Sunday, 29 March 2009

Poetry - help, please!

The Writers' Group to which I belong meets on the first Wednesday of each Month in our local little town. The topic for Wednesday is "Wensleydale" - a bit unimaginative. I am afraid that in both Literature and Painting, Wensleydale has been "done to death." So I was feeling very uninspired and had decided that I would not make a contribution this month. Then I read about the Roman Ninth Legion. I have written this "poem" (I put the word in inverted commas advisedly, as it is in its infancy). I ask you - my bloggy friends - please cast your eye over it and if you think it is rubbish, please say so. I love poetry and I want to get better at it - I can only do that if I accept criticism - I don't have to take your advice but I would like to hear what you think of it. I shall probably call it "Wensleydale."

"Take the High Road",
he said, Petilius Cerialis.
"Take the High Road!"
And I felt
in my bones
the searing wind,
the driving rain,
the thick wet cloud
that wraps itself round
and enters your soul.

"Defeat Venutius,"
he said, Petilius Cerialis.
"Take the flat-topped hill!
Take the fort!
Destroy the Brigantes!"
And I thought
in my head
of the Tuscan hills,
of the sun
spreading its warm fingers of light
through the pine trees.

In around 70AD the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army marched along the Cam High Road and defeated Venutius and the Brigantes at Addlebrough and Bainbridge in what is now Wensleydale. The Ninth Legion was heard of no more in Roman history and became known as the legendary Lost Legion. Prisoners taken at the battle were sent as slaves to work in the lead mines of what is now Swaledale.

32 comments:

EB said...

Hm. I like it. Not as good as some other things you've written but certainly not rubbish, I reckon. The only bit I don't much like is "I thought/ in my head", bit of a tautology. Maybe I saw in my mind or something (something that fits, not that!) instead?

Rachel Fox said...

Starting off feeling uninspired is always tricky...you're on a downer before you get going!

I think you're probably unsure about this one because it is less about your own experience/feelings than poems you've written before (I think so anyway - is that accurate?). It makes it hard to be sure - is this how a Roman would have felt, is there any truth to it or is it all 21st century...and so on. Is it a subject you feel confident about? Have you read a lot about it etc?

As for the poem...it's certainly not rubbish. It's subtle and fairly simple (which I like) but maybe it's still missing something...partly confidence, partly just that odd surprising line or phrase that will make it stand up that bit taller to be noticed...but I'm no writing tutor or anything!

x

jinksy said...

That opening 'Take the High Road' unfortunately sent me straight to singing 'and I'll tak' the Low Road, and I'll be in Scotland afore ye', which rather spoilt the Roman picture. Me being me, I'd have opted for Wenslydale cheese as my subject - sorry! x

BarbaraS said...

I like this, it sounds like a Roman soldier debating whether he really wants to be in cold, wet England, or whatever they called it back then. Good job they never made it over here, then! They really wouldn't have liked Hibernia...

Sepiru Chris said...

I enjoyed it.

I too stopped at the potential tautology, but decided that it was in contrast to what you thought in your bones... the wet cold that we generally feel in our bones.

Distinctly not destined for the midden, Weaver of Grass.

Sal said...

Hi there!

I think it's brilliant!!
Here are my ideas (just a few thoughts):

I would write this bit below in
2nd person (I often do this with my pupils as it is harder to write in 2nd,yet appeals to the reader!):

And YOU (instead of I) felt
in YOUR (instead of my) bones
the searing wind,
the driving rain,
the thick wet cloud
that wraps itself round
and enters your soul.

and this:

"Defeat Venutius,"
he said, Petilius Cerialis.
"Take the flat-topped hill!
Take the fort!
Destroy the Brigantes!"
And YOU (instead of I) thought
in your head
of the Tuscan hills,
of the sun
spreading its warm fingers of light
through the pine trees.


I would also remove the word 'said' ..but that's just a personal thing.

Have a good day! ;-) xx

Dave King said...

I'm with Rachel: I think you are not confident about it because it's outside your experience - except that there's much you can develop there that would be from your own experience: the weather, obviously. Not treating it as a finished poem, I liked it for its potential. One small nit-pick: I'd get rid of "in my head".

The Weaver of Grass said...

Have just come in from the garden to put in the Yorkshire Puddings (has that got all your digestive juices flowing?) and popped on line to send an e mail - and saw all your comments. Thanks so much - what an inspiring lot you are EB, Rachel, Jinksy, Barbara, Chris, Sal and Dave! Every single comment has made me think a bit more about it - the herbaceous border will ring with lines tried out during the afternoon and then shall try and improve it a bit! You are all brilliant - and who knows who might add a comment this afternoon????

Teresa said...

I like it. I like the strong contrast between what he felt at the time ("searing wind.....enters your soul") and the far more desirable environs he left behind ("Tuscan hills... warm fingers of light") to do his duty.

Had to read it a couple of times to see who was talking when it switched voices. Not sure if it would help to have some subtle clarification as to who's doing the talking (one of Cerialis's solders I assume) or if it carries more punch by letting the reader figure it out by themselves.

Hey, I don't know...I'm no poetry critic... just a part-time poetry fan!

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I come, not to bury your poem but to praise it. Sorry, couldn't resist that!!

Anyone who can write something that I never would have thought of gets my vote. But having listened to the more experienced voices here, I can see what they mean about thinking in one's head etc.

Your view of Britain through the eyes of a Roman soldier compared with his fair Tuscany, however, is certainly appropriate. I hope you do offer it to your fellow members, tweaked if necessary.

HelenMHunt said...

I think you've found a great way to bring a fresh angle to the subject. I don't really know anything about poetry, so I can't comment on it technically, but the emotion in the second verse was really well done.

Heather said...

Definitely not rubbish - I was right there with that unfortunate, cold and homesick Roman soldier and have often wondered how they coped with the less cosy postings in England. I am no writer, so can't offer any advice, but I've no doubt you will do a bit of tweaking until your poem satisfies you.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather, Helen, Derrick and Teresa - when you all stop laughing at Derrick's joke (very funny Derrick, it made me laugh out loud) thanks to you for the comments. Have just come in from a second spell of gardening - and am just going to soak in a hot bath to rid me of backache - but shall tweak and fiddle tomorrow and try to get it better.

Jane Moxey said...

From the far shores of the United States' Pacific Northwest, let me say how much I enjoyed your poem. I went to boarding school in Bath way back when in the last century, and was often imagining of how it must have been in Roman times. I think your poem has all the right ingredients and with a bit of tweaking I think it will be a worthy offering at your group! How I love to read the British humor (British born but American speller now!) in the comments you received. I was so impressed by the excellent critique skills of many posters, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Okay Weaver, you asked, so for what it is worth, here's how I would revise, with suggestions in brackets under the line in question:

"Take the High Road,"
said Petilius Cerialis.
[The doubled commas seem clumsy to me, and slow the line down too much.; also, maybe use 'advised',' ordered', 'shouted', 'whispered' etc. instead of "said"]
"Take the High Road!"
[Drop this repeating line; instead, pull up this line instead: "Destroy the Brigantes!"]
And I felt
in my bones
the searing wind,
and driving rain,
[I like 'and' better for starting this line than another 'the'.]
the thick wet cloud
that wraps itself round
and enters your soul.

"Take the flat-topped hill!"
[Start again with terrain.]
he cried. "Overwhelm the fort!"
[Or 'shouted', etc., but an action word; and I like 'overwhelm' here for taking a fort.]
"Defeat Venutius,"
And I thought
[I'd go with saw or imagined here, to aid the idea of premonition.]
in my head
of Tuscan hills,
[Don't think you need 'the'.]
basking in the sun
[To invoke the mood of home and peace.]
whose fingers of warm light
spreads through fragrant pines.
A reworking of both lines to further carry this final notion along.]

Thus your poem might read something like this:

"Take the High Road,"
shouted Petilius Cerialis.
"Destroy the Brigantes!"]
And I felt
in my bones
the searing wind,
and driving rain,
the thick wet cloud
that wraps itself round
and enters your soul.

"Take the flat-topped hill!"
he cried. "Overwhelm the fort!"
"Defeat Venutius!"
And I saw
in my head
rounded Tuscan hills,
basking in the sun,
its fingers of light, warm as blood,
spreading through fragrant pines.

[I stuck in the 'warm as blood' bit to jar back to the battle theme while adding visual color, and because it reminds of the price of battle; it's also a familiar "warm" metaphor.]

Like I said, Weaver…for what it's worth. You do have the makings of a poem here, perhaps a better poem than you think. Ultimately, good poetry stems from the poet's individual voice and eye and employment of language. You lack none of these. Simply practice, be ruthless and fair and honest in your editing, read other poets critically. And don't allow anyone to sway you from what you feel is right for your poem.stoti

Reader Wil said...

For as far as I can say something about your poem, I would say it's good! I could feel the cold, wet wind in my bones and the homesickness of the soldier, longing for the Italian warm climate. It is at least a poem I can understand, which is not the case with all modern poetry.Sometimes I have the feeling somebody is pulling my leg, when I read modern poetry. And that is not with your poem the case.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Boy! That windy reply could have used a bit more editing on my part! (Or the application of reading glasses.)

Egads!

greg rappleye said...

I love your poem, particularly the ending.

I did a great deal of research on Roman Britain when I was in college––all part of a 4 hour presentation I was required to give for a class on British Constitutional History.

Fascinating stuff.

patteran said...

The problem with presenting a piece of work tentatively (as I have also just done) is that the reader can't approach it neutrally. So each one of us has read the poem in expectation of encountering something about which you should reasonably feel tentative! After a second and third reading, stepping back each time, I can declare that I like it. It is what it is - a brief, gloomy internal monologue from a jaded professional soldier drawing decidedly unfavourable comparisons between Wensleydale and Tuscany prior to setting out on yet another wearying campaign. Poetically speaking, job done effectively, I feel.

acornmoon said...

Well, I don't know much about poetry myself but I rather like it, especially the second verse. It's unusual and evocative, well done I'd say.

mand said...

Right-ho.

I read the poem before the blurb above it, and didn't notice any particular problem (lack of confidence/atmosphere etc) that perhaps i'd have seen if i'd known i was 'meant' to. Iykwim.

The fashion seems to be to use italics instead of quotation marks: eg
Take the High Road,
he said, ...

Personally i would remove two 'the's, leaving:
the searing wind,
driving rain,
thick wet cloud
...

and, like EB, i want to take out 'in my head' but i do realise it echoes 'in my bones'. Hm.

Aha! How about:
And i saw
in my heart
the Tuscan hills
...

In the penultimate line, you could remove 'its'.

But the greyness of Scotland and the goldness of Italy do come across. You can see (i hope) these are all just quibbles, not serious criticisms.

Have you read Rosemary Sutcliffe's The Eagle of the Ninth? It was my childhood introduction (i was maybe 11) to both historical fiction and book reviewing!

And you've reminded me it's time i put another poem of my own on my blog...

ps Personally i always like to try putting poems into the present tense, for immediacy, and very often they stay that way once i've seen them like it.

pps 'Searing' is better than 'driving' - less usual. 'Slicing' rain perhaps?

pps Once i'm started i can't stop! - talking, that is. ;0) Any time you'd like a poem tearing to shreds, in a kind way of course, i'm your girl. 80)

Mistlethrush said...

I'm with Jinksy and the Grizzled-Guy.
Change 'take' to another verb as the memory of the Scottish song is distracting, especially as it comes right at the start of the poem.
Drop the repetition as Grizzly suggests.
If the speech marks are distracting you could delete them and try italicising the spoken words?
I enjoyed the contrast between the two climates and agree it's an effective way into the poem.
Is 'searing' the right adjective here? It has connotations of heat and you really want a cold and dismal word here.
Good luck with the poem - well worth a bit of editing

Arija said...

I love your poem, I really do, where it could stand an improvement is in the last two lines. I often face the same problem and am noyt quite satisfied. I let it sit until I no longer hear it in my head, on re-reading I discover a superfuous word or two. I would have pared the last two lines to:
"spreading warm fingers of light
through the pines."
I hope it helps.

Hildred and Charles said...

I do agree with Mand

And I saw
In my heart
The Tuscan hill

- it touches the emotions more than the logic, which is usually what we see in our head.

I would be pleased with myself if I had written this...

Woman in a Window said...

Weaver, I actually liked it. I thought there was some nice imagery. But my thought is, and it's not necessarily the right one, is that a poem has to provoke emotion. Usually that means you have to come at it with emotion to pass that along to the reader. Just me.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I really like it Weaver. I don't know enough about poetry to suggest technical alterations, but emotionally it resounds for me. It brings back distant memories of 'The Eagle of the Ninth' by Rosemary Sutcliffe, which was one of my favourite books when I was a younger giraffe!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Brilliant bloggy help thanks to all men, women and giraffes.

Totalfeckineejit said...

It's a good poem , I liked it, they are your words and for that reason alone I wouldn't heed anyone els's advice-and that paradoxically is my advice :)

Denise Burden said...

hi, Love the very original response to the title of "Wensleydale". I cannot imagine anyone else in the writers group taking the viewpoint of a 70AD homesick Roman soldier.
For me, the opening line had too may associations with that very catchy song "and I will take the low road". (which now I cannot get out of my head!)
However,I love your description of the Yorkshire climate as "the thick wet cloud". It sums up the weather perfectly for this part of the world and contrasts strongly with his enticing Tuscan homeland. Makes me want to pack my bags and head Southward!

Poet in Residence said...

I think I'd use something like The Lost Legion for the title rather than your tentative 'Wensleydale'. Early on I'd prefer 'around' to round.
The Romans, as you know, often built two roads the High Road or the Military Road and then in the valley a road for normal travel. So to call it the High Road is perfectly acceptable.
I'd stick with first person. But keep in mind that it's a command not a casual conversation so you've got to go with that. It can't really be 'said' or 'he said':
'Take the High Road,'
commands Petilius Cerialis' for
with this poem, it occurs to me, you can try and place it in the present tense. This will take us all back there with you.
I would delete "in my head" for it's obvious that we think with our heads.
Now let's see what it looks like.

mand said...

Guess what, just after following this conversation:

http://www.totalfilm.com/news/kevin-macdonald-directing-eagle-of-the-ninth

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