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Friday, May 27, 2005

Mix And Match

If anyone is still reading out there, let's play a little game. Below is the second draft of a poem I wrote last night at work. The stanzas are numbered 1 through 5. I would like people to post in the comments the order they think the stanzas should be in (e.g. 3, 1, 2, 5, 4), along with their reasoning for the re-ordering. It could be fun, really.

What Was In My Hands

1.
What is in my hands is in my heart.
The length of arms, the thickness of skin,
The density of bone, the tangled
Stretches of vein and artery,
None of these impose any distance.
Neither the skull nor the eye make a wall.

2.
What is in my heart are these, in part:
A song, a hymn, a prayer
Carved from a pragmatist's wooden throat,
A green jar of rain, lid rusting,
Against an old spruce near the shallows
As water stirs around a blue heron.

3.
What was in my hands is in my hands.
Spring's last crabapple blossom
I declined to place in her hair,
Dandelions I awoke to find arranged
In the bright yellow letters of a name
(My eyes dim, streaked, windows).

4.
What was in my hands is in my heart.
My son's wet, freshly-born head,
The weight of him all gathered
In his eyes, those blue event horizons
Through which everything falls,
Forever, towards him, his voice.

5.
What is in my hands is my heart
Under dust, under boots worn at the heel
And loose at the seams, under piles of books,
Under echoes and reflections,
Under lilacs and weeping birches
And the silent, cataracted moon.


edited to fix the "blosson" typo, and to remove the "were" which somehow crept in between "eyes" and "dim" in stanza 3.

10 comments:

Humble Servant said...

Well hello John--finally saw the goose's shadow and decided it was okay to post again?

I'll guess 5, 1, 3, 4, 2. I like 4, 2 and 3 best as being most meaningful.

My heart will be in my mouth until I know the answer.

RT said...

I'll say: 3, 1, 4, 5, 2 because 3 is past tense and the middle three contain both hand & heart reference while 2 mentions only the heart.

Tracy Hamon said...

Hello,

5, 2, 3, 4, &1 because the eye is the last to see. We first silence ourselves when we read. Well done.

MackJohnny said...

Thanks, folks. The poem is still in process (I question if poems ever move beyond process, at least in the broadest sense of readers absorbing them into experience of literature as a whole), which is mostly the point of posting it. I've always been prone to showing people things as I work on them in order to get a feel for may or may not be working. This is a chance for me to extend that part of my approach to process beyond the usual suspects.

I've gotten food for thought already, and I hope more comments appear.

GM said...

J -- This goes against the specifics of your request, but I couldn't help myself.

G

What was in my hands

What was in my hands is in my hands:
My son's wet, freshly-born head,
The weight of him all gathered
In his eyes, those blue event horizons
Through which everything falls,
Forever, towards him, his voice.
What was in my hands is in my heart.

What was in my hands is in my heart.
The length of arms, the thickness of skin,
The density of bone, the tangled
Stretches of vein and artery,
None of these impose any distance.
Neither the skull nor the eye make a wall.
What is in my heart are these, in part.

What is in my heart are these, in part:
A song, a hymn, a prayer
Carved from a pragmatist's wooden throat,
A green jar of rain, lid rusting,
Against an old spruce near the shallows
As water stirs around a blue heron.
What was in my hands is in my hands.

What was in my hands is in my hands.
Spring's last crabapple blosson
I declined to place in her hair,
Dandelions I awoke to find arranged
In the bright yellow letters of a name
(My eyes were dim, streaked, windows).
What is in my hands is in my heart.

What is in my hands is my heart
Under dust, under boots worn at the heel
And loose at the seams, under piles of books,
Under echoes and reflections,
Under lilacs and weeping birches
And the silent, cataracted moon.

MackJohnny said...

No worries, George. It's an arrangement very much worth considering. Thanks for pointing it out. I'm not quite happy with how it flows in the order you've set, though. I think that if I were to go that route I might do it something like this:


What was in my hands is in my hands:
My son's wet, freshly-born head,
The weight of him all gathered
In his eyes, those blue event horizons
Through which everything falls,
Forever, towards him, his voice.
What was in my hands is in my heart.

What was in my hands is in my heart.
The length of arms, the thickness of skin,
The density of bone, the tangled
Stretches of vein and artery,
None of these impose any distance.
Neither the skull nor the eye make a wall.
What was in my heart is in my hands.

What is in my heart was in my hands.
Spring's last crabapple blosson
I declined to place in her hair,
Dandelions I awoke to find arranged
In the bright yellow letters of a name
(My eyes dim, streaked, windows).
What is in my heart are these, in part.

What is in my heart are these, in part:
A song, a hymn, a prayer
Carved from a pragmatist's wooden throat,
A green jar of rain, lid rusting,
Against an old spruce near the shallows
As water stirs around a blue heron.
What is in my hands is in my heart.

What is in my hands is my heart
Under dust, under boots worn at the heel
And loose at the seams, under piles of books,
Under echoes and reflections,
Under lilacs and weeping birches
And the silent, cataract moon.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Interesting arrangement G and J, but the predictable repetition grows tiresome quickly and detracts from the rest.

I prefer 5 as the first. The word "under" signals the need to dig deeper, deeply. The "silent, cataracted moon" gains great weight when we dig into stanza 4, which I like as the final stanza, to find "My son's wet, freshly-born head", which is another "cataracted moon". "Voice", now the final word of the poem, brings to mind the references to sound ("echoes" and "weeping") and then its lack ("silent") in 5, creating a narrative as we look back up through the layers to the moon, while at the same time leaving the poem open-ended and more evocative than it would be otherwise, "voice" implying a listener, a listening.

What is in my hands is my heart
Under dust, under boots worn at the heel
And loose at the seams, under piles of books,
Under echoes and reflections,
Under lilacs and weeping birches
And the silent, cataracted moon.

What is in my heart are these, in part:
A song, a hymn, a prayer
Carved from a pragmatist's wooden throat,
A green jar of rain, lid rusting,
Against an old spruce near the shallows
As water stirs around a blue heron.

What was in my hands is in my hands.
Spring's last crabapple blossom
I declined to place in her hair,
Dandelions I awoke to find arranged
In the bright yellow letters of a name
(My eyes dim, streaked, windows).

What is in my hands is in my heart.
The length of arms, the thickness of skin,
The density of bone, the tangled
Stretches of vein and artery,
None of these impose any distance.
Neither the skull nor the eye make a wall.

What was in my hands is in my heart.
My son's wet, freshly-born head,
The weight of him all gathered
In his eyes, those blue event horizons
Through which everything falls,
Forever, towards him, his voice.

Brenda Schmidt said...

P.S. I've been on the road all day, so if I make no sense that's today's excuse :)

ZW said...

In response to an email from John, I marked the poem up and emailed it back to him. I feel a bit weird about posting it here publicly because while I agree with John that poetry's about process, I personally prefer to hide the messy behind-the-scenes mucking from the reader. To me, it's a bit like having a magician go thru his act, step by step, revealing all his hidden mechanisms and sleights of hand. But John told me to post it, so here 'tis. Personally, I think the order as is should stand, but I had a number of ideas about reordering the insides of the stanzas.

What Was In My Hands

1.
What is in my hands is in my heart.
The length of arms, the thickness of skin,
The density of bone, the tangled
Stretches of vein and artery,
None of these impose any distance.
Neither the skull nor the eye make a wall.

[D’you need all the articles? It feels congested to me. I’d re-arrange thusly:

What’s in my hands is in my heart:
Arms’ length*, thickness of skin,
Bone’s density, tangled
Stretches of artery, vein:
None of these imposes distance.
Neither skull nor eye makes a wall.

*I like this for the pun/resonance w/ line 5; perhaps you won’t]


2.
What’s in my heart are these, in part:
A song, a hymn, a prayer
Carved from a pragmatist's wooden throat, [good line!]
A jar of green rain, lid rusting,
Against an old spruce near shallows
Stirring around a blue heron.

[a couple suggestions for word order/syntax]


3.
What was in my hands is in my hands:
Spring's last crabapple blossom
I declined to place in her hair,
Dandelions I woke to find arranged
In the bright yellow letters [shape?] of a name
(My eyes were dim, streaked, windows). [not sure about “dim”; maybe something else, formulated “my eyes were [x]-streaked windows”?]

[I like the restrained allusion to eyes as windows to the soul and how it is echoed in sts. 4 & 5]

4.
What was in my heart is in my hands. [I’d reverse this thusly; I think it’s dangerously close to sentimental as you have it, but here you can have the emotional connotations as well as the literal sense of “I was holding my heart’s blood in my hands”]
My son's wet, freshly-born [this adj. isn’t working for me—maybe something that is more evocative of the blood/uterine fluid etc.?] head,
The weight of him all gathered
In[to] his eyes, those blue [event—cut] horizons [maybe just me, but this immediately conjures the movie “Event Horizon”; also, I think the rhythm works better w/out “event”]
Through which everything falls,
Forever [melodramatic—cut], towards him, [falling into] his voice. [I think by repeating “fall” you can get the sense of “forever” w/out making it explicit]

5.
What’s in my hands is my heart
Under dust, under boots worn at the heel
And loose at the seams, under piles of books,
Under echoes and reflections,
Under lilacs and weeping birches
And the silent, cataracted moon. [“silent” feels poetical, predictable and “cataracted”, while terrific imagistically is clunky rhythmically; what about something like “the frozen cataracts of the moon”, thereby getting both silence the double sense of cataract as hindrance to vision and as arrested waterfall, resonating back to the falling of the previous stanza]

[I like how the anaphora of this st. enacts the sense of things being buried/claustrophobic and then how it opens up into the vast space of the sky and moon]

MackJohnny said...

Can't say that I find much magical about the actual writing of poems. Mostly just hard work made harder by the process of editing/refining, though I'll admit that every now and then a line or two will make me cackle with glee as they go on the page (happened a couple of times in this one).

I've been juggling this one for a few days now, and it seems to me that the biggest problem with it, other than the stanza order, was "cataracted." Rhythmically clumsy indeed, as Zach pointed out. However, the simple fix of removing the -ed gets the sound, sense and rhythm I wanted in that line in the first place.

As for the stanza order, it seems to read best as 5, 3, 4, 1, 2. Thank y'all.