Growing Up Once More
Silver-haired, bony cheeks, need an escort,
Yet would like to sit near the window,
Taste creamy chocolates, ice creams,
Saunter in the parks, sit in the swings,
Learn to crawl, walk, run,
Behind the butterflies, wings, feathers
Learn to count, read, write once more,
Accompany them to the shore, building myriad vanishing sand castles,
Learn to act, react, realize
Pigeonhole to infinite roles—
At schools, colleges, offices, organizations “homes”
Yet doesn't end the cycle
Begins the peregrination with another generation
Same process, same steps, same formulae
Yet everything remains a mystery
To mysterious man,
Never unravels the patterned parcels or pondering puzzles
And continues the race.
Copyright 2010 by Gargi Saha
Critique by Tracy Koretsky
Somewhere during my primary school years, a teacher gave me an exercise that I have never forgotten. We were handed a copy of a poem—I don't recall by whom, but you can imagine someone like a Gerard Manley Hopkins—and asked to connect sounds, both consonant and vowel, by circling them and drawing lines between. The result looked like a plate of spaghetti; no wonder it gave one's mouth so much to chew. It was this same unadulterated mouth-joy that drew me to this month's poem by Gargi Saha, an English teacher residing in Israel. Phrases like “Pigeonhole to infinite roles” or “the peregrination with another generation” simply make one happy to speak aloud. So let us, at the top of a new year, allow a poem whose very subject is the passing of time, to remind us that poetry can do this.
But first, before I say more about Gargi's poem, I'm going to digress briefly to discuss Gargi's submission—the email to me that contained her poem—because proper submission protocol is of relevance to all Winning Writers readers.
Try to imagine the tasks of a contest coordinator and judge, sometimes, but not always, the same person. Imagine the sudden deluge of mail that must be processed, the task of combing out those that will enter a second round, and so on. There will probably be a time when poems need to be separated from contestants' names, another when poems might be printed out. Imagine all this and take pity.
To be kind to a contest judge or poetry magazine editor, keep your submission simple. All that is needed is a single sentence saying that you have pasted below (or are attaching, according to the rules) an entry. Flourishes beyond that are not considered professional in the United States, and you may hurt your chances by adding them.
Then paste your poem in the body in plain text—no html, no fancy fonts, background or images. If you want your work read more than once or twice, make it easy to print out.
One more caveat before I let this go: think several times before you choose to center your poem. I challenge you to go to any of the fine magazines that contribute to the annual Best of the Net online anthology and find a single poem that uses this format. Why? Because English is read from left to right, and anything but a left to right movement interrupts the reading and calls attention to itself. If there is a compelling expressive reason to center your poem—say for example, its title is “Center,” then by all means do so. In every other case, and I would be doing a disservice if I were not frank, you are marking your work as amateur.
Now to Saha's poem. No one can ever know the process of another writer, but my instincts tell me that this was a piece that rushed forth from its delighted author in a flow of inspiration. One clue is that there is a grammatical error in the first line: it should be “needs” an escort. A second clue is in the double use of the word “cream” in line 3. It is as if the author is warming up. But right from the beginning, Saha follows where her ear leads: bonEE chEEks nEEd /silVER hAIR/ Silver, cheekS, needS, eScort…
Somewhere, perhaps with the rhyme between “creams” and “swings”, it seems to me, Saha hits her stride and begins to understand what her poem will be about, what its logic will be. She then directs her reader toward the predictable conclusion, but with such a tumbling forth of nonschematic rhyme that the journey is like a carnival ride.
It is always useful, when revising one of those pieces that seems to flow from us whole, to ask: where does the poem actually begin? Often, for the initial few lines, poets do the literary equivalent of clearing their throats.
One method to find the best beginning is to identify the first really striking phrase. For this poem, for me, that would be “run/Behind the butterflies, wings, feathers” where Saha moves backwards from whole to part in a way that both surprises the reader and seems true to the expression of a toddler's chase. So, starting the poem with “Run behind the butterflies” is one experiment Saha might try.
Another method for finding the beginning of a poem is to break it into narrative sections. As it stands, there are four lines of set-up, then seven of chronological development, then four lines of response to the development, and finally, four more lines of response to response. That's a lot of movement for a piece of this length, especially the response to the response, which complicates the reading in a good way—a well-paced poem.
But how much of Saha's set-up is actually necessary? How much does this particular ice-cream eater add? She may be the inspiration for the poem, but that does not mean she needs to be part of it. On the other hand, if Saha began her poem with an imperative (which could be lines 3 or 4 or 5), the reader would be invited to participate in the reading. Suddenly it is a poem about the reader, not about a particular woman. Rumor has it, readers tend to enjoy poems about themselves!
Lines 5 through 11 operate chronologically. One experiment Saha might try is inserting one or both of lines 3 and 4 into their correct place chronologically. If she keeps line 3 (for its rhyme with “swing”) I hope she will consider changing the first half to remove “creamy” and allow other sounds in the lines to suggest words—perhaps something with a long “i”.
While on the subject of lines 5 through 11: a little paring. The words “shore” and “castle” imply the word “sand”. Saha might want to cut that word and also “organizations'” (note possessive after the “s”.) which is implied so much more effectively with the quotation marks she has placed around “homes”.
Within the final six lines, undoubtedly the poem's strongest, line fourteen is the weakest link, not nearly as fresh as the line before it or the two lines after. I'm not sure the concept is completely necessary and think the line could just be cut, but if the concept is important to Saha, she has already well demonstrated that she can make it more fun to say.
Finally, a thought about the title: should Saha choose to remove the woman from the poem, it would no longer make sense. More importantly though, as it stands, the title gives away the surprise of the poem, taking away some of the pleasure of the discovery from the reader. Sometimes the lines we remove suggest titles. “Formulae”, for example, might work for the next draft.
But, if I am at all correct about the origins of this poem, I suspect that what will be the most difficult in its revision will also be the most important: Saha must not sabotage its infectious energy. Somehow, she must summon it again, enhancing and honoring what is genuinely delightful about this piece.
Where could a poem like “Growing Up Once More” be submitted? This style of poetry is most likely to be appreciated by local literary societies and publications geared toward emerging writers. The following contests may be of interest:
Poetry Society of Virginia (Adult Categories)
Postmark Deadline: January 19
Prizes up to $250 for poems in over two dozen categories including humor, nature, and a variety of traditional forms
Kent & Sussex Open Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by January 31
Prizes up to 800 pounds for unpublished poems by authors aged 16+, from a venerable local writers' group in Britain; fees payable in pounds sterling only
Tickled by Thunder Poetry Contest
Postmark Deadline: February 15
Quarterly contest from Canadian literary journal offers prizes up to C$75 for unpublished poems; online entries accepted
Chistell Writing Contest
Entries must be received by February 28
Free contest offers prizes up to $100 for poetry and short fiction by writers aged 16+ who have never been published in a major publication; no simultaneous submissions
Oregon State Poetry Association Contests
Postmark Deadline: March 1
Twice-yearly contest offers prizes up to $100 in categories including traditional verse, humor, open theme
This poem and critique appeared in the January 2010 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free).
Categories: Poetry Critiques