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Discussion: Emily Fragos and Taije Silverman

Part 1:

Other than their use of line breaks and stanza breaks, what makes the two poems by Emily Fragos and Taije Silverman be poems instead of prose works (works written in paragraphs)? 

  1. In Fragos's "The Sadness of Clothes," what purpose does stanza form serve?
  2. In Silverman's "Grief," what purpose is served by NOT using stanzas—or any other convention of verse poetry (such as rhyme and syllabalic count)?

Consider how the prose versions of each of these poems would read, and discuss the differences that occur when the genre of poetry is used instead of prose.

 

Part 2:

How does a poem like Maxine Kumin's "The Excrement Poem" (see below) depend on the form of poetry to handle the subject matter?  

  • Consider, once again, what the differences might be if this were written in prose form instead.  
  • Which language, imagery, tone would still work even if the piece were written as a paragraph?  Which would not still work, and why?
  • Why would Kumin's poem not have the same impact or power if it had reveled instead in the grossness of excrement? 

Discuss your responses in small groups (of four).

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Emily Fragos: Prose Version

The Sadness of Clothes

 

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived their usefulness and cannot get warm and full. You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk. You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone. You explain death to the clothes like that dream. You tell them how much you miss the spouse and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater. You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it, you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs, or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will, they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them. He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Emily Frago: poem version

The Sadness of Clothes

 

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Taije Silverman: prose version

Grief

 

Let it be seeds. Let it be the slow tornado of seeds from the oak tree by the gates to the playground in May wind. Today is mother's day and someone said it is almost impossible to remember something before you know the word for it and the babies in their mothers' arms stare at the seeds and they don't know the word for falling. Nor the word for sudden or whirling. Let it be something that doesn't last, not the moon. Let it not be the rooftops that are so quiet. Let it come to the white doorstep like rain and slide onto the sidewalk not knowing. What is gentle if not time but it's not time that is gentle, what will happen in the future does not matter. Cicadas underground are called nymphs and their wings look like tree seeds. Trapped under skin and as soft as the dirt that surrounds them. Teneral is a word for the days between when the cicada digs its way out of earth and begins to sing and when its self and shell are still a single, susceptible thing. It is impossible to remember. Let it be the years underground, molting nymph skin and moving in the soil without sound. It's not time that is gentle but what unknown sign, a method of counting each spring through the roots of a tree. How they learn from the taste of a root's juice the moment when in one rush they should push up to earth. Teneral, meaning not yet hardened, a sense before a memory of the shell. Let it be the sign in the cells of the blind safe skin, the limbo of gold walling here and there, where the baby waits between a mother's body and the air's tears, he came to my breast and rested, there was no before. Let it be the gold room with its lack of door, that time of day, cicadas will wait until sunset to break through the dirt. Where did he go while I pushed? Let it be. We stood in the tunnel of seeds, windmills, a tree had come to make promises. Rain to stone, rain to street. They seemed while they fell to be lifting and we waited, watching, the baby without words for what we were seeing. Seeds pushing roots, brick, and dirt don't say what they know about time. Rise. For days the whole town will sing.

Silverman, Taije. "Grief," Massachusetts Review, Summer, 2015.

Taije Silverman: poem version

Grief

 

Let it be seeds.
Let it be the slow tornado of seeds from the oak tree
by the gates to the playground in May wind.
Today is mother's day and someone said it is almost impossible
to remember something before you know the word for it
and the babies in their mothers' arms
stare at the seeds and they don't know
the word for falling.  Nor the word for sudden or whirling.
Let it be something that doesn't last, not the moon.
Let it not be the rooftops that are so quiet.
Let it come to the white doorstep like rain and slide 
onto the sidewalk not knowing.  What is gentle if not time
but it's not time that is gentle, what will happen in the future
does not matter.  Cicadas underground are called nymphs
and their wings look like tree seeds.  Trapped under skin
and as soft as the dirt that surrounds them.
Teneral is a word for the days between
when the cicada digs its way out of earth and begins to sing
and when its self and shell are still
a single, susceptible thing.  It is impossible
to remember.  Let it be the years
underground, molting nymph skin
and moving in the soil without sound. 
It's not time that is gentle but what unknown sign,
a method of counting each spring through the roots of a tree.
How they learn from the taste of a root's juice the moment
when in one rush they should push up to earth. 
Teneral, meaning not yet hardened, a sense before a memory
of the shell.  Let it be the sign in the cells
of the blind safe skin, the limbo of gold
walling here and there, where the baby waits
between a mother's body and the air's tears, he came
to my breast and rested, there was no before.
Let it be the gold room with its lack of door, that time
of day, cicadas will wait until sunset to break through the dirt.
Where did he go while I pushed?  Let it be.
We stood in the tunnel of seeds, windmills, a tree
had come to make promises.  Rain to stone, rain to street.
They seemed while they fell to be lifting and we waited, watching,
the baby without words for what we were seeing.
Seeds pushing roots, brick, and dirt don't say
what they know about time. Rise.  For days the whole town will sing.

Silverman, Taije. "Grief," Massachusetts Review, Summer, 2015.

Maxine Kumin: The Excrement Poem

The Excrement Poem

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinous mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today’s last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

Last Updated: 02/09/2017

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