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In Memoriam (Revised) (Help Please)

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:10 pm
by JT
By the light of the moon,
I will burn my letter to you
and bury it

under the rose petals
behind the Cathedral

in a stolen fragrant night.
Rose and ash will scatter
with a sigh of wind

blowing gently
then roaring ferocious,
a thunderstorm
leaving a child dead
down the hill.

Our ashes uncovered,
we look for rest.

Drops in dust,
perspiration turns to salt.
In the dry heat of the Santa Anna
mountains and roads
we hear whispers of gravel
winding our way down
miles and miles,
but the descent
a short distance
in view

of ghosts blowing our ashes
to rest in peace.

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:20 pm
by Mlou
"Duty" is calling from the other room...sounds a lot like my husband. lol Will return later when i can concentrate.

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:23 pm
by mae
Hey, JT, I would like to give a critique of your poem, if you don't mind. If you do, please, just stop reading right here.

First off, let me say that I found this hauntingly beautiful. Is it actually about a letter or is that a metaphor for something else? I'm not very good at determining those things.

A couple of points - 1). I think it's actually spelled Santa Ana.

2). in a stolen fragrant night. - A nit-picky point, but I think it should be "on" a stolen, fragrant night rather than in. Do you do something in a night or on a night? I suppose it could be either way. To my ear, it sounds better as on. Also, why is the night stolen?

3). I don't understand the reference to the dead child. Is that what this is about? Is there really a dead child? Is it just a way of saying how violent the thunderstorm is? If there is actually NOT a dead child, I would suggest dropping the reference because it is confusing and pulls the reader's attention away from the subject of your poem.

4). but the descent
a short distance
in view

of ghosts blowing our ashes
to rest in peace.

The grammar here is a bit confusing. The descent a short distance in view of ghosts blowing our ashes to rest in peace? Up to this point, your grammar has been pretty standard, with a poetic twist. This last bit, however, is very different and, with my concrete thinking, I don't get it. I find it confusing.

You may have picked up on the fact that it is not at all clear to me what the subject of your poem is. The piece is a bit abstract and I don't do very well with abstract poetry, so maybe I shouldn't have tried to review it. What I would really like, however, is for you to make it a little clearer. I can't be the ONLY person who has a hard time with this (can I?). Perhaps I'm just a bit paranoid and it's all very straightforward. But I suspect there is more to this poem than just a letter from a past lover.

Anyway, even with not understanding, I still found it beautiful. It's only when I read it for depth that I got confused. Your choice of words and word arrangements were lovely.


Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:03 pm
by JT
I certainly don't mind and appreciate any help on this.

The poem is about divorce. A divorce initiated by the male narrator is imminent. The letter is a love letter in which he calls off the divorce, but then decides in the face of an ultimatum to burn the letter in one of their favorite spots - the rose garden at the base of the National Cathedral. The burned letter turned to ashes is a symbol of the failed marraige, but it is difficult for both to let it go. Hence the poem follows the ashes to a final resting place, a favorite of their's, the Santa Ana mountains.

I think you are right on Santa Ana, but need to check.

I agree with "on" and the night is stolen because he goes alone when they always before went together.

A common path of thunderstorms here is down the hill from the Cathedral and a child was killed there by a lightening bolt on St. Alban's field late in the marraige. The gentle breeze suddenly turning deadly is to emphasize the divorce and the dead marraige and that there were swirlying strong winds to uncover the ashes.

Yes, the grammar at the end confuses me too. I chopped out about half of the poem but am left with that. In fact, the poem read for depth as it now stands is very confusing. I need more help, if this is salvagable at all. I don't want to throw it away, but will if need be.

Thanks much.

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:04 pm
by Mlou
Mae, I like your critique because it mirrors some of what I've posted to JT in the past, as he's been struggling with this poem, off and on, for a long time. I, too, felt the dead child took away from the mood of the poem, although JT based it on something real that affected him deeply, I think. Maybe "then roaring,/a thunderstorm that crashes onward / leaving death in its wake"?

I nit picked with him over the ashes being buried, so how could the wind blow them? But his storm wind was violent enough to unearth and scatter them. And I was confused by the ashes of the burnt letter which later became "our ashes".
I know one of my faults is being too literal, yet I like the somewhat abstract mood here.
This poem has such lovely bones!
I keep itching to clarify that paragraph about the mountains.

I'm posting this much. Then refreshing and coming back.

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:19 pm
by Mlou
Just a very rough attempt at putting JT's words into a bit of order. (Yes, I know, orderly, literal nit picker, me.)

These ashes uncovered
seek rest in the
places we loved.
Winding down
miles and miles
in the dry heat of the
Santa Ana mountains where
perspiration turns to salt,
drops in the dust.
Whispers of gravel
follow the long descent,
brief in the view of ghosts
blowing scattered ash
to peace at last.

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:24 pm
by Mlou

Posted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:54 pm
by mae
Oh, JT, you must not throw this away. You may have to start over (I do that from time to time), but don't throw it away.


Posted: Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:04 pm
by JT
Dear Ladies, your comments and critique have been very helpful. My thanks runneth over. I have now spent so much time on this piece over the past year or so, I am going to sit on it (again) at least for a few days before changing it. I am keeping it if only because it achieves my goal of evoking feelings with words and images, which I think it does. Maybe there is a happy medium between this goal and being more literal about the subject matter. I do know this, however. I have gotten more help from the two of you on this piece than any other piece on any other site. And, Mlou, I will genuinely try to keep my side of the bargain on the poetry challenge. Thanks again.

Posted: Sat Jul 17, 2010 7:21 pm
by Mlou
JT..For me, changing "our ashes" to "these ashes" kept the sense of what the ashes were and your explanation of the "why" of their ending up in the mountains, went a long way to clarifying and giving continuity to your poem. Hope it proves helpful.
Don't sit on it too long. It may incubate and hatch into Stalin on the wall. lol See, I remember your poems...

Posted: Sun Jul 18, 2010 2:26 am
by mae
I think putting it away for a bit is a good idea. You can come back to it with fresher eyes. I'm sorry that I didn't get much of what you told us from your poem. My mind just won't twist itself around abstract poetry, and this is abstract. I hope, when you do get back to the poem, that you don't go too literal. Even if I can't get it, part of the beauty of this poem, in my opinion, is its very absractness. That doesn't make any sense, but, well, there it is.


Posted: Sun Jul 18, 2010 9:17 am
by Mlou
Makes perfect sense, mae. Making the intuitive leap toward the meaning behind the abstractness is part of the enjoyment of reading. :)

Posted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 7:44 pm
by JT
mae wrote:part of the beauty of this poem, in my opinion, is its very absractness.

When I read this in a literal sense, the whole thing falls apart and does so from the very start. The letter has not even been burned yet in the poem so how could there be ashes? When I fool with it to make literal sense, any beauty disappears. Oh well. :cry:

Posted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 7:50 pm
by Mlou
Now you're the one nit picking, JT. You don't have to be THAT literal. It's understood that somewhere between speaking of your intention, and the ashes coming to final rest, you did indeed bury them, and all ensued just as you had envisioned.

Posted: Wed Jul 21, 2010 2:09 pm
by mae
JT, I've looked at this again, with your explanation in mind, and I have some further comments.

First, I don't know what your last comment is referring to. You've quoted my comment and followed it with one I don't understand. Were you referring to mlou's "rewrite" of your piece or to your own?

Anyway, back to your poem. Regarding the ashes and the storm and becoming uncovered, I have a series of comments and questions.

1). Who buries ashes? If a person burns a letter, it's already destroyed, thus there is no need for burial. If you wanted to bury them for some symbolic reason, I would suggest that most people would put them in some sort of box or jar, not just poured into a hole in the ground.

2). And one of the reasons you would use a container is that...were a storm to arise, both the loosened ground and the ashes would simply be washed away. They would not, however, become separated from each other. On the contrary, the ashes and the soil would be even more deeply combined by the rain.

3). If a storm does arise and rain falls, the ashes will not blow away as they are wet. Wet ashes don't blow.

4). Now, if a wind arises before the rain, the ashes will blow away, but not if they are truly buried. If, however, it is a strong wind, not just a sigh, the loosened dirt and the ashes both could be blown, but again, they would not be separated.

Given all these contradictory elements, I suggest that you rethink your basic premise regarding the ashes.

When I mentored a writing course, one of the things I tried to teach my students was that, unless you were writing fantasy, the actions described in your piece had to be possible. Like you don't have smoke rising straight up when there's a wind blowing. Same thing with your ashes. It distracts your reader away from the real message; for some it sort of niggles away in the back of your mind, further pulling away your reader; and then, in the end, it just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

I'll work more on the rest of the poem later. Please feel free to use or reject any of these comments. This is completely your poem and the metaphors you use and how you use them are entirely up to you.