with critique by Jendi Reiter
Why does the sky steal
my grave mood
like a copycat?
Like a confused maiden that gets all heedless
it loses its possessions and lets them fall to the earth.
With same look as beauteously sparkling diamonds
but all useless still—
for when I stretch out my hand they melt on the surface
like common water.
So, tell me sky:
you, that you are our guardian,
did you come to scorn mankind?
of its precious tears
erodes my mind.
There I see them—
they crash against the ground just like
a shy devotee would do against its crush
to have a chance to touch them and be noticed.
How foolish those raindrops are!
Slapping against my coat, clutching, pulling,
as though they want to say
"take me, take me"
—reminding of a whore.
Why do I seek their company still?
That they are a dear companion to my teardrops
—is not the reason.
But that I hope their slaps will give me some of your essence.
Yes, we are far apart.
But we breathe
under the same sky—
it's mere an effort to have you physically.
All day I hear your voice—
oh, may those raindrops bring me the feeling of your skin
and the wild wind present me your smell!
I understand that I am as silly as the raindrops.
But at least
I'll never forget that I wait for you.
Copyright 2008 by A.J.R. Hewitt
Critique by Jendi Reiter
This month's critique poem comes to us from German poet A.J.R. Hewitt. I chose "Note to Self III" for its apt metaphors and gentle lyricism. The restrained pacing of this wistful love poem allows Hewitt to succeed with a theme that could easily shade into sentimentality.
Hewitt piques the reader's interest by posing a question ("Why does the sky steal/my grave mood/like a copycat?") and reveals the answer gradually, through images of loss and transient beauty that awaken a sympathetic recognition in the reader long before the narrator reveals her own story. This is in contrast to a mistake often made by beginning lyric poets, who state their emotions at the outset as a substitute for creating a common ground of feeling with the reader. We can be moved by a poem about a familiar experience, even one that uses well-worn comparisons (raindrops/romantic tears), to the extent that the imagery stirs our own memories of such an experience before the author tells us how to feel.
Hewitt accomplishes this with two winsome extended metaphors. First she compares the sky to a "confused maiden" that "loses its possessions and lets them fall to the earth". Her jewels, perhaps her beauty and purity, vanish like raindrops. One sympathizes with the artlessness and lost innocence of this character, more than if the narrator identified it as herself from the beginning, because the "maiden's" lack of self-awareness contrasts poignantly with the tragedy we foresee. In the next stanza, Hewitt compares the rain to a "shy devotee" losing herself in an attempt to touch her beloved, the earth.
The poem counterbalances this pathos with the narrator's self-criticism, preempting the reader's potential mockery of her romantic melodrama. The same sensations are replayed with a wiser, more cynical interpretation. Perhaps seeing herself through the eyes of the lover who rejected her, she suddenly disdains the persistent rain: "Slapping against my coat, clutching, pulling,/as though they want to say/'take me, take me'/—reminding of a whore."
In the next stanza, whether wisely or unwisely, the narrator is able to integrate even this negative judgment into a love that continues unabated. At last revealing her reason for identifying with the rainy weather, she says of the raindrops, "I hope their slaps will give me some of your essence". The word "slaps" introduces a darker note, suggesting to me that an infatuation like this can slide into the dangerous self-delusion that prefers abusive contact to none at all. Hewitt leaves that potentiality unrealized, but lingering, at the end of the poem, where the narrator is still dreaming that her beloved will acknowledge the connection they share.
Thus, what seems like a simple traditional love poem is actually a subtle and concise depiction of the psychology of love, with its many contradictory moods following in quick succession, like clouds across a stormy sky.
Considering that English is not Hewitt's first language, she has a fine ear for its rhythms and nuances. I have left the poem as she submitted it, but would suggest the following grammatical changes: In the second stanza, add "the" before "same look", and eliminate the second "you" in the penultimate line. In the sixth stanza, change "mere" to "merely" before "an effort". The phrase "gets all heedless" sounds more like street slang than its author probably intended. I would change the line to "Like a confused maiden becoming all heedless" so that the verb can apply to both the maiden and the "it" (the sky) of the next line.
In the fourth stanza, it would be technically correct to add "me" before "a whore", though not necessary for the poetic flow. I rather like the ambiguity and universality of the line without the pronoun, which is why I did not correct it before publishing. At this point in the poem, the narrator is looking at herself through another's eyes, internalizing their negative judgments. Her real fear is not her own self-criticism but the likelihood that her beloved or other onlookers would have contempt for her devotion.
Finally, I would like to see a more interesting title than "Note to Self III", which sounds more like a writing exercise in a notebook than a title in which the author had real confidence. It is also not really accurate, since the narrator is addressing her beloved throughout, not herself. With these changes, this well-written and affecting poem would do well in independent, small-press and local poetry society contests, though it might be considered too traditional for the university-run publications.
Where could a poem like "Note to Self III" be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Writers' Forum Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by the 15th of each month
Monthly award from British magazine for emerging writers offers 100 pounds for unpublished short poems; online entries accepted
Cyclamens and Swords Poetry Contest
Postmark Deadline: November 30
Webzine edited by award-winning Israeli poets offers prizes up to $300 and online publication; previously published work and online entries accepted
Franklin-Christoph Poetry Contest
Postmark Deadline: November 30
Free contest from seller of luxury pens and desk accessories offers $1,000 for unpublished poems up to 100 lines, plus fountain pens for runners-up
Writer's Digest Poetry Awards
Postmark Deadline: December 19
National writers' magazine offers $500 and self-publishing package, good exposure for emerging writers; open to unpublished poems, 32 lines maximum
Write2Help Poetry and Short Fiction Contests
Entries must be received by December 20
Write2Help's contests, offering up to $1,000 for fiction, $500 for poetry, raise money for selected charities; no simultaneous submissions; open to US residents aged 13+
Rhode Island Writers' Circle Poetry Competition
Postmark Deadline: December 29
Local writers' group offers prizes up to $200 for free or formal verse by residents of the US and Canada
Poetry Society of Virginia (Adult Categories)
Postmark Deadline: January 19
Prizes of $50-$125 for poems in over two dozen categories including humor, nature, and a variety of traditional forms; top prize in 2009 is $250 for a sonnet or other traditional form
This poem and critique appeared in the November 2008 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free). If you'd like a chance to be critiqued, please email your poem to email@example.com. 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.