with critique by Jendi Reiter
So...the men want to hear about meat.
About how the carcasses would bleed
when we'd strip away the hides after
slicing a bit at the stomach and feet.
Do they want to hear about hunger,
do you think? The emptiness that
drives an animal to take the bait
moments before cold steel jaws spring
everything they catch in their grip?
Should I tell about the owl I saw
upon a riverbank? One crisp morn,
early spring, as I ran the traps?
Ran steel traps on the riverbank.
The broken thing sat with one leg snared
and the other leg free, bobbing,
bobbing, bobbing...so I tried to drive
a .22 into its wise old brain.
Turns out I drowned it with a heel
there in the icy water passing.
Yes, I drowned it with a heavy heel
to bring to an end our suffering
early in the New Mexico spring.
Copyright 2005 by Lana Loga
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem, "Trapped in New Mexico" by Lana Loga, assaults the reader from the outset with the brutal facts of survival in a predatory world. The plain-spoken, repetitive lines summon echoes of old folk songs where nature's laws harshly repay human violence. Here, the trappers themselves are trapped, victims of a fate that their own actions brought down on them. Even the noble owl, an unintended casualty, is implicated in the cycle of predation. His hunger and our own may be equally irresistible, culpable and deadly.
The first line effectively sets the tone of the poem. "So...the men want to hear about meat." The female narrator throws down a challenge to those who prefer not to face the bloody realities undergirding their existence. She is determined to make them see the cost of the life she leads. Setting herself up in opposition to "the men" establishes her basic stance of alienation and aggression. In her world, men and women, human and animal, are at war. The only gesture of sympathy in the poem is an act of violence; she reaches across the divide to kill the owl even as she becomes one with it. "I drowned it with a heavy heel/to bring to an end our suffering".
"Do they want to hear about hunger,/do you think?" The narrator's moment of solidarity with the owl at the end of the poem gives this question a new meaning. Perhaps the same "emptiness that/drives an animal to take the bait" also tempts humans to think they can safely seize the benefits of a way of life that ultimately kills their souls. I sensed an implicit political dimension to this poem, a lament that oppressed creatures would turn on one another instead of joining forces to choose a less destructive way of life.
I loved the rhythmic, incantatory language of "Trapped in New Mexico." Like the refrain of a ballad or the two-part structure of Bible verses, the repeated yet slightly varied phrases "as I ran the traps/Ran steel traps on the riverbank" and "Turns out I drowned it with a heel...Yes, I drowned it with a heavy heel" lift the poem into the realm of legends and archetypes. Loga also makes effective use of intermittent rhymes and assonances (meat/bleed/feet, grip/traps, passing/bobbing/suffering) to drive the poem forward.
I wasn't sure about her decision to change the line length during the pivotal moment, the phrase "shut/killing/and/maiming". On the one hand, the abrupt stylistic shift highlights the importance of these words. On the other hand, as I've said before in this space, I find that single-word lines more often dissipate than enhance the energy of a phrase. Also, in a short free-verse poem such as this, the inclusion of different styles sometimes gives the impression that the author is not in complete control of her material, that she has not settled on a form and tone for the poem. The other stanzas are so intense and economical with words that another line in the same style could still deliver the powerful effect that she intended. One possibility is to put the words "shut, killing and maiming" on a single line, creating a one-line stanza like "Ran steel traps on the riverbank."
Where could this poem be submitted? These upcoming contests came to mind:
New Millennium Writings Awards
Postmark Deadline: June 17
Twice-yearly contest offers $1,000 each for poetry, fiction and essays; style and content of "Trapped in New Mexico" are good fit for this prestigious journal
Mad Poets Review Competition
Postmark Deadline: June 30
Enjoyable journal publishes accessible yet well-crafted poetry that makes an emotional connection with the reader; top prize $100
SSA Writer's Contest
Postmark Deadline: June 30
Society of Southwestern Authors offers $300 prizes for poetry, fiction and nonfiction; follow formatting rules carefully
The Writers Bureau Poetry & Short Story Writing Competition
Entries must be received by July 31
$1,000 in each genre in this contest from a British online writing school
This poem and critique appeared in the June 2005 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter. If you'd like a chance to be critiqued, please email your poem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send your poem in the body of your email, rather than as an attachment. One poem per month only, please.
Several of our critique poets have asked me whether their poem would be considered "published", and therefore ineligible for most contests, after appearing in our newsletter. My guess would be yes, but check with the contest coordinator just in case, because some publishers may treat print and online publications differently.