily understood. (27)

Exercise (4-10-05): Try using some rhetorical line breaks, using closed lines, not enjambment.

Rich

Reality
is something that you rise above!

We don’t see things
as they are,
we see them
as we are.

Avoiding danger
is no safer
in the long run.

The fearful
fall
foul
of fate
as often as
the reckless.

--Hogarth, from a Marillion song entitled “Rich” on the album Marillion.com (1999).


Feline Mind

Paw prints lead
out of the house
and disappear
into high grass.

Late at night
head lights reveal
flicker of eyes
reflecting red.

Trying to sleep,
you wake to the sound
of claws clicking on metal,
and think,
How unearthly!

Their words
are wind
rolling in their throats
and they can push that wind
to blow you over
with a hiss.

Their cries
are the sawing
of violin strings
rising and rising
and then
trailing down
to silence.

Try to decipher
the curling
and waving
of their tails
like the wind blown
weeping willow branches.

Stare in their eyes
and search for their souls
and feign exchange
with their alien minds.

--Keith Badowski, reworking lines from a poem dated 1988.

Enjambment: “lines are deliberately broken in such a way as to tug against meaning. They keep jerking your around the corner to complete the phrases rather than letting you rest at the ends of phrases.” ”the use of runover lines.” “Enjambment heightens tension.” (27)

Exercise (4-10-05): Try free-verse lines, using enjambment to create tension.

Rich

Reality

is something that you rise
above

we don’t see

things as they
are we see

them as
we are avoiding

danger is no
safer in the long

run the fearful
fall foul

of fate as
often as

the reckless.

--Hogarth, from a Marillion song entitled “Rich” on the album Marillion.com (1999).


Feline Mind

Paw prints lead out
into high
grass. Late at
night, head
lights reveal red
flickering

eyes. Trying
to sleep, clicking
claws on metal, raise
the thought,
How unearthly!

Wind in
throats are words
grinding inside where
they can push
wind to blow
you over with
a hiss.

Their cries are sawing
like a violin
bow, such
friction rising and then
trailing
down to
silence.

Try to decipher the curling
of tails waving
like the wind
blown weeping
willow branches.


Searching for
souls, stare
into silted
orbs, feigning
exchange with their
alien minds.

--Keith Badowski, reworking lines from a poem dated 1988.

Note to myself: I noticed when working with enjambment that it inspired me to change some of the wording, cut unnecessary words, and drop some punctuation. It was as if by attempting to create tension in one way (enjambment), my subconscious discovered other options as well. For example in the last stanza, I changed "eyes" to "silted/orbs". In the Hogarth text, I ran together the words "run the fearful". Whether these changes are improvements is beside the point. I see it as a good reminder that a variety of revision strategies will always reveal new opportunities for innovation.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What Inspires My Poetry

Recently I have been reading a book about poetry by Kenneth Koch, Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. In one section, he writes about what inspires poets to write and what inspires the content of their poetry. He gives several examples, including particular seasons, everyday conversation, certain kinds of words, and the innovations of other poets. I too have noticed that certain specific things inspire me repeatedly, so I thought I would make a list.

  • The poetry of the following poets: Rumi as reinterpreted by Coleman Barks, T.S. Eliot, Carolyn Forche’, Thomas Kinsella, Seamus Heaney, Jane Kenyon, Rodney Jones, Walt Whitman, Marilyn Hacker, Carol Anne Duffy, and others.

  • Crisis in my life or in the lives of my friends. (Not that I’m wishing ill on anyone else or myself!)

  • Literal stormy weather and heavy rain.

  • The passion and advice of my professors: Bob Waugh, Carley Bogarad, Jan Z. Schmidt, H.R. Stoneback, and Edward Brunner.

  • Lyrics by particular rock and progressive rock artists: Marillion, Fish, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, U2, and others.

  • Discussions about writing with friends who are passionate about writing: John Langan, Dawn Pendergast, Mildred Greear, Tracey Gagne, David Oates, Steven Shields, Bonnie Rude, John Bush, Jim Gilchriest . . . to name a few. (If I neglected to mention someone, I’m very, very sorry! You are all so important to me!)

  • Bible stories and biblical imagery.

  • My audience, that small group of people who are sincerely interested in anything I might write: my Mom, Christi, Mildred, Sally, Maria, David, Todd and Laura, and a few others. (Let me know if you are one of these! I can always use more on this list.)

  • Oceanic and aquatic creatures.

  • Pop culture icons: I Love Lucy, Warner Brothers & Hanna-Barbara cartoon characters, Kiss, superheroes, and many others.

  • The women to whom I‘ve been attracted. (There’s no denying it!)

  • Remembered daydreams of writing poetry and novels while I was an undergraduate student at S.U.N.Y. New Paltz. Sometimes I try to put myself in a “New Paltz state of mind”. It was there that I first formed my ideas about what a poem IS. Part of that formation came from listening to other poets read their work aloud at the President’s Guest House readings: Chad Roche, John Burdick, John Langan, Lauren Athanas, Gail Vorbach, Bob Singleton, Bob Waugh, Arthur Josephs, Pey Pey Oh, Kevan Stoffel, Tim Healy, Danny Rzetelny, and others. (Again deep apologies to anyone I forgot to list!)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My father, Me, and Christi


My father, Me, and Christi Posted by Hello

Breakneck Pursuit of Heightened Language

To be honest and accurate, I am much more a fan and practitioner of “heightened language” than of “poetry.” Poetry certainly utilizes and exemplifies heightened language more so than your average narrative, but they are far from being equivalents. It’s important for me to be aware of this, because it informs what kind of poet am and what my poetry aspires to do. Put simply: I write poetry because I want to create experiences of heightened language and poetry is the form where that heightened language emerges naturally for me.

What is heightened language? Well, it is more exciting than typical conversation, more image-filled than your average journalism, certainly more daring in its length and breadth, and generally veers toward a manic abuse of words and syntax.

The first example that always comes to my mind is the voice of the narrator, Jack Burden, in the novel All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. While Jack does not speak in heightened language for every sentence of the novel, there is a large proportion of heightened language between the covers of this classic. It took me only about four minutes to zero in on this passage as I flipped the pages for my example:

He took us to a night club where they rolled out a sheet of honest-to-God ice on the floor and a bevy of “Nordic Nymphs” in silver gee-strings and silver brassieres came skating out on real skates to whirl and fandango and cavort and sway to the music under the housebroke aurora borealis with the skates flashing and the white knees flashing and white arms serpentining in the blue light, and the little twin, hard-soft columns of muscle and flesh up the backbones of the bare backs swaying and working in a beautiful reciprocal motion, and what was business under the silver brassieres vibrating to music, and the long unbound unsnooded silver innocent Swedish hair trailing and floating and whipping in the air. (140 Warren)

Here we have a run-on sentence that imitates whirl and twirl of the figures in the scene. The event being described was designed to create shock and awe, so as Jack reacts to it, the shock and awe (if even short lived) adds fuel to the language.

The word “and” appears a dozen times as Jack attempts to recreate all that he saw. The effect is something like “I saw this . . . and this . . . and this . . . and this . . . “ The same style might be used to emulate free-associative thoughts as they flash through someone’s mind. The sense the reader gets is one of overflow, overabundance, and overload.

Some of the most intense experiences in life can seem that way--overloaded, almost too much to handle. In our busy lives, images zip past us with insane speed. Regretfully sometimes those blurs are our own families and friends. While the realities of speed can be costly, the emulation of that speed in language gives me pleasure. It recreates the experience of that speed through the music of language. It surprises me with its effectiveness.

Note also the repetitions of words and sounds in the Warren passage: the word “flashing” and the “-ing” sound. The repeated sounds create a rhythm that pluses through the passage, emulating the rapid heartbeat of those attending the described event.

These effects excite me as a reader. They get my own blood flowing in tune with the blood flow of the narrator. I aspire to write heightened language like Warren’s much more so than to write the perfect sonnet. I get many more thrills and chills from a kick-ass run-on sentence than I do from a traditional form handled with poise. I think it is only fair to myself as a writer and poet to be aware of this and to allow that awareness to inform my process.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Discovering a Purpose

Not everything begins with a clearly defined purpose. Such is the case with this journal/column/blog, whatever you want to call it. All I know is that I am setting out to write for a very limited audience, even though it is being published in the most public area there is. The potential for a huge audience is there, but extremely unlikely and perhaps even unwanted.

In writing this entry I have no expectation of readership or response. Maybe more than anything this is an exercise for myself in regular writing. I hope to jot down some record of my daily responses and reactions to what I encounter.

I hope that at least I can maintain my own interest level in this endeavor. If I don’t enjoy the process and some of the results, how could I ever inflict this stuff on anyone else, even it be the limited audience of my closest friends, family members, and church family.

My title “There Goes the Top of My Head” is a reference to Emily Dickenson’s wonderful criteria for recognizing the experience of encountering a true poem.

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

I know of no better description of the intense response to a successful poem. I would argue the same description can be applied to a successful sermon, a successful song, or a successful essay or novel. An intense reaction to stimuli always indicates that there is something surprising and true in that stimuli. So what I am hoping will happen as I write this (whatever-you-want-to-call-it) is that I will be able to share with you my intense response to stimuli. I hope that the way in which I share will entice you to investigate and encounter that stimuli yourself.

The anticipation is that I will write about poems, music, movies, sermons, Christian literature, and books in general. This does not exclude anything else that might make an impression me.

All I can say is that the intention is somewhat clearer to me now after having written today’s entry. Writing can help much to clarify your thoughts. Only by writing does one fully discover what it is one has to say.