Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Duke Altum's Poetry Workshop (Poem of the Week #47)

Nothing like putting yourself out on a limb... well, for this week's Poem of the Week I've decided to try something different. The author of the poem featured is none other than yours truly. I'll pause politely to allow time for laughter...

...thank you. Seriously, by now it's no surprise to readers of this blog that I've got a deep interest in poetry, both as a reader and, in my more confident/foolish moments, a writer. I enjoy the process and the challenge of writing poetry -- whether or not I meet that challenge is something I am certainly not qualified, nor sufficiently objective, to judge. But it's almost besides the point. I say 'almost' because no one who writes poetry sets out to write bad poetry -- if one were to be satisfied with that, one has no business writing or expressing anything! And yet, I honestly don't find myself worrying about whether or not my poems reach an audience beyond myself and maybe a few of those I am close to. For me, at least in this stage in my life, the challenge of writing a few decent lines -- and the thrill that comes along with the suspicion that you might, just might, have actually done so -- is enough to keep me coming back to the pen and the paper (actually, the keyboard, if we're telling the truth... but somehow that doesn't sound as, well, poetic).

Whether I've done so or not with this poem, I can't say... but then that's one of the reasons why I wanted to post it. My idea here is to throw it up here as a "work in progress," much like Mutt's unedited novel excerpts (notice the glaring lack of quotes there Mutt!), and see if I can't elicit some free constructive feedback from TST's legion of faithful readers.

So without further ado or annoying commentary, here is the raw first draft of a new poem I've been composing in my head, and then on paper, for the last few days. It originates from a very tragic accident that occurred in a town just down the road from ours over the past weekend. I don't want to say anything more about it, by way of introduction, than that. With any luck, the poem itself will say what it has to say (although its subject is, by nature, pretty opaque!).

I invite comments, constructive criticism, questions or suggestions for improvement from whoever's interested...



The very properties of the ice
that failed to support the small boys,
whose combined final tally of years
barely stretched across two decades,
seem to apply to the arguments
claiming that the same God
Whose breath buffets the sparrow’s wing
wasn’t somehow looking away
when the younger brother
(ignoring his mother’s explicit warning)
stepped out onto the water’s beckoning surface
on that ashen afternoon.

Painfully brittle.
Shockingly cold.
Human reasoning, like pond ice,
shatters easily under the slightest pressure.

Whatever praises we might express
for the foolhardy bravery
of the older brother’s attempted rescue
are instantly numbed silent
as hope’s tenuous structure shatters
and the hyperborean flood of death
engulfs the heart, stopping it cold in mid-beat.

I have sons too, and I know
my faith in that same God
Whose breath buffets the sparrow’s wing
offers me, just as it offered
these precious boys’ hapless parents,
no blessed assurances
that the world’s ubiquitous sufferings
will spare them.
Yet their very presence scintillates
my life with miracle every day,
bearing witness to transcendent graces.
As surely the Robinson brothers' did
for those who knew and loved them --
whether it was acknowledged or
(God forbid)
realized only in hindsight,
in a winter morning’s awful clarity.

(For Jarris Robinson, age 8, who drowned on 2/11/07 in Cambridge, MD, after falling through thin ice on a pond -- and Aaron Robinson, age 12, who also drowned when he tried to rescue his brother. Recquiescat in pace Dei. And for their parents.)


Mutt Ploughman said...

Man, i've been trying to get Duke to do this for THAT'S what I'm talking about!!! Since this blog is a forum for and about literature, I see no reason, as my novel excerpts attest, why we can't use it as a means of getting our own literary efforts out there as well and soliciting comments. I am super-psyched that not only did Duke finally post one of his own poems out here, but he posted his latest work, a poem which demonstrates where he is at the current moment in terms of his development as a poet.

Duke is slowly developing a more focused and accomplished eye and ear for poetry, as I told him offline, and this new poem is a demonstration of that. I heard about the indicent he has written about here in the news, but as we might expect from a poet, Duke has taken this terrible tragedy and spun it into an interesting and insightful direction with this reflection on his own situation as a father and his own faith.

Note the elegant lyricism too of some of Duke's lines here: 'the same God whose breath buffets the sparrow's wing'; 'the hyperborean flood of death/engulfs the heart'; the way Duke's sons 'scintillate' his life 'with miracle every day'. As someone who lives with children who do similar things, I can attest that this is a father's awe and love for his kids beautifully expressed here by Duke.

Nonetheless it is the superb title (which i had to look up but which means a kind of defense of one's faith in the face of the world's evils) and the concept of the poem here that is the most exciting because it reveals a pattern emerging in Duke's poems. He has steeped himself steadily over the years in his Catholic and Christian tradition and in the work of great Christian thinkers and writers. At the same time hsi interest has grown gradually in poetry and he has made a personal study of great poets as well. As a result I think Duke is forming a unique perspective that combines his spiritual insights, his life experience as a DAMNED hard working father and husband, and that poetic eye and ear I mentioned earlier. It's getting easier to spot a "Duke Altum" poem: lines about grace and every day miracles, sprinkled through with references to the great Christian thinkers and artists that came before us, and enriched with the silently accumulating wisdom that is God's gift to those men of the world who work hard, pray, listen, love and protect their families, and stay humble.

I praise and encourage Duke for sharing his poetry here.

Duke Altum said...

Thanks for your generous praises and feedback Mutt! It is gratifying especially to think that "it is getting easier to recognize" one of my poems -- I would love for that to be the case, either now or one day down the road... as we've talked about before, to me the great challenge of poetry is to say something about universal themes -- things that everyone can be touched by or relate to -- in a way that's somehow utterly new and different. Only the very best poets can achieve that, but it is an interesting and rewarding (and sometimes frustrating) thing to try. When you think about it, it is very, very difficult to say something about a tragic accident like this that hasn't already been said by countless believers and/or non-believers before you. But maybe you can say something not necessarily new in a way that strikes people in a way they haven't been struck before. I would't go so far as to say I've definitely done that here, but that was the high bar I was aiming to clear. No one faults the pole vaulter for taking a shot at the world record...