Archive for January, 2009

Frost’s Design

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2009 by Jess Gross

As has been previously stated, Frost’s “Design” is an emblem poem written in two stanzas, with the first stanza centering around description, and the second focusing on meditation. It has also been pointed out that this causes the line between form and structure to blur greatly, which doesn’t exactly help those who have trouble distinguishing the two. To clarify, form is the physical structure of the poem, such as line breaks, etc. It determins how the poem looks on the page. Structure is more of a content issue, which governs the way the content flows and how it relates to itself. In the case of emblem poems, the structure goes from description to meditation, or vise versa.

Frost spend the first stanza describing the characters: the spider, the moth, and the flower. He explains them to us in detail, and even then muses on their apperance. However, in the second stanza, Frost begins analyzing what brought them to where they are. He assumes that whatever it was is nothing good, to bring together such a cruel, ironic picture…that is, if something did indeed bring them together. In “Structure and Surprise,” the author notes that the entire picture is like a cruel joke. There is a lot of white used in the imagery, a color used to convey innocence and purity. The event occours in the morning, and the spider is described “like a child playing with a kite.” As the author mentioned, it would seem that Frost takes a rather bitter approach to the concept of design.

The Current Situation

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2009 by tadros

         In her poem “Prayer,” Jorie Graham is utilizing what is arguably an extensive set of poetic tools to move from her description of a school of minnows to a meditation on human powerlessness.  Perhaps, of this set of tools, however, Graham uses punctuation most prominently.  Her use of punctuation, in addition to facilitating the turn, also influences the visual and aural effects of her poem.  The whole first half of her poem, prior to the turn, is appropriately one long, flowing sentence – a constant current of words.   In this poetic current she describes how the minnows, in reality powerless in that they are “without the way to create current,” combine, “making of their unison…a visual current.”  The flowing, constant nature of her words works in perfect harmony with this description.  Additionally, as this singular flowing sentence is not interrupted by capital letters, it flows visually like a current to the eye as well – and to the ear, as the reader does not stop to punctuate Graham’s stream of expression. 

         The turn in “Prayer” is emotionally jarring; Jorie reaches the ironic line “this is freedom” and begins punctuating her poetry to create short, abrupt sentences.  The beautiful, even serene, imagery of the first section of the poem, describing the flowing current of minnows is countered by a harsh realization of helplessness, vocalized in lines colorless in comparison: “This is the force of faith.  Nobody gets what they want.  Never again are you the same…”.  Graham does not abandon her beautiful, flowing imagery, but it has taken on a contrary purpose when she writes, “More and more by each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself, also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something at sea.”  Her combined images of the sea and of thread, something flowing and continuous, create a picture of flowing helplessness, of an out-of-control current in which the speaker, a member of the group of “nobody”s who cannot get what they want, is swept away under the guise of “freedom.”  Additionally, the capital letters beginning each of her new sentences create a visually (and aurally) choppy effect, destroying the metaphorical current previously suggested by her words on the page.

         I find Graham’s turn highly effective.  Reading the first part of the poem, I am completely immersed in her description, in her current of words.  Her punctuated stylistic shift from the poem’s turn wakes me immediately from my reader’s trance, feeling almost helpless myself waiting for a restoration of flow, of current, and then realizing the negative implications of this current.  I would like to be able to harness Graham’s skill in crafting turn and thus add more depth to my own writing – which most of time I feel is translated pretty sloppily, formlessly, and lacking in structure from my ideas.

“Prayer”-Syntax, Diction, Reversal

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2009 by stephroush

Jorie Graham'”Prayer” is the type of structural surprise I hope to apply in my poetry. Her descriptions create an argument that is refuted/complicated in the meditation. After settling into the continuous sentence structure which supports the languid observation of the minnows, I was suprised by the change, not only in sentence structure and diction, but also in the reversal (in the literary sense of opposite expectations) of where imagery was leading me.

Others have posted on sentence structure and Graham’s diction supports the continuous elements we see in syntax. While her lines are broken throughout with commas, modifiers, parentheses, they contain the consistently inconsistent fluidity of the minnow imagery “turning, re-/infolding,/entering and exiting their own unison in unison.” Her use of present participle verb choice like “making,” “sending,” or “finally-arriving” develops the syntax of the continuous. I am propelled forward by this word choice, feeling increasingly sorry for the minnows which cannot “create current” or “freight or sway by/minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls.” I am focused enough on my pity for the desperate imitation available to the minnows that I fail to recognize the language working invisibly on me until she states, “this is freedom.” What am I to do with that? “Freedom?,” I think, “This is not imagery of freedom.”

The word choice works directly into my reaction. I am told that each minnow is a “miniscule muscle” without individual identity or creative powers and furthermore they are set in a landscape of “deeper resistance” and uncontrollable forces. After “this is freedom,” the present participle is less active and the succession of short sentences breaks the effect of the opening lines. There is still continuous movement, but this is accomplished less through verbs and more through the here it is/not it isn’t statements. What I mean here is harder to explain. It is as if Graham says, “Here is what you want” and “Here is what you get”: “What you get is to be changed.” She writes: “Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through/in the wind, I look in and say take this.” She offers us constant flux in the act of reading, seeing, imitating and the sort of freedom that we can only accomplish so much in the currents of time and thought. She also shifts from that opening unity into repetitions of “Never” which leave me cut off, separated. The combined crafting of syntax and diction were particularly useful in complicating the philsophy of constance and flux. Graham was able to make me question how I percieve freedom and time by juxtaposing the cyclic and fleeting word choices that transformed the image of the minnows.

Frost’s Design of Emblems

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by alc215


Frost’s poem is obviously representative of the emblem structure as he is offering description in the first stanza and switching to meditative thought in the second. Being in this particular structure, I feel that it was almost facilitated for Frost in his ability to shift the poem in the second stanza.

His descriptions are extremely precise which I think is the reason it’s so easy to go from him describing the spider, the moth, and the witches broth, to the questioning that accompanies these ideas in the second stanza. He describes, “dimpled spider, fat and white” and “holding up a moth/Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth…” Frost gives us just enough description to make a clear picture for the reader but does not make his lines so incredibly lengthy that they’re hard to follow. He also incorporates a rhyme scheme, which makes everything relatable and pulls the reader down the page to see how the first stanza is physically describing what is seen, and the last stanza is pondering the observations.

The reason the reader is so easily able to identify the turn of this poem is because Frost doesn’t leave any discrepancy. It’s very obvious when his shift beings because he starts questioning what he had previously observed. He then gets into complex ideas involving the argument of Intelligent Design, which actually became very appealing to me because I did not expect it. There’s also a separate stanza for the reflection, and the white space between the two stanzas really aids in allowing the reader to recognize the change.

I definitely think that as a writer, if I concentrated my efforts, the structure Frost displays would really help me to create a strong poem that is well constructed. I also enjoy the idea of having an element of surprise that no one anticipates like we see in the final lines, “What but design of darkness to appall?/If design govern in a thing so small,” which directly relates to the idea of Intelligent Design. I really like the final twist that Frost gives to the poem and I find that a very attractive feature in his poem.

 -Amber

The Minuscule Muscle

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by Mary-Kate

In Jorie Graham’s “Prayer”, I find the structure easily understood and simple to point out the change, where exactly the poems shift comes into play. Like we had discussed in class with “The Chambered Nautilus”, the structure is more of a description of the surroundings at first and then it takes a turn into more thought then physical. I love her description in the beginning of the poem and how it sets up the mood for the descriptive part of the piece. She give lines such as “…making of themselves a / visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by/ minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls…” Such great imagery and physical description really places the reader into the place of the poet and what they are supposed to be observing.

Her turn isn’t an ‘all of a sudden turn’ either. It is clearly defined by the phrase “…arrowing/ motion that forces change–/ this is freedom.” Right in that spot it can be clearly seen that the dash creates the jump. It is not done suddenly in my opinion, but more or less eases the reader into the transition with the dash. I don’t know if it would have been effective without it, but I know from reading this myself that it works.

This transition from the physical to the thought and philosophical part of the poem can also be told in her words. Such concrete words like ‘minnows’ and even ‘dock’ or ‘boat’ are mostly used in the first part of the poem, before the turn. After, only words with somewhat of an abstract meaning start to come into the poem. Word like ‘ freedom’, ‘pure’, and ‘infinity’ are casually used and can be seen as her thought process on the very physical terms used just a couple of lines before. She may use lines like “Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through/ in the wind…”, but they are more contemplative meanings that can be seen as a reference to time through the imagery of the sand. So in that sense the imagery in the beginning is more geared toward creating an image and, after the turn, the imagery is more seen as references to abstract ideas.

In working with the emblem poems, I believe that this turn is more effective then the turn that we had seen in “The Chambered Nautilus”. I could barely pick out the turn in that, probably because it was one of the older ones, but more or less because I had to find it amoungst the words of the poem and it barely helped whether or not I payed attention to the punctuation or even the form of the poem itself. I like that Graham points it out as if to say “This is what I see!” and that she doesn’t leave the reader wondering where the turn was or what even took place in the poem itself. I think this is a very effective way of trying the emblem poetry on my own as well. Her poem makes an easy path to start off trying this type of structure. I think it would be easier as well to jump from physical to mental with a dash or two then having to try to work it in any other way.

Oh What a Web We Weave

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by bennett89

Robert Frost’s poem “Design” is a unique poem that really captured my attention. It is written in the emblematic structure, with a description in the first stanza and a turn to meditation in the last stanza. 

There are many things that can be discussed about this poem but what I found most interesting were Frost’s descriptions. He crafted this poem so that all of the descriptions lead from one thing to another; he starts out with the spider on the heal-all holding the moth, then describes them all together “assorted characters of death and blight”, and finishes up the first stanza by tying things and descriptions together “a snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth, / and dead wings carried like a paper kite.” By doing this the reader of the poem can really picture the image Frost is trying to get at, especially with his use of similes. The first one is comparing the dead moth in the spider’s mouth to “a white piece of rigid satin cloth”. Satin is often looked at as something that is very elegant and soft; by placing “rigid” in front in front of “satin” this typical image is challenged and makes the reader almost feel sorry for the moth. The next simile compares the entire actions of the moth being caught and eaten in the early morning to “the ingredients of a witches’ broth”. I thought this was a very interesting comparison because, separately, each one thing (that being the spider, the moth, and/or the different ingredients) is not that special, but once combined they create something very unique, amusing, and impressive. By comparing the flower to a froth is simply Frost’s way of presenting this image. His final simile compares the moth’s wings to “a paper kite”. Both things are fragile, thin, lifeless, and float softly against the wind. On a side note it is interesting to point out that the three main objects in this stanza are all described to be white, a color of purity, light, and innocence; which pretty much sums up the feeling of the entire action of the spider sitting on a flower eating a moth for breakfast.

Frost then turns to the meditation part of his poem. He abandons his use of similes to use the power of questions. While the firststanza is very set and to the point, the second stanza makes the reader focus on each individual image that was previously mentioned.  Thus turn works very well in this poem. Frost doesn’t loose the power of his images, he just describes them in a different way. Without this turn, to me the poem would become boring. If Frost just kept describing this spider and his actions I would sooner-or-later be asking “so what?”. But by turing to the mediation Frost really grabbed my attention. His last line, “If design govern in a thing so small” really brought it home for me. Not many people take the time out to just sit and look at a spider. And in his last line, Frost is also talking about how the spider’s web is the main reason for the entire action he describes. We all know how intricate and beautiful a spider web is, but yet its size is not much to talk about.

Another interesting thing to point out about the turn in this poem is the rhyme scheme. The first stanza has an ABBA  rhyme scheme(repeated once for an 8 line stanza); the second an ABAABB rhyme scheme. This turn effects the way the poem is read in a very positive way. By having the rhymes spaced out it does not take away from the poem (such as being a distraction, having forced rhymes, etc). Each rhyme adds to the poem as a whole.

First Post. “Design”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by superduder

When looking at Robert Frost’s poem, “Design,” the confusion I have between form and structure is greatly increased. I still have yet to draw a line between form and structure, and in this poem they almost seem synonymous. There is description in the first stanza of this poem and a mediation in the second stanza. These two things make this poem follow the emblem structure very well.

The first stanza of the poem has numerous metaphors while there are less in the second stanza. A white heal all is like a piece of white rigid satin cloth and death and blight are like the ingredients of a witches broth. There is also a description of dead wings being like a kite in the way they are carried by the spider like a paper kite. This is much like the way a child would carry a paper kite. The extra length of the first stanza helps create a rhyme scheme while allowing for more description. The second stanza is set up for mediation and thus does not need the extra length for description.

In the second stanza there is mediation. The first stanza already set up the descriptions and the second stanza begins a more questioning tone. Although there is a questioning tone in this stanza, Frost doesn’t answer the questions in the final stanza, he leaves this up to the reader. Even though the questions remained unanswered there is still a sense of completion that comes with the poem. There are some things left unsaid, but the porm comes full circle in the end.

The tuen occurs when Frost leaves the desctiptive sentences aside and starts questioning. I think that it is effective because it is rather blatant. There is a definite shift in the tone and the entire poem. I think that this will be useful for my poetry because I can start with more blatat turns and shifts then lead into less obvious ones.

Form and Structure: An Overlapping Battle

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by exclamate

In one of our recent classes, we discussed how structure is so often mistaken for form.  Robert Frost’s poem, “Design,” exemplifies why this is an easy association to make.  Frost’s poem very cleanly follows the emblem structure by having the description occur within the first stanza and the meditation occur in the second stanza.  In the first stanza, Frost describes the spider “fat and white” sitting on a heal-all which is holding it’s breakfast of a moth that is “like a white piece of rigid satin cloth.”  He describes this as a thing that is balanced “like the ingredients in a witch’s broth.”  This first stanza is also two lines longer than the second.  These extra two lines not only let him use two sets of ABBA rhyming, but also give him more time to establish the images of spider, heal-all, and moth. 

The second stanza the meditation comes into play.  Frost questions what he just described in the first stanza with a succession of three questions.  In these questions he asks why things happened they way they did, why the spider was “at that height” and what “steered the white moth thither in the night?”  He ends his questions with a culminating question, “What but design of darkness to appall?” which he immediately answers with “If design govern in a thing so small.” 

This turn is so effective within this poem because of its clarity.  Frost leaves no confusion as to what he is doing with structure and form by creating a two-stanza poem.  Instead, he leaves it plainly in front of us, which allows the reader to read the content more closely and expect what is coming next.  There are no surprises in the structure of this poem.  Again, the content is what shines.  As a writer, using an expected structure such as this would allow me to create a strong base for what ever content I apply to the poem.  Or, if I want to be daring, I could use this structure to make people expect one thing and then do the opposite of what Frost does and change the second stanza meditation.  While simple, this structure is effective either way.

Frost and the Philosophical Emblem

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by Allyson

“Design” was rather interesting to me, relating such creatures to religious moments. “…holding up a moth/Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–” this was something that interested me.

The turn that I noticed in Frost’s poem was a description of setting in the first stanza, followed by questions or arguments. This I find to be more of a blatant turn than use if imagery and metaphor, but a little more thought provoking. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I enjoy this type of turn a little better than the turns in “The Chambered Nautilus”. Frost takes such care in describing a scene, and then completely rips it apart by questioning “What brought the kindred spider to that height,/ Then steered the white moth thither in the night?/ What but design of darkness to appall?–/ If design govern in a thing so small.” He turns his description of the spider and the moth into contemplation of creation and Divine design.

Philosophical turns, however subtle, take hold of my attention. In my opinion, that’s the kind of effect poetry should have on a reader: making them re-think the way they view the world and the things inside it.

Post One – Jorie Graham’s “Prayer”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by erinl09

I concur with cmdrquack (is that James?) in that the turn definitely occurs with the m-dash; the first half of the poem is, true to the emblemic structure, descriptive, and the second half contemplative. The “I” begins watching a school of minnows, paying special attention to their unison movements, then comes to declaration, “This is freedom” (line 13). This realization takes the poem beyond the facade (the minnows) to make a revelation about life: that it is going to suck from time to time and that we “cannot of course come back” (23). How exactly is the turn accomplished? The minnows aren’t a dominating metaphor, as they are simply a vehicle for the revelation. Graham’s “I” has reprocessed the minnows, discarding the physical to look at the meanings of movement. Perhaps the poetic device is symbolism? There is no doubt that this is not about the minnows nor the time and place.

The turn may achieve some low-level shock for a reader, who although he/she expects the turn is maybe not aware it is so diverging. Not diverging– takes us to an underlayer of the minnows’ lives. It also makes the poem a bit more accessible, tosses aside the debris so we can witness the underneath “fact of life.” The voice is, metaphorically, seeing a reverse reflection of the minnows. As she watches, the minnows stop being minnows and are, through a sort of lens (thank you, blogvana) become a illustration of human life. The minnows are transferred through the water into an entirely different scene, which is revealed after the turn.

I think I use this technique fairly regularly when I write nature poems, as it is particular interest to me how humans see themselves in an us-versus-them, human-versus-nature (as if humans aren’t a part of nature, aren’t animals). I like my poems to reveal non-human life as being instinctually the same as human life; I wish to trounce the misconception that humans are other than nature. Using Graham’s turn, a depiction of non-human life becomes a reflection of qualities/desires/attitudes that are rampant in humans, too.