Next Line, Please

Legato Dreams

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By Angela Ball

August 11, 2015


 

 

Of all the lovely stanzas submitted this week, my choice is Patricia Smith’s:

Accelerato, adagio—our soul
vacillating, forever wondering
what movement or coda might make the whole
emerge as that resolute rendering.
Welcoming transformations—staccato,
legato—all the while probing dreams
dreamed in the depths of our mind and heart,
curious—Are we ending … where to start?

Musical Italian syncopates the lines, gives them jazz leaps, while at the same time announcing directives. The question “How do we play this?” is posed and answered in multifarious ways.

Tied for second place are stanzas by Jordan Sanderson, Charise Hoge, and Fae Dremock. Here is Sanderson’s:

Inshore, it’s mostly croakers and hardheads,
But taste has always been a matter of
Development, and lightly do we tread
The shallows. Look how the swimmers scatter!
Our journey runs parallel to what’s unsaid.
When we find a map, it is in tatters.
Someone who knows said, “Ghost crabs clean the beach.”
We feast on the faint crumbs of la durée.

The lovely, abrasive first line moves us into rich speculation. Indeed, “Our journey runs parallel to what’s unsaid.” The haunting yet matter-of-fact adage, “Ghost crabs clean the beach,” initiates us into nature’s mysterious practicalities.

Charise Hoge’s stanza proposes a fierce interpersonal music:

A tangent season suddenly thudded
like heavy cloaks now soaked no longer warming.
We bristled to the corners of the bed.
My pulse decried the effort of a drumming
for steadiness—to improvise instead.
Rephrase the brush with dread, let loose repeating
whatever we said and follow the tune of raw
unguarded moments … stop rewinding flaws.

Her lines strike at the obsessive repetition that too often bars understanding.

Fae Dremock’s stanza imagines a violent accident or crime that almost seems a birth:

Pushing past the rim of notefall
down blue glacier, fissure, black rock,
carabiners clipped . . bodies sprawled
in plain sight. Two cut cords. The clock
beats back hard brandied nights. Recall—
a fallen moon. Wet earth. The hawk
we tracked through echoed, cloven heart,
dropped. We shuddered close, ripped apart.

I admire the energy and insistence of Dremock’s staccato, dreamlike report.

I award honorable mention to one of prolific Paul Michelsen’s stanzas, with its slap-happy exuberance and verve:

Dropped everything to go: fork, plate, food, mind,
friends, fam, eggs and Spam, French fries, even this:
The last egg in the carton. We might find
the hard way Humpty Dumpty’s mighty pissed.
And as we went took out a Cyclops’ eye,
then pissed on a very pissed off Phoenix.
Passed through every Athens, even in Ohio.
And then on to Harlem to play the Apollo.

Here is our “canto” thus far:

Caravan of Dreams

The trip begins without a sign that’s hung.
The mark may lie within your palm a line
a psychic knew before your time was sung.
She saw the span of dissonance: you pine
to scale a chart, depart where others clung;
refuse the map, forget reviews unkind.
My year of birth your cry of “Something Else!!!!”
A gypsy soul keeps nothing on the shelf.

Refuse the map. Forego the sturdy shoes.
Shrug off the ragged water of the past.
Your antipodal star riffs like the blues.
Step double-time across the bones and vast
landscapes of asphalt and stubble. He woos
you still, and waits, declares he’ll be the last.
His words flutter like ashes in the wind.
For once, run away, free, undisciplined.

The sky was appaloosa, the town paint.
The electric train plucked by, and the sky
Was bone, and the wind fluted through its flank.
We emerged like half-notes from a horn sighed
Onto the slick stave of the riverbank,
Where even in our rapture we were shy.
A song yanked at our mouths like a bit.
Stampeding, we embraced its roan beat.

Accelerato, adagio—our soul
vacillating, forever wondering
what movement or coda might make the whole
emerge as that resolute rendering.
Welcoming transformations—staccato,
legato—all the while probing dreams
dreamed in the depths of our mind and heart,
curious—Are we ending…where to start?


With two more stanzas to go, it’s crucial both to reiterate preoccupations and also to prevision what our ending might disrupt and crystallize.

Perhaps the first stanza from James Tate’s “The Vagabond” (read the entire poem here) can be of service:

A vagabond is a newcomer
in a heap of trouble.
He’s an eyeball at a peephole
that should be electrocuted.
He’s a leper in a textile mill
and likely to be beheaded, I mean,
given a liverwurst sandwich
on the break by the brook
where the loaves are sliced.
But he oughtn’t meddle
with the powder puffs on the golf links—
they have their own goats to tame,
dirigibles to situate.
He can act like an imbecile
if the climate is propitious,
a magnate of kidnap
paradising around the oily depot,
or a speck from a distant nebula
wishing to purchase a certain skyscraper …

Of Tate’s work, Charles Simic has said, “Just about anything can happen next in this kind of poetry, and that is its attraction.” Here, it is possible to both cultivate and resist synthesis. The poem is grounded by a central character, but flung in all directions by impulse. To borrow Tate’s verb, I hope you “paradise” next week’s stanza while keeping purchase on things like asphalt and bone.

Remember our malleable scheme—an eight-line stanza of approximate iambic pentameter, rhymed abababcc—and be sure to submit your stanza no later than midnight Eastern Time on Saturday, August 15.


Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.

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