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Mars Denar Fiction

So I’ve been thinking about this whole publish-a-novel-and-live-happily-ever-after-on-the-interest-from-the-royalties gig and I’ve come up with three Principles of Artistic Wealth and Well-Being.

If getting published and getting paid a meaningful amount is the definition of success, then to be successful, you need to tell people what they want to hear in a way they find entertaining, because that’s what people will pay for and what publishers will “hire” you to do. Hey, it’s business and business is about the buck. No one’s going to pay you big bucks to do something they won’t get even bigger bucks back for selling copies of. That is the Principle of Success.

If staying sane as an artist means getting to do your thing your way, then you need to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it. Creative-celebrity suicides (and other forms of self-destruction engaged in by creative…

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Posted June 21, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

Dig and Dig Some More: Riddle, Mystery and Enigma in Sarah Dunster’s “While Digging Out the Garden”   4 comments

I’ve got a bundle of purposes in writing this post. First of all, I’ve been wanting to write this type of post (critical reviews of other people’s web poetry) in order to identify common strong and weak elements and to find my way around to more effectively critiquing my own efforts. Second, the poem was written and posted by a fellow contributor to a website on which people tend to say only nice things about each other’s work, but I think this very nice person deserves to hear something that might help her improve as a poet. Third, I’d like to contribute to a web lit dialogue that helps make this form of folk publishing the equal of anything that is currently better in terms of literary merit.

Sarah Dunster‘s “While Digging Out the Garden” is an example of what I call riddle verse. What I mean by this term is a poem (or an attempt at a poem, or flat out verse—or, Apollo forbid, downright doggerel) which aspires to force the reader to work out what it’s actually about. Emily Dickinson wrote quite a hoard of the stuff and, frankly, nearly each day as I read two pages at a time through her The Complete Poems (part of my current reading routine), I pass rather dully through one or more of them. Done well or expertly, riddle verse is rewarding to read or hear. Done poorly or inexpertly, it’s a bore and a drain on resources needed for other things, even when you dismiss it almost at first glance.

“While Digging Out the Garden” is divided into three sections, each beginning with a cryptic heading:

1. You, but not you.
2. I’m alive, yet not alive.
3. Me. And you.

The satisfying convergence of the topics you and I as me and you combines with the paradoxical you and not you and alive yet not alive of the first two headings to promise that by the end of the poem, the reader will have discovered the identity of the topic you, worked out how the topics can be respectively you and not you and alive yet not alive, and seen how the topics converge. So far, for me, this promise has not been fulfilled.

The first section, headed “You, but not you.” reads

The earth braces itself against
my first spade full—ground softened by
my salt—unearthing roots like fingers
spread to sky, claiming a blessing
or, at least, an answer.

You are earth. You. But not
you—we never buried you, and
I never saw your face in death.

Quite a few poetic things are going on here. First, the earth (soil or planet?) is personified by metaphor. Second, it cringes—or at least prepares for pain. Apparently the digging (actual or allegorical or both?) is an act which causes pain or damage to the recipient, though whether beneficial like a surgery or detrimental like a stabbing is unclear. In either case, third, the ground has been softened using salt. Softening sounds like a good thing to do, for both digger and personified earth, but how salt facilitates softening and how such a material would be perceived by the earth are unclear to me. Though it seems unlikely in this context, the softening of the ground by the speaker’s salt may be an allusion to Christ’s “the salt of the earth” metaphor. Fourth, roots are unearthed and, like the earth, personified, though by simile rather than metaphor, and therefore more weakly. They are “like fingers”. Fifth, the fingers are “spread to sky, claiming a blessing/or, at least, an answer”. This imploring gesture of the roots suggests that the roots are seeking something, but the suggested options seem contradictory. Are they seeking a blessing (presumably to help them grow) or an answer (perhaps to the question of why they cannot grow anymore)? It is unclear. Sixth, something personified is addressed as “earth”. Is it the earth, the roots or something else yet to be mentioned—or, given that the first stanza proceeds in third person, is it a person whom the poet is comparing to earth? It is unclear. Seventh, whatever is addressed as “earth” is the subject of a paradox: it is you but not you. Eighth, the addressee is said to either never have been buried or have been buried, but not by the speaker (or by a group represented by the speaker). It is unclear which. Likewise, the addressee either never died or died but was not seen in that state by the speaker. It is unclear which.

So far, in a single paragraph discussing a single section of the poem, I have used the word unclear six times. I might have used it eight times, but style forbade the repetition, so twice I have used parentheses and question marks instead. That makes eight points at which there is, for me, uncertainty of interpretation. In effect, the poem has begun to read like “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Some people like such things. I do not. Yet Dunster is an honorable poet, so I read on.

The second section, headed “I’m alive, yet not alive.” reads

I walk through shadowed valleys and
I find the Tree—not fruited, but felled;
a blackened trunk, with spring sprung up
in a hundred nubile branches—

More poetic things are happening. First, allusion. Dunster’s independent clause “I walk through shadowed valleys” in the first line brings to mind King David’s KJV dependent clause “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and the capitalized “Tree”, because capitalized, must refer to some precedent such as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life or, Dunster being Mormon, perhaps the Tree of the Fruit of the Love of God—or perhaps some combination. It is unclear, though my money’s on the Tree of Life, since the preceding allusion seems to allude to death. Since the metaphor and simile in the previous section relate real objects in the garden to objects in the speaker’s mind, it seems fair to assume that the “shadowed valleys” and “Tree” in this section also correspond to real objects in the garden. I take the “shadowed valleys” to be the gouges dug by the speaker in the process of loosening the earth, and the “Tree” to be a tree. Dunster seems to confirm my interpretation by adding that the Tree is “not fruited, but felled”, in other words, in light of the shadows, some poor tree has at some point in the ages preceding the events of the poem been cut or knocked down and buried in the ground. At this point in my reading, I wonder if the addressee of the second stanza of the first section is not the Tree–and if the tree is not a symbol of something significant in the speaker’s mind, if not life. In any case, the tree is “a blackened trunk”, which usually means a tree which is very much dead. Yet, to reverse the heading of this section, the tree is “not alive, yet alive”, because of the “hundred nubile branches” springing up from it thanks to the actions of Spring. I confess my ignorance as to what real objects the “hundred nubile branches” may be (grass, weeds, some sort of fungus perhaps?), but that is probably more a matter of my horticultural ignorance than of anything else, so I let it pass and just take the hint that fertility rises from death and decay. This section has the virtue of seeming much less ambiguous (and therefore much easier of decoding vis-à-vis the riddle) than the first, but I am still baffled about the poem’s larger meaning. Who is the “you” and what is the significance of all this interconnection of garden and other things?

The third section, headed “Me. And you.” reads

The garden must be dug. My young
plants wait on the sill, stretching leggy
stems to reach the light. I turn the
earth. What lies beneath? My spade-tip
scrapes the iron mantle, while I
hang on the wooden handle.

This section seems somewhat more prosaic. The speaker is in fact digging a garden. Young plants, carefully nurtured indoors in anticipation of warmer weather, are ready for this phase of their progress. I find the idea of “stretching leggy stems/to reach the light” a bit grotesque. The stems may indeed appear leggy and they are certainly stretching to reach the light, but the image of green legs stretching to reach the light borders on the frightfully burlesque. I wonder if the word “leggy” is meant to put us in mind of the “roots like fingers” of the first stanza, but this begs the question of to what end. Are we to combine the two images, as I can’t help doing, into a single image of some upended entity praying with its feet? “Leggy stems” has a nice assonant ring to it, but the concomitant image rather makes one cough. Meanwhile, in service of the stems, the speaker continues to turn the earth, wondering as she goes what other similes, metaphors and symbols her spade may turn up. Now we come to a rather pleasing image with a surprising geological twist. I like the sound of “My spade-tip/scrapes the iron mantle”, and I suppose I get the drift, but technically it is the core of the planet which is iron, not the mantle. The mantle is rocky. Granted, the rocks sometimes contain iron, but iron is not the primary constituent of the mantle. Still, I like the sound–and the memories of digging it brings back to me. I even like “while I/hang on the wooden handle”, even though I’m not sure why the speaker should be suspended from the spade, unless this is an echo of the upended entity I described earlier.

Dunster writes that “For me, the ‘you’ is someone specific that I have lost. I suppose for the reader, it would be whomever or whatever they felt they identified as the ‘you.’ Person, place, thing… self.”

Knowing that the addressee of the poem is a person outside the setting transforms the poem for me. A stronger indication of this fact within the poem would have saved me a lot of wondering. Yet it is hard to imagine how the reference could be made more direct without robbing the poem of some important elements of its magic: the intertwining of real, present objects with things in the speaker’s mind, the haiku-like spareness of statement. Linguistically and figuratively, the poem flows like the natural working of a consciousness accustomed to seizing on analogies, however unexpected or faint they may at first appear to be.

Having laboured with this poem for several hours over several days, I find myself very fond of it. It is flawed, like my wife, like my children, like my many friends, like myself–and I came within a hair’s breadth of dismissing it on first reading, but like a person (other or self), given a chance to correct the first impression and reveal its depth, it makes a space for itself–it makes itself welcome and at home. Who knows what it will reveal to me (and of me) in the days and years to come?

(c) 2012 Mark Penny

For a compact little tribute to Dunster’s poem, see Spade Struck a Poem.

Posted April 22, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

The Would-Be Poet’s Guide to Poetry, Part 1: Denotation & Connotation   Leave a comment

Not having obtained that status in a way generally recognized as certain, I often wonder if even renowned poets ever come to feel without a shadow of a doubt that they are indeed poets, that some, if not all, of what they speak or write is indeed poetry. I tackled the underlying issue some years ago in a post on my fiction blog, concluding, in brief, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder to a large extent, yet surely there must be something objective and concrete by which at least the likelihood of being something of a poet can be at least tentatively judged. One possible set of measures might be the presence and density of certain elements known to be present in poetry.

In my quest to better understand the medium of poetry, I once purchased a book called Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. I have the ninth edition. The book is currently in its thirteenth edition. It must be selling well. Which brings me to an important point. Although selling art must be very nice for those who manage it, and I still harbour ambitions to pull off that stunt someday, I hardly think sales figures a reliable indication of quality in any area, let alone artistic merit and instructional value, yet when something is popular, especially over the years, we can at least wonder what it is that makes it so and, after investigation, perhaps find that it has enough merit or value or both to be worth owning in some way. My way of owning most things in print is to stumble on them in used bookshops. I consider myself very fortunate to have managed that with this book here in Taiwan.

It is very hard to concentrate at the moment. My three pre-adolescent sons are engaged in the serious business of pretending to slay each other. This involves a lot of sibilant gunfire, explosions and releases of chi. I would like them to stop, but I was a little boy once and I clearly recall how important the hunt and the battle were to me, so I shall soldier on through the hissing, sucking mud and hope to come out on dry ground with a full load of whatever I’m carrying for you.

In chapter fifteen, “Bad Poetry and Good”, Thomas R. Arp, Perrine’s collaborator since 1977 and successor since 1995, writes

In judging a poem, as in judging any work of art, we need to ask three basic questions: (1) What is its central purpose? (2) How fully has this purpose been accomplished? (3) How important is this purpose? We need to answer the first question in order to understand the poem. Questions 2 and 3 are those by which we evaluate it. Question 2 measures the poem on a scale of perfection. Question 3 measures it on a scale of significance. The area of a rectangle is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales: breadth and height; in an analogous way, the greatness of a poem is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales, perfection and significance. If the poem measures well on the first of these scales, we call it a good poem, at least of its kind. If it measures well on both scales, we call it a great poem.

The footnote to this paragraph reads

[S]ome objection has been made to the use of the term “purpose” in literary criticism. For the two evaluative criteria suggested above may be substituted these two: (1) How thoroughly are the materials of the poem integrated or unified? (2) How many and how diverse are the materials that it integrates? Thus a poem becomes successful in proportion to the tightness of its organization–that is, according to the degree to which all its elements work together and require each other to produce the total effect–and it becomes great in proportion to its scope–that is, according to the amount and diversity of the material it amalgamates into unity.

Basically, as we like to say these days, a poem is like a pie. Every pie has a purpose. Every purpose has a level of significance. And the purpose of each pie is achieved to one or another degree of success. A pie, to be a pie and not merely an apple, a cup of water, a bag of sugar, or a sack of flour, must combine ingredients, but the ingredients must be combined to make a whole which is a pie, not just a collection of ingredients which might have been combined to make a pie. There’s a poem in this analogy. Meanwhile, let us go on in prose. A well-baked pie tastes, then, like a pie. The ingredients have been mixed and otherwise treated in such a way that they coalesce to make a thing which without any of the ingredients would taste differently and of which none of the ingredients stands out as if it doesn’t require the others. We may recognize the influence of the apple, the water, the sugar or the flour, but we do not feel to lament, “There’s too much” of one or the other. A pie is no more a filling of apples with a crust of flour, water and sugar thrown on than a poem is a homely or epic idea with a little rhythm, rhyme, symbolism or metaphor thrown in. The effect of a well-baked pie is like that of a well-made poem: it tastes like itself, not like its ingredients.

But what are the ingredients of a poem? In a word, they are legion.

Beginning with chapter three and finishing with chapter fourteen, Arp categorizes them thus

Denotation and Connotation
Figurative Language 1
Figurative Language 2
Figurative Language 3
Meaning and Idea
Musical Devices
Sound and Meaning

Denotation is “the dictionary meaning or meanings of the word” while connotation is “what [the word] suggests beyond what it expresses”. Obviously, we rely on dictionary meanings for most pieces of language-based communication to make any sense. A safer, more general definition of denotation might be something like “a word’s agreed meaning, subject to social context”. A dictionary is a social context, or at least expresses one, but whatever a word’s etymology, what counts as denotation depends on who’s using it. The type of poetry I tend to read (or hear) tends to be generated in the context of Western, middle class English literacy, so Arp’s definition holds well for what I’m talking about in this essay. Connotation, of course, depends on context, too, but the effect of context on this aspect of a word is one of association–and this may differ from dialect to dialect, culture to culture, generation to generation, person to person, and so on, wherever extension of the diversity may take us; however, for this aspect of poetry to work, some common knowledge of the intended connotations is paramount. This is why reading poetry in a foreign language is usually much less satisfying than reading it in one’s own, and perhaps one reason why Robert Frost famously remarked that “poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Although I have never fully agreed with the blanket application of that assessment, I think it applies to some aspects most of the time and to each aspect some of the time, including denotation when the dictionary meanings of a word are too many or too diverse for a translation to cover.

The word cleave is a good example of what can happen with a word in the areas of denotation and connotation. Cleave is a so-called self-antonym, a word which has two denotations which are opposite to each other. The mutually antonymical dictionary meanings of cleave are “stick” (adhere) and “split” (separate). This is fertile ground for wordplay, another aspect of language which tends to get lost in translation. The word also has strong connotations, one of them from a piece of literature so influential on English language and literature that even those who refuse to read it cannot escape the echoes of its creaky old voice. In the King James Bible, cleave, has both meanings, though mainly the former, and that often in the context of marital or spiritual commitment. Anyone who uses the word “cleave” in any context must face the fact, consciously or not, that it comes with these connotations and that any use of the word will be colored by those connotations, deliberately or not. A skilled poet with a store of lore will turn these connotations to advantage. An unskilled or uninformed poet will unintentionally amuse, confuse or offend people, depending on the contexts they bring with them.

(c) 2012 Mark Penny

Posted April 1, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

Stars, Hoops, Trees and Polygamy: Self-Exegesis of “Sabbath’s End”, Part 1   Leave a comment

One of my most endearing characteristics (and there are a few), according to one of my more fluent and devoted EFL students, is my propensity to “toot my own horn”. There is affectionate irony in that characterization, since I taught her that very expression in response to a cover letter I edited for her three years ago when our professional relationship began. It should also be noted that the majority of my horn tooting is done under conditions of self-effacement. Not much we do on this “pale blue dot” is of much significance to the universe, as anyone can see who has “stood naked on the brink of air and space” as I have on occasional quiet nights in the mountains or by the sea, away from the luminous fog of the natural anomaly we call human civilization; and not much, if anything, of what I do registers very deep or far or long on the “massive mind of man“. Not yet, anyway.

Our planet is small and we are small, yet despite persistent religious teaching and insistent scientific evidence to the wiser, as a phenomenon, we “desist not from the arrogant surmise” that we are “at the top of all this wonder“, not least because, unlike everything else in air and space, with the tentative exception of God, we know what we’re doing and feel certain that what we’re doing is generally right and will ultimately all work out. Mayhap it shall be so and prove to be so. In the meantime, we can only speculate about many things in and around us–and thus the poem I am about to elucidate.

In the Facebook status update tooting the poem to the 669 people of many walks, races and preoccupations from whom I am technologically removed by only one degree, I wrote

For quite some time I’d been meaning to write a poem about faith–as experienced by a secular intellectual. Last night I was with my family at the local elementary school. While shooting hoops with the boys, I looked up at the sky and saw a lot of big fat stars. I sang a stanza from a song I wrote in the early nineties, “Lucifer Blues”: “Taking one look in the distance/Seeing nothing but the stars/You dismiss the light that shaped you/Creep back to the dying dark”, then went back to shooting hoops. When the kids were in bed and I’d done a bit more of my daily reading, which includes statistics, algebra, poetry and books on poetry these days, I made a note in my creative writing journal: “Want to write a poem on faith–as experienced by a secular intellectual.” This came out.

The poem I give in its entirety below.

Sabbath’s End

The stars tonight
Are bright
Brighter than average
For a city night
The big ones bulge like sun-fat fruit
Surely they’ll fall on us
Or rip along the seams
Leak us a drop or two of light

The kids keep climbing on the backstop frame
Between two-handed shots that generally fill the hoop
I take my scientific time and average less than half
Something about the darkness and the too-bright background lights
It fills the eye
Throws off the aim
I kid you not
I jog around the track

My wife walks oval orbits of the field
She and some neighbour I don’t know
Two females sizing up the world
Each lap I make a grab for my wife’s ponytail
She laughs
I miss the first time
Grab the second
I’m sweating in my long-sleeved white dress shirt and dark blue slacks
Clean air drips off the overhanging trees
But I stop and tell the kids it’s time to go home

My wife stays at the track
With the neighbour
And the glory-laden stars

This was my eldest sister’s comment:

not sure where faith fits in there, but it is a nice poem about a sweet family moment or two. If you are shooting hoops and running laps on Sunday, well… is that the beginning of faith’s end? I think I get the metaphoric comparison between your kid’s mostly instinctive and successful shots and your “scientific” ones only half the time going into the hoop.

To which I replied

Thanks for the comment, Debs. Well, yeah, I think different people will read it differently. I’m contemplating a bit of self-exegesis on this one, though. The more I think about the images, the richer it becomes for me. I may have to renovate and expand a bit to make what I see more obvious. In any case, the exercise should be both interesting and useful–for me, at least.

One issue is how you take the word faith. I had the notion of religious belief in mind. See if that helps.

To which she replied

not really, it must be esoteric. I’m just not where you are right now.

But the language is beautiful and the quiet, gentle, comfortable evening came across

A fine example of the payload/payoff paradigm at play and of the angle-ridden relationship between poet and patron. My sister, who writes songs about being a woman and dealing with depression (in all three combinations), has put it very well: we can only really get it if we are–or have been (or perhaps are arriving)–where the poet is when the poem pops out.

But exegesis may help, so here goes.

To be continued

Posted March 5, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

Stirring the Atoms of the Eye–or Not   Leave a comment

So I was surfing the Internet looking for sites that might teach me something about poetics and I came across Mudlark: An Electronic Journal of Poetry & Poetics, which publishes, among other things, so-called “flash” poems–verse based on current affairs. I had “Concerned about the Poor”, a reaction to Mitt Romney’s gaff when asked about fiscal support for the American poor, sitting around, so I bundled it off to William Slaughter, the editor, with the following introduction, the poem enclosed as a text file and displayed in the message to save the man time:

Dear Mr. Slaughter,

Flash. Speech and interview response as poetry. May be too old (and other things) for you to use, but here it is.

Thanks for your time.

Mark Penny


Concerned about the Poor

What Romney Should Have Said and Obama Would Have Said

We need to be concerned about the financial situations of all Americans
And middle income
All are struggling in this economy
But it is the middle-income earners of this nation
Those who consume the majority of our domestic product
And whose patronage finances the bulk of American jobs in service
And education
Whose children fill our centers of education and the ranks of our military
Who are sinking fastest in this flood of worldwide economic woe
And whose recovery from the blight of bad loans
And profit-hungry promises no one can keep
Will surely and swiftly pull America out of the whirlpool
And return this great nation to the front lines of prosperity
These are the people we must first reach out to save
For as they
With help
Fight their way out of the maelstrom
They will bring the rest of us
The poor and the wealthy
With them

(c) 2012 Mark Penny

This was 9:39 PM, Saturday, March 3, 2012. The next day, I received this reply, dated 5:40 AM, Sunday, March 4, presumably my time in Taiwan, not his time in Florida.

Mark Penny

I share your concern and, unsurprisingly, your politics having to do with “the poor,” but I am not keeping your poem for Mudlark. I do, though, wish you luck with it, finding the readers you most desire for it on your own website, Mars Denar Poetry, and wherever else it might also appear.

William Slaughter

When I checked the stats on my site, there had been three hits referred from Facebook, for a poem, “Why Does a Wet Day Weigh like Sin”, hyped by me very early Saturday morning to my half-a-thousand Facebook friends, and six other hits, which I naturally attributed mainly to Mr. Slaughter, who appears to have taken a gander at a couple of other “poems” beside the two aforementioned: “Ice Walking” and “Smoke and Lunch”.

I replied to Mr. Slaughter as follows:

William Slaughter,

Thanks for the prompt, personal reply. Definitely short, kind of sweet and
certainly to the point.

I’ll take a closer look at your site and if I have anything that seems like
your style, I’ll send it along.

Meanwhile, thanks for taking the time to read and respond. It’s a big job
with a lot of less-than-rewarding moments, no doubt.

Also, thanks for taking a look at my site. I assume that was you. More than
doubled my hits for the day.

Mark Penny

I think it was really nice of William Slaughter to do a little more than say “Thanks, but no thanks”, even if his reply leaves me to speculate on his views of the efforts he presumably glanced at. Obviously, nothing he saw “stir[red] the atoms of the eye/To frantic transports of delight”, as one piece that’s taking more than the usual half hour or less to form satisfactorily puts it. If I had followed an emailed link to a poetry website that contained stuff I liked, I would have looked at more than three or four of the offerings. None of this means that I’m a muff (see Art, Meaning and Message) or that Mr. Slaughter doesn’t know genius when he sees it. Finding, as he puts it, “the readers you most desire”–or, as I would put it, the right audience for what you do, takes time and effort, very little of which I have expended in that particular search.

See also Rabid Reaction, Reasoned Response and The Man, the Market and the Muse for a compelling account of a similar little jaunt in short fiction.

(c) 2012 Mark Penny

Posted March 4, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

Any word can burn   1 comment

One thing I’ve been thinking about, as I prepare to write my own poetics in verse, is the inter-intensification of elements, the way, in well-written verse, two or more elements combine to make each other ring louder, shake deeper and live longer in the heart.

Here are my thoughts on how to use words in poetry.

Any word can burn
Sear through the subtle sight of mind
By smile or rage
But you must twist it
Mix it
Tear its soul
Feel the bounds
Break them
Break its bones
Rip out its secrets
Bleed it dry of all but the meanings you desire
That is how poetry plays with fire

I wrote this little lecture after reading a piece which called my attention to the fact that, like language learners, verse-writers sometimes lean too heavily on big-point words, words they think will help them sound good when either they have little to say or they haven’t worked out how to say what’s on their minds. I wanted to see if I could use the word “subtle” in a concrete fashion, rather than in the vague big-point fashion it often gets consigned to. The theory was that any word could be used powerfully if used properly and I went on, in a Welsh passion, to elucidate the process by which that power is achieved.

If you don’t get it, consider this: “subtle” is one of only two adjectives in this piece, and except for a few necessary function words like the modal verbs “can” and “must”, is just about the only word that is not inherently concrete, yet it achieves concreteness here–precisely because of the twisting, mixing, tearing, feeling, breaking, ripping and bleeding undertaken by the poet (if I may presume to that title).

Even when the song is flowing like blood from a cut, part of your mind needs to be watching for intensity, looking for places where sound, rhythm, meaning, connotation, image and whatever else you are sensitive to can be prodded into bundles of power.

Posted February 28, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

Iamb what iamb   Leave a comment

I’ve been reading what is now The Penguin Dictionary of English Literary Terms and Literary Theory by the late J.A. Cuddon, of whose death sixteen years ago I was distressed to learn when I discovered a version of the book on Scribd while looking for a link for you. One reason for reading this perhaps dull-sounding but in fact quite engaging and certainly rather massive tome is to learn the lingo my beloved second brother, Jonathon Penny, longtime PhD in English Literature, recently published poet and lately aspiring alter ego of one Professor Percival P. Pennywhistle, keeps throwing around. Other reasons include deeper understanding of what I’m trying to do as an almost universally ignored writer of fiction and poetry. This is my poetry blog, so in this post, I’ll write about the poetical aspect of my obscurity.

Now, I’ve been writing verse and occasional poetry for quite a long time. Since the twelfth grade, I think. I call the stage during and shortly after my first formal study of letters my Sound and Fury Period. It was more or less all worthwhile, I suppose, but I can’t understand much of it anymore. The focus back then was on the words much more than on the meaning. As time passed and I learned to be human, I gradually focused more and more on meaning, agreeing with Pope’s epigram, remembered from twelfth grade English Literature, that “The sound must be an echo to the sense.” My beloved second brother disagrees with me on what that includes and excludes and I’m sure that if you compared our respective productions, you would find a few passages representative of the debate–unless you share his background in literature. In any case, though I still bask in assonance and imagery, singing so as to be comprehended is part of the deal these days.

A new phase in my development as a turner of phrase and rhythm is called for now: breaking free of the iamb. Blame it on Shakespeare, but iambs, often in pentameters, seem to flow from my inky tongue like love from a Teddy bear. All right, English is largely iambic, but it’s long bothered me that so many of those limping pairs crowd up the music of my flowered speech. Imagine my joy, therefore, when I managed to write an entire poem (“Eye Contact with a Bull”) without obvious intrusions by the lame-footed folk. There may be one or two hobbling about, but they did not congregate in mobs.

To the end of varying my feet, so to speak, I have made a list of the various feet so far encountered in the Dictionary. Someday, as an exercise, though hopefully a productive one for this blog, I will deliberately practice with them. I do not hereby eschew the iamb, faithful if plodding companion of many a literary jaunt, but I need a few other buddies to hike with. Iambs are jealous, though. It’s going to take some fierce snubbing to keep them down.

Posted February 22, 2012 by markpenny in Uncategorized

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