The Bull Sea Lion – revised

The Bull Sea Lion
revision draft one
Elliott batTzedek

A dream of an ancestor common to
condor, human, and whale, astounding
bulk, floating grace: flying—
the nature of matter before the invention of falling.

Gravity was less
in Earth’s youth, levity the law
before the weight of battleships and
bombers leveled probability.

And now a bug-faced selkie
in neoprene skin enters the water,
surprised by her soaring, by the sudden
shadow of a black lithe ton.

Muscles frozen rubber—how prey feels.
How mammal flesh, drawn to mammal flesh
considers the mass of his body, yearns
for some ancestral embrace.

I reach my unwebbed fingers to him.

He dives to where I cannot follow.

__________________

revision from a new work workshop. Earlier drafts here

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if you’ve even remotely been following my syntax fascination

then you’ll get why my mind was completely flooded with the power and genius, and yeah, muscle and sinew, of this particular John Prine lyric, heard so often but never before like this, at the BonTaj Roulet Tour concert last night:

“if dreams were thunder, lightning was desire”

jesus. Listen to the difference if he’d used parallel phrasing instead of reversing the subject/predicate in the second phrase:

-if dreams were thunder, [if] desire was lightning
or
-if thunder were dreams, lightning was desire

And speaking of difference, the lyrics John Prine wrote actually went:

“if dreams were lightning, thunder were desire”

but only he seems to sing it that way; everyone else follows Bonnie Raitt. Well, hers did get massive popular coverage. But I also think her version has a better logical flow, it fits the rhythm of our common speech. We say “thunder and lightning” not “lightning and thunder,” even though, in fact, thunder comes from lightning. But folk idiom is powerful, it is ingrained in our brains early on. And our brains remember phrases whose spoken sounds start at the front of our mouths (that “lie” sound) and then move to the back (that “der” sound). So did she intentionally rewrite? I’m betting probably not, but that singing the lyric in way that says “thunder lightning” was how she remembered it. Because it is, in fact, more memorable than how Prine wrote it.

Although I always love that Prine used the grammatically proper “were” in both of his clauses.

______________________

And…

if you think I wasn’t also blown away by how Bonnie Raitt gets more beautiful, more powerful, more rich and more astounding with age, and by where in my body her music gets me, then why do you think you know me well enough to be reading my blog?

BonTaj Roulet

BonTaj Roulet

Listen Here:Angel From Montgomery

muscle and sinew and music, clarity and resonance and power

from The Art of Syntax

After one hundred years of free verse invention and mastery, contemporary poets need not focus solely on lineation or fall unthinking into one of the dominant conventions of our time: on the one hand, a “sincere” poem made accessible by predictable simple declarative sentences, all about the same length, chunked by end stop and end pause into three or four roughly equivalent short lines; on the other hand, an “edgy” poem of passive predication or no predication at all, sentence fragments torqued by violent enjambments or arranged for a purely visual effect on the page.

Most of us who write poems rather than prose have very high formal appetites. Lineation affords quite evident and audible opportunities for making pattern, and we will and should go on exploring them all. But it’s useful to remember that other sorts of pattern are also there for us to use—rhythms inherent to the language we write in, the source of its muscle and sinew and music, its clarity and its resonance and its power.

“But did you MEAN to write it that way?” Two

from The Art of Syntax

The making of a poem is not a performance but an adventure, an act of discovery. Most poets of high formal appetite often do perceive, in advance of the concrete materials of the poem, some shape or heft or tone or set of means—what Susanne Langer calls a “formal apprehension.” […] The more alert and experienced the poet, the more numerous those options have been, whether in the heat of composition or in later revision, whether self-conscious or intuitive. The intuition, after all, was tutored by the many poems the poet had previously read and written, their many choices.

It doesn’t matter whether the analytical left brain decides or the “intuitive” right brain: both belong to the poet.

“But did you MEAN to write it that way?” One

from Ellen Voigt The Art of Syntax

After detailed analysis of a poem, someone usually asks whether all that has been pointed to—or any of it, for that matter—was intended by the poet. The truthful answer seems weaselly: yes and no. It’s probably not often an authentic poem of “felt though” emerges solely from a willfulness intent on all the effects I have identified, any more than studying your feet as they move will help you down the stairs. But the mirrors in the ballet studio have a purpose: neither a first-position plie nor skillful iambic pentameter occurs spontaneously in the human animal.

Sonnet

Sonnet
Terrance Hayes
from Hip Logic

We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.

We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.

We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.

We sliced the watermelon into smiles.
We sliced the watermelon into smiles.

Feeling Fucked Up

Feeling Fucked Up
Etheridge Knight

Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs—

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

What She Was Wearing

What She Was Wearing
Denver Butson

this is my suicide dress
she told him
I only wear it on days
when I’m afraid
I might kill myself
if I don’t wear it

you’ve been wearing it
every day since we met

he said

and these are my arson gloves

so you don’t set fire to something?
he asked

exactly

and this is my terrorism lipstick
my assault and battery eyeliner
my armed robbery boots

I’d like to undress you he said
but would that make me an accomplice?

and today she said I’m wearing
my infidelity underwear
so don’t get any ideas

and she put on her nervous breakdown hat
and walked out the door

Lucinda Lyric Interlude

Because this song has gotten me through some rough spots in the past. Because it just popped up on Ipod shuffle. Because it is a great example of syntax and line being simultaneous. Because, if you are someone who deserves it, this song kicks your ass.

“Changed the Locks”
Lucinda Williams

I changed the lock on my front door so you can’t see me anymore
And you can’t come inside my house, and you can’t lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door

I changed the number on my phone so you can’t call me up at home
And you can’t say those things to me that make me fall down on my knees
I changed the number on my phone

I changed the kind of car I drive so you can’t see me when I go by
And you can’t chase me up the street, and you can’t knock me off of my feet
I changed the kind of car I drive

I changed the kind of clothes I wear so you can’t see me anywhere
And you can’t spot me in a crowd, and you can’t call my name out loud
I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train so you can’t find me again
And you can’t trace my path, and you can’t hear my laugh
I changed the tracks underneath the train

I changed the name of this town so you can’t follow me down
And you can’t touch me like before, and you can’t make me want you more
I changed the name of this town

I changed the lock on my front door, I changed the number on my phone
I changed the kind of car I drive, I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train, I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town