Friday, October 21, 2011

Help me (re)write my poem, pretty please!

I'm looking for some help here. Not detailed comment. Rather: are these sonnets working, and which ones need to be re-thought.

The sonnets are from my Long Poem about a young woman, Snowdrop, who gets lost in the woods and has horrid adventures. When Snowdrop speaks, it's always in the form of a sonnet (IP, abba cddc efg efg). Sometimes the sonnet stands alone as its own poem; though more often it is split - intercut with other verses, either AV description verses, or other poetic forms spoken by various characters.

I've tried to give each poem some context (otherwise they just read as nonsense). Any thoughts at all on whether these are working, even the most casual of feedback, would be a massive help to me!

Anyways, onwards and upwards:
= = = = = = = = = =
Snowdrop doesn't speak during the opening sections, during which she does a little thieving, returns home and has an argument with her Gran.

1.3: Jenny Twig Dances
Snowdrop and her Gran have made peace after their argument, and decorated the best room of the cottage ready for Christmas. It's past midnight, and Snowdrop has had a strange vision. Following the vision, Jenny Twig (a dryad living in the christmas tree) comes to take Snowdrop into the woods. These lines are intercut with AV lines describing Jenny Twig's emergence, and dance.

"That was a shock, and no mistake! Are you
okay, old woman? Gran? You're fast asleep,
and snoring soon, no doubt. This night, it creeps
like a cat, no noise; our bedtime's long overdue."

"Did you hear a noise, behind us, Gran? A rat?
There's something going on -- is someone here?
This room's got ghosts, I swear, a pinch of queer,
of not quite right ... oh Jesus wept -- what's that?"

"You've got to be kidding! This is a joke, unreal!
There's no such thing as ghosts, just fear and dread."

"Yet you're not real -- you're hollowed like a sneeze
of germs -- don't touch me! Leave us be! Be still!"

"Don't hurt my Gran, please don't! Take me instead!
It's me that's bad, not her; don't harm her, please!"

1.5: Lost
Snowdrop is abandoned in the woods growing on the hill overlooking the marshes. She's panicking. This sonnet stands alone in its own section.

"I've lost my walls! The room has gone along
with heat and ceilings, leaves and mud where once
I had a floor -- I've lost the walls! She danced
with flames -- a freak with bark for bones -- that's wrong:
I'm seeing things awry; I'm dosed on pills
like sweets at Christmas. Close my eyes and reach
my arms out wide and wait until I touch
the walls with fingertips -- oh shit, I'm ill!
My walls have gone: these trees -- exist? But how
can this be happening? The air's so cold,
the earth -- it's hard like concrete frost, the mist
-- it glows? Look up! The moon's still there, still proud
and full. So where's the house? No roof to hold
the night away; my wall's are gone: I'm lost!"

2.4: A Girl in Strange Company, Afraid
Snowdrop has been captured by the Wild Hunt (led by Horsa, co-founder of the Kingdom of Kent) and is now presented to the Fairy Queen. Naturally, Snowdrop knows nothing about fairies or suchlike nonsense. This sonnet forms a single section.

"Too much; too much! This fever strikes too hard
to be a dream: a nightmare rather, come
to test my head; who are you people strung
about this hill? A cult of madness scarred
by life and hope that leads you here to meet
in secret? Like a club of losers left
to dress in costumes, bows and knives, bereft
of families and friends and incomplete --

"and yet she shines like summer caught in hail,
and white, so white her skin and gold her hair
and black her eyes and thin, so thin her face;
she looks at me and I feel -- vile, a snail
beneath a glitter model's heel -- how dare
I stare at her unbowed? What is this place?"

3.3: The Tall Gentleman
On being told where she is (Time Everlastin', a sort of purgatorial place), Snowdrop faints. After coming to, she is engaged in conversation by a well-spoken man who explains their situation to her in further detail. The sonnet is intercut by passages of blank verse.

"I cannot breathe, and yet as seconds pass me by
my chest expands and air moves into me
-- and out again -- my lungs are devotees
of habit: in and out they go, but why?"

"I'm dead. I must be dead: my breath is ice;
I sit on muddied ice and ice encrusts
each stalk of grass ... are you dead too? I trust
nothing. Not ears or nose or fingers. Eyes?"

"They lie to me. They tell me I'm outside
barefoot and dressed for bed and yet I know
I'm dead -- or knocked out cold by robbers, theives --"

"-- perhaps I'm mad, not dead. I'm still inside
the house, hallucinating nightmares. So ...
what must I do to break apart these reves?"

4.4: False Dawn
Snowdrop has more adventures in the wood, including a fight with the Green Children. She runs away and gets entangled in another vision which she doesn't understand. It's almost dawn, and Snowdrop is now running uphill, trying to find a way home. Sonnet is intercut with AV lines describing her attempted escape.

"I am not mad, and this is not a dream.
The world's not right tonight, no doubt of that,
but I cannot -- will not -- accept the facts
my eyes report: lies! Lies and schemes
to make me think I've gone insane. Stop, words!"

"I know these chalks and flints, my soils -- they must
hug the Marshlands, my home is there ... so trust
what you know, not what you've seen, or felt, or heard."

"I am not mad, and this is not a dream.
Look! Just a few more steps and then I'll hit
the top; I'll see the Marsh, the sun half-sliced
by the sea and Dungeness and this will seem --"

"-- a nightmare terror, soon forgotten. Grit
your teeth and push, push, push for your life!"

Of course, Snowdrop doesn't escape - when the sun rises, she dissolves alongside the rest of Time Everlastin'. Part 5 of the poem deals with her regaining consciousness on the hill at the start of another full-moon night ... Time Everlastin' only exists when the full moon coincides with the winter solstice, though Snowdrop doesn't know this

6.1: Caught in the Hug of Madness
Snowdrop has been rescued by a band of Napoleonic soldiers led by a corporal who has gone God-mad. She witnesses a chapel construct itself out of mists. This sonnet forms the opening section of Part 6 ... and isn't working: it needs a severe rewrite.

"How can you know the truth? Does your belief
in wooden dolls give you some influence?
It's stupid -- nonsense -- nothing here makes sense!
This nightmare's only gift to me is grief
and pain; I'm a raver caught inside my head:
there's singers and dancers, folks who hunt and fuck
and pray in churches built from mist! I'm stuck
between the lines of a joke, too sick to shred
this dream. I need advice! I need a sign
to tell me what to do to end this hell --
a list of rules, a tourist guide, a map
of stones and trees that cannot move. A line
of arrows to point me home. I can't repel
my fear ... please! Help me spring this trap."

It's a while before Snowdrop speaks again, during which time she is taken to the Oracle place, where she meets the ghost of her Mother - who apparently walked out of her life when she was much younger. She also meets Jack Frost, a fox who gives her a third vision; and the Shuck - a black hound who herds and protects ghosts.

7.3: The Moon on the Marsh
Snowdrop is rescued from the Shuck's attack by a Roman sea captain, who destroys the dog by quoting Latin verse at it. Now she arrives at the old Roman port built on the hill, again witnessing buildings resurrect themselves from the mist. Part of this reconstruction involves seeing the marshes flooded by the sea. This sonnet stands alone in its own section.

"I know the bones of this place! This tower's stones
were tumbled down the hill and sheep had sheared
the grass to a mat. I watched the ants who reared
their herds of greenfly here; I plucked the thrones
of bumblebees and wound them into crowns --
this place was safe, above the Marsh where I
could breathe the air and watch the seagulls fly
to the sea, free from care. And now it's drowned!
Gran's house is gone, dissolved by waves that chase
the moon's white path to France. No roads, no flush
of light from Dungeness, warning the ships:
beware! The Marsh is a snare, a bastard place.
It binds me down with memories that crush
me flat, and now it's drowned I'm lost in shit!"

7.4: Stutfall Tower
Snowdrop meets the Shaking Land (a victim of the Marsh Ague who lives with the Roman) and tells him about the madness. This sonnet (which also needs a revision) sits complete within a set of AV lines describing the scene.

"You said the sea had swamped the Marsh, as if
it happens every night -- how can this be?
Don't answer! Let me figure out the key
that holds this madness whole -- I saw the drift
of fog across the land turn into waves,
just like the scattered bricks became a church
as I approached it -- tricks of moonlight search
me out, perhaps, or maybe mist enslaves
my eyes! And yet that dog was real, the queen
was real, the little kiddie bled green blood --
that's nonsense! Stop it! Think! The soldiers knew
something, and so do you -- I think you've seen
the answer. Mist: where does this foggy flood
come from? You'll tell me while we eat this stew!"

7.6: Please Stop
This sonnet (which forms its own section) is, I think, the one most in need of a savage rewrite. The Shaking Lad has attempted to tell Snowdrop a story about how Time Everlastin' came to be, involving the Tallyman (the antagonist of the whole poem) and the fairy queen. However, Snowdrop interrupts the telling in some frustration.

"Please stop! You talk in riddles, all of you!
The sailor with his song of cartoon cats;
the man who spoke of doom and hell. The acts
of madness I have seen: a sea that grew
to flood the Marsh, a church that built itself --
this tower! How the fuck am I to cope
without the facts? There's big black dogs that lope
across the haunted wastes of this cursed shelf
of land -- I saw my mother! Spoke to her;
well, argued, anyways. I need to know
about the Tallyman today, like where he hides
and how to stop him. Should I burn the furs
on which he sits, or mumble verses? Show
me what to do so I can jump this ride!"

7.9: Decisions at Midnight
The Roman quotes some more Latin (De Rerum Natura) which trigger images in Snowdrop's head of a human sacrifice - she is beginning to realise that this may be her destiny, as it was her Mother's. Now she stands on top of the tower, where she is starting to learn that she can shape the mist just like (she thinks) the mad corporal and the Roman can. This sonnet, in its own section, is also crying out for revision.

"What new horror is this? I see the knife
my Gran was using when I saw her last
here in my hand. What magic trick has passed
this blade through fogs to me? Maybe my life
is truly done and I'm in heaven, hell --
wherever. Maybe I'm a coma corpse
in hospital, my Gran beside me. Thoughts
have power here: I know this tower fell
before the Normans came, and yet it stands
as proud as men before the beer can choke
their pride away. Did him downstairs remake
it just by thinking it? I need a plan --
I need to learn to use this gift, so folk
will help me out of here for their own sake!"

More adventures occur. Snowdrop leaves the tower and wanders back into the woods, where she meets the Hoodener troupe - a group of mediaeval men who go from house to house at Christmas time 'wassailing'. Naturally, they have to perform for her.

8.5: Shared Bread
Snowdrop is being followed by a man. After the act, the Hoodeners settle down to eat and the man joins them all. She recognises the man, from family history, as the person who is (probably) her Father. The sonnet is intercut with lines of AV describing the meal.

"Look at the state of you! Did I build you
just like I built the knife? The shoe? The rocks
and grass and trees and mad men wearing frocks?
I doubt that you're as real as mists and dew ..."

"And still you're here -- just like the way she spoke
of you: your hair so dark, your chin so wide,
your eyes the hue of slates and muds: she lied
about your death, it seems, sweet man of smoke."

"She claimed you worked the travelling fairs, a man
of grease and moments caught in the swirl of rides --
a sixpence man, a candyfloss of smile
and kiss and grunt between the lights -- she span
a tale of you, my friend! You pledged her a tide
of love: you left her flotsam, jetsam, a child."

9.4: Invocations
When the man (of mud) speaks, he repeats parts of the visions Snowdrop has been having - father or not, he is also the son of the Tallyman, come to claim this night's sacrifice. Snowdrop is wordless until she finds herself in front of the ancient man. This sonnet is intercut with ghazal verses (for the Tallyman speaks in ghazals) where he explains that he has to spill blood to help birth the new year's sun.

"I hear you talk, old man, I see your form:
are you the Tallyman? What do you count?"

"The tears of fear, the cries of those about
to meet your knife -- why do you kill at dawn?"

"Perhaps you are an Aztec priest -- we learned
of them at school: they killed to tame the sun."

"They tried to rule their gods, they were undone:
they culled the hearts of thousands -- still they burned."

"You killed my mother. Now you want my life
to feed your madness -- will my blood make mist?"

"Will dogs and monsters feed upon my meat,
a roast of Snowdrop? Best then take your knife ..."

"... and thrust it deep within my neck and twist
it hard -- a miss will end with your defeat!"

9.5: Dawn
As the ritual proceeds, Snowdrop touches the mist arising from the Tallyman's cauldron. During this section she forms a sword from mist and uses it to smash the cauldron. The sonnet is intercut with lines of AV describing the ritual, and Snowdrop's actions.

"A copper pot, as green as spring with ropes
of smoke coiled inside its rim -- who rests
within its roily depths? Did Mum protest
when shown her final home, did she lose hope?"

"I think this pot is full of life already:
look how it seeks the warmth of flesh, as if
it's lost its way - can it taste the air, sniff
the iron knife? And yet it's so unsteady ..."

"... a newborn lamb caught by the height of legs,
or maybe older, a shrivel of life that once
was whole and strong -- a giant beast -- a god --"

"no saintly prince will ride to save me: dregs
is what I am, the pikey girl, the thief. No lance
to spike this mad insanity, no rod --"

By smashing the Tallyman's cauldron, Snowdrop breaks the spell that binds Time Everlastin' - when the sun rises, nobody dissolves.

10.4: Gran's Cottage
Snowdrop finds her way home, but everything's changed. Beyond the confines of Time Everlastin' a dozen years have passed. This sonnet stands as its own section.

"This is my home: the bricks and slates are where
I know I left them. Someone's parked a jeep
where compost heaps should slump and steam and steep --
who's washed the gutters, fixed the roof? Who's dared
to steal the shittery? Has Gran gone nuts?
She can't have sold the place! I'm gone two days
is all and now she's had the windows glazed!
What is this fresh madness? The doors are shut
and locked -- she never bolts the cottage: who
would want to steal our scraps? It's not enough
that I should have delusions haunt my head
and hunt my flesh; with daylight comes a new
nightmare. I need to think. I need my stuff --
I need to hug my Gran, our rows unsaid."

10.6: Mysteries
After breaking into the cottage to investigate, Snowdrop meets up with the Tall Gentleman. This sonnet - another dialogue - is intercut with lines of blank verse offering the man's thoughts of what is happening.

"How long have I been gone from home? I know
there was a night of terror: madness claimed
my heart and guts, my mind -- I was ashamed
and angry ... visions came to me although
I fought them hard. I killed a man? No -- no!
A nightmare, nothing more! But you were there,
I think -- you told me things, you let me share
your food ... how long have I been gone from home?"

"I broke a window, climbed inside. I found --
a different place; fresh paint, new furnishings
and gadgets -- phones so small -- a thin TV --
computers, fabrics, shoes that bounce and bound --
so soft to wear. I do not know these things!
It's like the future's come to finish me!"

= = = = = = = = = =
That's pretty much as far as I've got. There's going to be another 3-5 Snowdrop sonnets (and other stuff) to bring the whole thing to a conclusion. Like I said, any feedback at all on what works and what doesn't would be massively appreciated!

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