Week 9: Duel Task (Poem Revisions!)

Week 9: Duel Task is a two part assignment for the remaining Project Verse contestants. Below you will find the poems from the revision portion of the assignment.

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EMILY VAN DUYNE

ORIGINAL:
Elegy

Oh My God, the angels
wear white gloves on their left hands!
Eternity’s a big fat fucking show
tonight, vacuous black churned white

& glittering. I can see it
from my little clammy foxhole. The sky
is vintage celluloid, the hell with digital.
I hope you didn’t think

you’d make a nice clean break!
For’s Christ’s sake, don’t fail
us now— the stars went scuttling when
they heard you coming! You wouldn’t

leave us with no light
to top the bill? You couldn’t leave
us in the dark. We need another
comeback, need to know this isn’t how it ends—

(if you can end, then so can we)
& trust this Jersey girl who stalks
the sky— we never cared for your humanity.
The world’s no

stage these days, it’s just a screen,
some dumb flat firmament; convince me
why your death would break the mold.
Look up— even the moon’s turned out

for you; old hag of rag & bone,
she’s donned her crescent gold, she’s
donned her best. She’s know
tonight she hosts an honored guest.

REVISION:
Elegy

Oh My God, look up! The angels wear white
gloves on their left hands! A chorus line of shimmy

hipping seraphim. Eternity’s a big, fat blazing
show tonight, vacuous black churned white

and glittering. The sky is vintage celluloid, the hell
with digital. The world’s no stage

these days, it’s just a screen, some dumb
flat firmament; why should heaven break

the mold? Even the moon’s turned out! She’s donned
her best, crescent gold. She hangs in wait

for your arrival; the stars are milling in the aisles.
Mars has snagged the house’s choicest seat. So sorry,

but there isn’t time to sleep! Look, there— the lady
moon’s sashayed into eclipse for your debut:

your show will go on, with or without you.

Emily revised her poem from Week 3: Simile Vs Metaphor, and her strongest line selection is and glittering. The sky is vintage celluloid, the hell.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I’m glad to see this revision as well. The original was somewhat confusing and the revision seems to me more easily applicable as a general elegy and reads as more sad and more powerful to me because of that. The end “your show will go on, with or without you” is lovely and could be said for and to many who have died, not just Michael Jackson (which I think was the inspiration for the poem). I like the revisions of the beginning too, though I did miss the “big fat fucking” line in the revised version. I agree with Emily about he strongest line, and I think this is a fine revision.

Dustin: I remember my disappointment when I read the original version of this poem. You’ve taken most of that disappointment away. Your original poem was almost in the land known as hot mess, but your revision rescued it. I do believe there is still something missing from this poem, but I’m not quite sure what is missing. I’m happy you picked this poem, and I like the line you picked as your strongest.

Dana: Very much loving your revisions. Now the piece, which still does not mention Michael Jackson, is about more than him, so the whole thing works beautifully. The elegy is now, in my reading, not to Jackson specifically, but rather to the fact that: “The world’s no stage / these days, it’s just a screen, some dumb / flat firmament.” This move positions your poem as being contemporary in terms of pop culture but also as being conversant with literary history. The allusion you make to the world being a stage, and how we’ve moved beyond that, is remarkable — as in, something to be remarked on, as I am doing right now. You do a lovely job with the extended metaphor, creating an entire world inside this poem. I love the line you chose as your favorite from the original, and I feel the new form really helped snap this poem into place.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: Yes to the couplets! The poem is much “cleaner” in this version—earth and sky, humans and angels, digital and analog. This is a lovely poem—“sashayed” and “snagged” indeed.

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W.F. ROBY

Original:
Singing “Death Letter” at Dawn

Crickets out there singing “Teach me, teach me.”
My baby she wrote me a candle
just long enough to read her letter by,
in the time it takes to flip the record.

My baby she wrote me a candle
in the moonlight sharp as chicken bones.
In the time it takes to flip the record
my baby kicked holes in the toolhouse.

in the moonlight sharp as chicken bones.
Now I look for the grave at my toes.
My baby kicked holes in the toolhouse
until the sun went cannon dark,

now I look for the grave at my toes.
My baby she wrote me a cloudburst —
until the sun went cannon dark,
just long enough to light a candle by,

My baby she wrote me a cloudburst —
my baby she wrote me a letter
just long enough to light a candle by,
just short enough to skip the record.

My baby she wrote me a letter
just long enough to read her letter by,
just short enough to skip the record.
Crickets out there singing “Teach me, teach me.”

REVISION:
A Song Written on the Wall of the Communal Shower
Crystal Beach, Texas, 2002

The beach road’s jutting stripes spit back.
We lost the rubber of a tire
scouting out a pasture where two horses
melt a little every day. The cut still smells like meth —
the cops are quick to point their pens under umbrellas.
That night we spit smoke, waved off the storm,
wonder-eyed and kicking the ass of the cobweb highway.
We edged out along the front winds, we wrecked
and lost the bet.

Now, there’s a crack in the wall of my beach house
between the screen and the front door.
A flower grows there. When
I pick the flower another bud pops up
in the time it takes to flip a record.
There is a mark on the face
of the latest bloom, this one
bent toward the beach, reaching
for the dune where you rest, where your car
sits torched and whining. The tires spin
against the pebbles set aside
for oyster’s mouths or the sandals of a tourist.

For the sake of wind there are clouds and for
the sake of clouds there are umbrellas, though
the two have never met, in fact would not get along. The sun
puffs cannon dark, setting behind offshore rigs,
painting the water as coconut might stain
the sleeve of a dinner jacket, just
a whistle of color. I wait
for the grave at my toes.
This is the coffee and this is the tea
I drink, lonely as laundry left to stack
and wrinkle in its pile — perhaps
a hyphen is tragic to watch up close but
delicious when seen from a bullet train. Crickets

set up shop while the light drips off to Mexico.
They sing “Teach me” over ankle horns and driftwood.
At night I move with the grace of a death letter —
I jump over rocks, across sand, I jump with feet pressed numb
to the planks buried half in sand, half in sleep.
I find you in the dark, open the car door
callous-stiff and salty. I pull you out, we run
where delicate shore beasts press
their claws against the beads of the beach. And when
at day’s end the sun gives up
we decide we are not ready.
You hold the sun there, heavy on the horizon,
making glass of everything.

W.F. revised his poem from Week 7: Pantoum, and his strongest line selection is At night I move with the grace of a death letter-.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This revision blows me out of the water. It’s so completely different and so much richer and more complex than the pantoum. I love seeing the way the poet recreates the impulse and fashions it into a whole new outfit, as it were. And the language and imagery and movement of the poem all seem rich and surprising and right. “The sun/puffs cannon dark, setting behind offshore rigs,/paintint he water as coconut might stain/the sleeve of a dinner jacket, just/a whistle of color.” I love that “just a whistle of color” I love the dreamy, surreal quality of the poem. This is wonderful and impressive work.

Dustin: I’m happy to see you selected your week 7 poem to revise. You did an amazing job with this revision. Seriously! This poem is splendid in terms of revisions. Yes, this poem could use some trimming in places, but I’m only concerned in the before and after. The place where you pulled this poem, that’s where I want you to write from. On the other portion of the assignment, I stated that you didn’t have control of the poem; you definitely have more control in this poem. I’m also in love with the line you selected.

Dana: I could pick this poem apart in terms of what is not working. But why do that? What I need for you to know is that this poem is so powerful that when I read it while I was at the Wave Books Weekend Poetry Festival, the following three things happened: 1. I could not stop reading it and must have read and reread it for an hour, 2. I chose to read and reread it instead of reading any of the books I had just purchased from Wave authors (and that is saying a hell of a lot), 3. I ended up in the restroom at The Henry, where the event was being held, crying. That’s right. I was overcome by this poem the way I am often overcome by classical music — all that it contains and all that it leaves our for us to insert our own lives, emotions and minds into. This is a risky poem. This is a beautiful poem. I see so much in it, and in you as a poet, when I read it. The difference between the original and the revision is startling. Even that title! Wow.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: I honestly thing you have TWO strong poems here—the pantoum which mirrors the skipping record and this new version which riffs on the original.

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KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR

ORIGINAL:
From the Phrase Book of my Fearful Mother

Adventures are for careless people.
Life is dangerous—then you die.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
Watch out for the other guy.

Life is dangerous—then you die.
Every man will want your body.
Watch out for the other guy.
Eating dessert first is naughty.

Every man will want your body.
Knee his groin; poke out his eyes.
Eating dessert first is naughty.
Don’t believe their twisted lies.

Knee his groin; poke out his eyes.
Never say I didn’t tell you.
Don’t believe their twisted lies.
Unrequited love can kill you.

Never say I didn’t tell you.
Henry James, The Wings of the Dove?
Unrequited love can kill you.
Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and love.

Henry James, The Wings of the Dove?
You should go rent Vertigo.
Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and love.
Stop that, now! You know, I know.

You should go rent Vertigo.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
Stop that, now! You know, I know.
Adventures are for careless people.

REVISION:
My Mother’s Explanation

Adventures are for careless people:
never say I didn’t tell you.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—
unrequited love can kill you.

Never say I didn’t tell you,
when I was young, I was naive.
Unrequited love can kill you;
he loved his art more than he loved me.

I was young, like you, naive—
your father was a terrible spouse.
He loved his art more than he loved me;
those garish abstracts hung in our house.

Your father was a terrible spouse
and he could be a nasty drunk.
Those god-awful abstracts in our house,
my closets stuffed with still-life junk.

Yes, he could be a nasty drunk:
I stayed with him because I should,
filled secret closets with married-folk junk,
and drank until I understood,

I stayed with him because I should.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—
fold your hands. You understand?
Adventures are for careless people.

Kathi revised her poem from Week 7: Pantoum, and her strongest line selection is Unrequited love can kill you.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I can see exactly what Kathi is pushing for in this revision: to create a more clear character, and I would say she is absolutely successful in that attempt. Oddly, though, I felt like the poem was a little flatter in this version, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had read the earlier version, so I knew the general setup, or maybe because the language is a little flat, even though more specific and more effective in some ways. I like the impulse behind this poem, and for further revision, I’d suggest maybe loosening the rhyme scheme so that the language has a little more breathing room. THe poem feels a little like it’s trapped inside something. I do agree that the poem “unrequited love can kill you” is wonderful, and I almost don’t understand the mother, unless she had an unrequited love and then married out of necessity? Maybe there is more to this story, and we need those details here? I don’t think the poem has quite found its final shape, but an admirable attempt here.

Dustin: If we put each line selected by the poets on a list, well, I’d have to go with “Unrequited love can kill you” as my favorite. Great choice! I’m also happy with the poem you selected for the revision portion of the assignment; however, I think there is still some work to be done. Maybe get rid of the cliche “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.” “Yes, he could be a nasty drunk: / I stayed with him because I should”– much better than what you had in the original version.

Dana: I found myself writing “yes, yes, yes” next to so many of your revised lines. Thank you for opening this poem up to the form and all the potential and subtlety the form contains. And you opened up in terms of content as well, letting the reader learn much more about this narrator’s mother — and in the end about the narrator — than before. I personally would have selected the line “Adventures are for careless people” as the strongest from your original, but that’s a minor point, since the line you chose is also very strong. You used the line you chose, and incorporated the line I liked best as well — and you turned out a very strong poem in the end. You’ve created shades and nuance and depth where there wasn’t any before. I do have to say that I like the title better from the original, though, maybe without the word “phrasebook” but instead just “book.”

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: Yes! Great revision. Though I miss the “dessert” line. Anyway to bring that back?

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3 responses to “Week 9: Duel Task (Poem Revisions!)

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