The astringent chemical properties

of my thoughts laid on

surfaces at night        

         the stutter, breakstep of breath        

         fine arcs and coordinations. 


The rollercoaster trundles

around soft curves

finds further tops, lows

and creaks to a halt.        

         The moment breathes like an athlete. 


The balance is due, but there

is nothing different about this.

Ching! Pang! The list of sounds grows.

The formula is visible:

She was always impervious to handwriting. 


4 responses to “Badlands

  1. The first two stanzas are sharpest. I think the ending is a little unclear, but maybe it’s purposefully that way, but if so, it might need strengthening to make the intention clearer, even if leaving the content purposefully unclear.

    The poem starts out very strong, and the use of “astringent” is the best diction(ary) moment of the poem. I find that both definitions — sharp, penetrating and drawing together tissues (hadn’t read that one before) — are extremely useful in describing the late-night, half awake, state of mind that the first two stanzas seem to be about. Rollercoasters of thought, spanning a variety of topics, yet somehow connected (astringent) by the narrator’s mind. The second stanza seems a further elaboration of the first, perhaps indicating the moment when one finally is able to fall asleep.

    The final stanza is more opaque. One reason I can think of for this is that it is an actual representation through stream of consciousness of the wild ride of thoughts described in the first two stanzas. The first two lines seem the most tangible to me, yet their meaning is deferred to what follows. But I am unable to decode it from the list of sounds. The formula mentioned in the second to last line might be the cipher to the pattern of thoughts described in the first two stanzas, but then it’s not immediately clear what “She was always impervious to handwriting” might signify. One interpretation might be that “she” was always impervious (nice use of another semi-medical/scientific word) to poetry, or written letters. This is all probably more of a projection of my own thoughts than meaning in the poem, but I think that’s OK.

    I’d be curious to hear what Dave’s thoughts on the final stanza (and the poem more generally) are.

  2. I like everything you say here. I didn’t really have many thoughts at the time–I usually don’t–but in reading it now and your response I have these thoughts:

    I hadn’t noticed the medical/scientific language pattern. Now that you mention it, I want to take it farther. It’s in line with taking an interest in the way that words are used in functional setttings, and trying to align that with poetry, and poetry with that. I love the incredible, unself-conscious sound of words in store windows, street signs, advertisements, fine print, and packaging. That’s the quality I think I was aiming at that abrupt sound in the first stanza, trying to walk through my visual experience of words using short lines and sudden transitions.

    In the second stanza, it looks like I was stepping back and describing the moment of realizing that you’re thinking, and watching that process happen. I could probably explain the rest of the lines in this stanza, which I realize now may not be a good thing. If there’s a better way to say it, I should write that.

    The third stanza. You’re right, this one is the most opaque. You’re also right that it’s something of a representation of what’s described in the second stanza. The balance comes due, I guess, at the moment where the athlete stops to breathe, and is assaulted by distractions and the volatile world. The ending looks like a couplet. Perhaps I should set it aside like one, or inset like the last lines of the first stanza. Would it be better if I said: “My formula is visible, but/ she was always impervious to handwriting”?

    Other questions: What about all this opacity? Is it a syndrome? What’s it worth? Anything? How do you deal with issues of clarity and explicitness?

    For me, I try to create an experience rather than relate one. How can I convey that? It seems like it would require a slightly different reading style. To encourage it to be read in the style of street signs and packaging. My difficulties with this poem are sort of my difficulties with poetry in general.

  3. Thanks for the response; there’s good stuff here. I like your suggestion for the final couplet, and I think both the new stanza and rewritten lines make it stronger. Check the front page for a discussion on opacity. I think you should respond to mine in a new post.

  4. Pingback: Opacity in Poetry - Jared’s Take « No Record Press

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