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Friday, April 30, 2010

Poetry In Pictures and The Picturesque

While images supply poetic lines with pictures, imagery brings picturesque language or figures of speech into a poem, but this need not be pretty little pictures or precious thoughts. In the following poem, for example, notice the visuals in the unfolding scene.

The Night You Taught Me Anarchy
by John DelCroix

Your drunk guitar teacher
on stage begged me
to watch over you
in this jam-packed bolgia.

Tobacco fog permeated the air.
The fiends around us,
in black shirts and tattered jeans,
raised their pitchfork fingers
as thunder broke out
from their beer-reeked mouths.

Your attention fixed on stage,
listening to the noise of guitars
screeching through the amplifiers,
and cymbals crashing
like shattered bottles on concrete.

You were barely 16
sipping your can of soda,
exclaiming to me
your view of anarchy,
“Can you see it now?
Amidst the chaos sprouts a rose!”

Yet, all I saw
was you.

As we consider the picturesque in poetry, this poem itself has a touch of anarchy or rebellion against the classical romantic attempt to immortalize the beautiful and the perfect in a poem.

From the drunk teacher in the first line to the smoky environment reeking of beer and discordance, the poem pans its lines like a camera across tattered jeans and the metaphoric “pitchfork fingers” then turns up the volume, metaphorically speaking, “as thunder broke out/ from their beer-reeked mouths.” Since thunder did not literally come out of those reeking mouths, the language can be considered picturesque even though void of pretty little pictures or idyllic sounds.

Ironically, this chaos unfolds into an oddly touching tender touch at the end. I wish, though, that the poem provided a clue into the relationship between “I” and “you” since so much depends on this. Is, for instance, the poem an account of “how I met your mother?” Or is this a moment when one musician notices the student of another or when the owner of a bar worries about having a teen on the premises or when a predator, in the spontaneous role of a babysitter, begins to stalk a young girl?

Do you see, John, how keeping readers in the dark about an important aspect of the story gives us permission to fill in the blanks and, in essence, devise characters you might not have intended. To change this, clarify as you revise, perhaps with a hint in the title, which I personally like as is. I’d be more apt to define their relationship in a brief phrase in the last verse after “sipping your can of soda.”

Regarding other changes, the word “bolgia” may mean nothing to many readers or something from Dante Alighieri's Inferno to others, which probably gives the disco-like impression you intended. So you might leave that as is, making punctuation and syntax the only real changes suggested.

In the second verse, no comma is needed at the ends of lines 2 and 3 or after “amplifiers” in the next verse, which consists of an incomplete sentence. To complete the sentence, recast the first line, for example, as, “You kept your attention on stage.”

With fine use of pictures and picturesque language, John, you certainly kept our attention in this well-staged poem. Good job!

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