Rhymes for Our Times

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  8. Illustrated with black and white drawings by Robert Osborn. Marya Mannes poems and robert osborns illustrations are made to arouse impertineence towards sacred cows at the time Condition : Very Good. Gabrielle Gascoigne's delicately poised monologue has the benefit of discretion. For approach, it relies strongly on nuance. By speaking as the observer she evokes the nature of the difficulty all the more effectively - especially as it is a daughter I assume who speaks, who knows the nature of the problem, and must present it to herself and to the world over and over again.

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    The approach in itself reminds me that emotional force can be achieved by restraint, the power of suggestion. One is left with the sense of the poem's narrator being forced into taking too much emotional responsibility too quickly, into being the mother in the effective absence of the mother; and of her doing both so well but at considerable cost to herself. This is achieved entirely as a result of the approach. The poem is very moving as a result, exploring with some tact the lineaments of human generosity and loyalty. I'm Muslim. I'm here. My eyes an oblong, the rest black. Some kids still loop-the-loop, but are resigned.

    I like the fragmentary surface of this poem: the language is full of movement and the poem seems to have been written five minutes ago, always a good sign.

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    The piece moves so freely, you could be forgiven for missing the strategically softened rhymes that anchor it to the page. The tranced suspension of those Dickensonian dashes, too, work well. All these are evidence of effective technique, but does the poem quite know what its subject is?

    As in James Roderick Burns's poem, the approach and subject matter flirt with one another, but do they meet?

    Subverse: Rhymes for Our Times

    When subject and approach and technique meet each other, in any poem, the effect is usually dynamic; this sort of coming together may be what we all are looking for when we write. There seems to be a certain sort of coyness in this poem which won't quite declare what its subject is. There's certainly electricity in the language of Gillian Laker's poem. It has a good sound, and a strong sense of the form which seems to have followed its own track as it declared itself on the page - a self-evolving poem. It'd probably work very well as a performance piece, when the reader might know exactly how she intended it to be read.

    But the instructions to the reader - as a poem on the page - are a little wobbly, perhaps. The complete suspension of punctuation seems less an organic part of the poem than a shyness about attempting to control the piece with punctuation. They have little internal logic and there's no transition between the two halves of the image even though they sound appealing.

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    For me, this technical confusion got in the way of the poem and its subject. I slapped his arm without thinking. There are some memorable phases in this poem by Jennie Mejan.


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    Most admirable is the way the piece sustains this directness of approach. If Gabrielle Gascoigne's poem achieved power through restraint, Jennie Mejan's achieves it through directness.

    Beats and Rhymes: The Oral Tradition

    Reading through this poem several times I wasn't aware of a false emotional note. Purgatory or hell, it's immaterial. This is an ominously exact little piece, with skillful management of the quatrains: it gives us a glimpse of urban madness, reinforced by the references to Bosch and Dante; it gives us a glimpse of a journey out of the safe and ordinary world, and is suitably urgent.

    I imagine the whole poem set to the wail of a siren, though the siren is not referred to. The decision to keep the poem short, in close swipes, is a good one. The trouble with shorts, however, is that they have fewer words and must endure closer scrutiny of every word and every phrase as a result. That third line "the one grim truth ineluctable" read in one way, has an oddly aureate ring to it; and once that otherwise compelling image in parenthetical dashes has been introduced to the last stanza, "cavalcade" should surely become "cavalcades", for the purposes of euphony, if not of grammar.