As first round of The Sonnet Duel is drawn to a close, it is time to close ranks and find the winner.
Unfortunately, not very many people weighed in to offer judgement. Or criticism.
Or ANYTHING! Yes, I am looking at YOU.
So I am left holding the Fort of Judgment. So to speak. As per the highly exact system of measuring poem quality, I shall break down the poems and announce the winner at the end. Ready?
Both contestants adhered to the proper form of a Sonnet. A Petrarchian sonnet in Mr. Thane’s case, and a Shakespearian in Thalia’s.
- “Orual’s Song” kept to a fairly strict pentameter, but in also tended to use “feminine” endings, unstressed syllables at the end of the line. This can be used to great effect, but here it slightly undermines what should be the sharp thrust of that final jab. The rhymes used are pleasant, but they do feel feel a tad forced. However, the off rhyme used – “dragging” and “lacking” – is beautiful. What I wanted this poem to do the most was to have a sharp volta, but where in the Petrarchian sonnet it should have begun in the sextet – that last six lines, the only “turn” came in the exhortation of the very last one line. Overall, the form is forced, and seems unnatural. It IS unnatural, of course, but we do prefer our poetry to feel more organic. SCORE: 7
- “In Memoriam” maintains a slightly l more loose meter and flow. Which, although it does break some of the form rules, also allows the poem to breath. Here the feminine endings do work to inform the meaning of the poem and help to set the atmosphere. Almost every rhyme is an off-rhyme, which allows the poem, which I really love. The turn – in this form it is in the final two lines – is softer that it could be, but as the subject is that of loss and grief, than can be rationed as part of the ulterior meaning of the poem. SCORE: 8
Ah, the elusive substance within all the words and forms and feels. Fortunately, both of these are fairly straightforward in their meanings. I think. Unless I am completely wrong.
- “Orual’s Song” engages with C.S. Lewis’s novel “Until We Have Faces” in a fascinating way. This is a subject ripe for poetic exploration, and most of the lines make reference to specific parts or themes of the book. The violence inherent in this poem – all the reference to blood and bones and flesh and ravaging – do have a basis in the psyche of the speaker, (hehehe, “psyche”! get it?) and can be developed into a much stronger and more cohesive “narrative” arc. As much as one can have a narrative arc on a poem. Also, the final finding of a face refers to Christ, rather than what is the original subject of the book, ie: Orual taking the face of Psyche through love and self-giving. The metaphors gets slightly disarranged and confusing – there are so many of them! – but I think this subject has great potential. SCORE: 8
- “In Memoriam” has a marvelous conceit: that of memories being diamonds. I do not recall this having been used before. It has so much potential! The meaning itself, treasuring the memories of a lost friend is not original by any means – see Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” – but Thalia does make it her own. SCORE: 8
The feel and flow and sound and sense of each poem . . . ah, this might be the most difficult category to give a specific judgement to. But, I shall attempt to rise to the occasion do so anyway. (If you disagree, feel free to comment!)
- “Orual’s Song” has a very difficult subject. (A good subject!) So it makes sense the lines are difficult, both in following their syntax to some extent, and in trying to pronounce all the harsh syllables. Read out loud, the words get in the way of the meaning, rather that facilitate it. The subject itself, although certainly worthy of a sonnet and approached from what should be a deeply personal angle, feels a trifle . . . cold? remote? academic? It is not as “kick-me-in-the-stomach” real as a poem should be. SCORE: 5
- “In Memoriam” is awash with repressed feeling. Everything is sorrow and hoarding tinged with a slight hysteria. But it is almost too repressed. It seems to walk the line between deep but rational mourning and the threat of a burst of craziness. But it never actually gets there, to that point of bursting. It is held to firmly in place by the discipline of the sonnet. Maybe it shouldn’t be. The very sounds and slightly off kilter rhythm feed into the sense of the poem, and are easily read aloud without stumbling or trying to remember “what was going on at the beginning of this sentence?” It is, in fact, quit fun to say and taste the words in this one. SCORE: 8
Final scores (out of 30 possible points):
The Dusty Thane: 20
Do you disagree? then offer judgement!
The Death’s Head (or: Orual’s Song)
Faceless am I by natural effect
Groping through life, though merely mobile death.
My birthright, damnation, total defect
So potent, I live without slightest breath.
Can driest of bones quench perdition’s fire
To wat`ry redemption themselves dragging?
Escape ravaging flames hot and dire
While ligaments, flesh, and breath all lacking?
Cursed skull! Thou cannot hear the Word from the Tree
And with fright’ning, dark, forlorn, pits thou cannot see!
Yet a mighty, turbulent, crashing flood
With power crimson every bone laving
Skulls into faces, Omnipotent Blood.
Ears hear! Eyes see! Now a face, believing.
I, careful miser, that I am, shall hoard
These diamond memories in a sacred vault.
And while I watchful stand, their jealous guard
I’ll take them up to handle and to hold
Between my fingers. Raised against the sky
I’ll catch, imprisoned, refracted in the deeps
Yesterday’s suns, caught in memory.
In this sequestered way, I fondly keep
The careful count of treasure here. But now
The bloodshot miser’s lot is left to me
As I, enshrouded in my grief, am found
More deeply buried in grave misery.
My hoard, tho’ undiminished and undimmed,
Shall ne’er increase. I am bereft of him.