Monday, September 30, 2013

Story Versus Snapshot: Two Versions of "Young Woman at a Window"

For my Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC, I was asked to compare two versions of "Young Woman at a Window" by William Carlos Williams (scroll to the bottom for the poems) and then write an essay given the following prompt:

What makes the second version of "Young Woman at a Window" more imagist than the first version of the poem? How does it conform to the principles and ideas of imagism as they are declared in the manifesto more effectively or more successfully or more faithfully than does the first version?

My answer:

Story Versus Snapshot:  Two Versions of "Young Woman at a Window"

The Imagist Manifesto states that most imagists “believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.”  With its opening words, the first version of William Carlos Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window” presents itself as less imagist than the second version due to the former’s complete failure to follow this tenet.  

In the first version, the poem opens with, “While she sits.”  The reader is led to believe that “while she sits,” something else eventually is going to happen.  This “something” is not described until the fourth stanza:  “this little child / who robs her.”  The lack of adherence to the principle of concentration is compounded in this revelation by use of the word “this” to describe the child--“this” being more nebulous and therefore less concentrated than “the.”

In contrast, the second version opens with, “She sits.”  This is a concentrated statement.  “She sits” is happening immediately, right now.  An image is instantly formed of a female sitting.

The Imagist Manifesto further states that the poet’s goal should be “to produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.”  Again, straight off in the first stanza, the first version of the poem violates this principle; the second version follows it.

The opening stanza of the first version of the poem is, “While she sits / there.”  The use of “there” begs the question, “Where, exactly?”  This is definitely indefinite.  The image is already blurred, and the poem has only just begun.  

In contrast, the second version of the poem opens with, “She sits with / tears on.”  Immediately, the image is formed of a seated female crying.

Of course, the primary goal of the imagist poet, as stated in the Manifesto, is “to create an image.”  The first version of the poem violates this principle almost completely, while the second version almost completely adheres to it.

The first version of the poem tells a story of sorts and as a natural result raises questions in the mind of the reader.  Why is the woman crying?  Who is this child?  What did the child do to make the woman cry?  What exactly was the “theft” or “robbery?”  Was the woman’s career or social life “stolen?”  Did the child actually steal something and cause disgrace to the woman?  All of these questions act to distract the reader, to cause the reader to wonder what happened.  Multiple images are formed.  This is not necessarily a bad result--unless an imagist poem is the goal.

In contrast, the second version of the poem employs an economy of words to emphasize a single, clear image instead of (or at the expense of) telling a story.  The reader sees a seated woman with tears on her cheek, her cheek in her hand, a child in her lap.  The child has his nose pressed up against “the glass,” presumably the window through which the poet observes this scene.  A story is begged, of course, but the emphasis is on the creation of the image--a snapshot or a captured moment--the essence of imagism. 

Review of "Waiting for Rain" by Ellen Bass

"Waiting for Rain" by Ellen Bass was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013.  In this deeply personal poem, the poet conveys her anxiety and feelings of helplessness when faced with the reality of a serially seriously ill daughter.  She worries about things in the environment that might stop her daughter's breath.  She longs to take over her daughter's body, to somehow shield her child's body with her own from within, but knows that this is impossible.

Stirring metaphors abound--my favorite is the image of elephants forming a circle to protect their young.  The title itself is metaphor--waiting for rain, waiting for disaster, but hoping against hope that the dark clouds will blow over.  But rain also gives life, so there is an element of hope in the title, too.

On a personal note, I was once faced with a daughter who needed neonatal intensive care.  She survived and is doing well now, but her time in the NICU still haunts me, and the insidious threat that she one day may need intensive care again is always lurking just behind her winning smile.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review of "Sonnet--To Science" by Edgar Allan Poe

"Sonnet--To Science" by Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) (pictured) was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 29, 2013.  In this traditional rhyming sonnet, Poe laments that science has taken the romance out of life--the poetry out of life--by disproving myths.  He asks how these two disparate forces--reason and romance--might be reconciled.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Coursera MOOC Offering: Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

I am excited to announce that I signed up to audit one of the those Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) (or, what I like to call "MOOCH" because the user is kind of mooching), Modern & Contemporary American Poetry.  Sadly, it was already in progress since September 7 before I found out about it.

The course is being taught by Al Filreis, the Kelly Professor, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and the Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania.  "ModPo" is described as "a fast-paced introduction to modern and contemporary poetry, from Dickinson to Whitman to the present."

I plan to review some of the poetry from the course as well as comment about the course itself in Songs of Eretz.  Stay tuned.

Review of "In a Boat" by D. H. Lawrence

"In a Boat" by D. H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930) (pictured) was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 28, 2013.  It is a love poem that sings of love's power and the insecurity that love often produces in a lover.  It uses the familiar images of sky, stars, and sea to express its sentiments.  It has a pleasant refrain and rhyme scheme.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review of "For Crying Out Loud" by Terrance Hayes

"For Crying Out Loud" by Terrance Hayes was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 27, 2013.  His book, Lighthead, won a National Book Award in 2010.

For this review, I'm jus gonna write whatever come into my head.
'Twill be a bit of stream o' da consciousness.  Field and stream.  Streaming media.
Steaming streaming media.  Boy!  That gets me steamed.  Streamlined like a jet.
Jettisoning the waste and riff-raff of life into the jet stream.

Then I'll call this poetry even though it is just incomprehensible raving bordering on gibberish,
and all the poets, poets all know-it-alls will ooh and aah and tell me
how great my fancy clothing looks when I'm really buck naked.

There!  Take THAT Mr. Hayes of Carnegie Melon, published by Penguin Books.
You can mail in my National Book Award, just call first so I'll be there to accept it and pay any COD.
For crying out loud!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review of "Worst Things First" by Mark Bibbins

"Worst Things First" by Mark Bibbins was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 26, 2013.  This poem moves rapidly from one disjointed image to another around a central core of self pity.  The word "demons" is used literally and figuratively.

Three New "Found" Poems

I still maintain a part-time medical practice to pay the bills until my writing career starts earning more money.  From time to time, I used to work as a locum tenens physician to smooth out my cash flow.  These moonlighting jobs used to be done pretty much on a handshake in accordance with the following assumptions:

1) Clinic needs shifts covered.

2) Doctor wants to cover the shifts to make money.

3) An hourly rate is agreed upon by both parties.

4) Perhaps an email is exchanged memorializing the deal.


However, in the Age of ACA and HIPAA and other alphabet soup, things have changed.  It is unbelievable the kinds of contracts that I'm expected to sign nowadays for the privilege of serving the sick and injured (no sarcasm intended) in order to make a few extra bucks to support my expensive poetry habit (insert sarcastic inflection here).  The indemnity clauses alone are enough to make one have to go to a clinic--as a patient!  I won't sign.  So, I don't work.  And when my private practice is slow, I can't buy poems.  Or pay bills.

On the plus side, I "found" three hilariously ironic poems in one of the locum tenens contracts that I recently refused.  All I had to do was replace "Physician" with "Wizard," "Locums Company" with "Abaddon Corporation" (I was going to use "The Devil" but did not want to be too obvious), "prescription drugs" with "potions," "healthcare" with "magic spells," etc etc and voila!  Satirical speculative poetry!

The poems are entitled:

Excerpt from a Standard Locum Tenens Wizard Contract
In the Age of Magic Care Exchanges

General Provision from a Standard Locum Tenens Wizard Contract
In the Age of the Magic Insurance Teleportability and Accountability Act (MITAA)

and my personal favorite due to its extreme one-sidedness...

Termination Clause from a Standard Locum Tenens Wizard Contact
In the Age of the Affordable Magic Act (AMA)

Take that, Abaddon Corporations!  You know what you did!  Someday you'll need a doctor--oh yes--then we'll see who's going to sign whom's one-sided deals with the dev...but I rant, don't I?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review of "No mode of excitement is absolutely colorless" by Mónica de la Torre

"No mode of excitement is absolutely colorless" by Mónica de la Torre was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 25, 2013.  The poem describes the associations we make with colors in extremely free free verse, a kind of banter.  Colorful?  Perhaps colorfool...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Poem: How the Department of Education Usurped Its Power

I was helping my twelve-year-old daughter with her American history homework, and this poem resulted.  I just couldn't help myself.  It has sixteen powerful words including the title.

Review of "My Childhood" by Matthew Zapruder

"My Childhood" by Matthew Zapruder was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 24, 2013.  The poet admits in his notes that he quickly jotted down this poem in a notebook while in a sort of trance.  It shows.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review of "The Translator's Dilemma" by Ann Lauterbach

"The Translator's Dilemma" by Ann Lauterbach was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 23, 2013.  Translation can mean "motion" and to change from one language to another.  This poem certainly moves along and speaks a language of its own.

"Tyche" Is Published

My poem, "Tyche," inspired by the Greek goddess of luck, has been published in the autumn equinox edition of Eternal Haunted Summer  It's message is sad but true.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review of "The Maldive Shark" by Herman Melville

"The Maldive Shark" by Herman Melville (1819 - 1891) was offered by's Poem-A-Day on September 22, 2013.  The editor's notes reveal that Herman Melville was inspired to write by his seafaring adventures in 1845; however, he was relatively unknown as a poet.  "Shark" is a rhyming poem about the interesting relationship between pilot fish and sharks (pictured).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Poem: "common core state"

Kansas has implemented the common core standards, put together by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  This new educational system is an insidious, subversive attempt by the revisionists, liberals, and progressives to indoctrinate our nation's children with their warped national and world view.  Some of the things that I have seen in their American history textbooks are disturbing.  I rarely get "political" with my poetry, but made an exception here.  Sadly, the poem will probably never sell.