Archive for February, 2009

Eighty-blade Sportsman’s Knife, By Joseph Rodgers & Sons

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 by alc215

 I think one think that’s pretty consistent throughout Schiff’s poems is their repetition. In this poem, she focuses around the knife and the various words connected to it. In that sense, these connections to the knife and these leaps from the knife to other things and back again really hold the poem together. She does this in a way too, where the poem isn’t just a catalogue of object traits. I think what helps with this so much, is first, her seamless enjambment. I find myself ending on words a lot, and they seem finite with ending there, and then the line continues. And even though I am consciously aware that she’s going to enjamb the lines, I find myself surprised and really attracted to the freshness she brings each time. 

She also makes these leaps from object trait to object trait, that doesn’t necessarily make sense the first time reading them. Schiff definitely makes you think through each trait as a reader and see how they all connect to one another. In this sense, the object traits are far from ordinary, and I think that helps them to separate from just being a catalogue of traits. I can really see this in this stanza of the poem:

is improvisational, also death. All things
slip. But another name for the
butterfly knife I find more fitting is
“Manila Folder”; I’ll take world capitals
for two hundred plus ancient
technology (at least as old as the
Roman Empire) by which a blade pivots
Into its own hilt. It

Sounds like a place to file old receipts, Manila
Folder, but it only files one
blade over and over. It is not grace
or contempt, but repetition that sharpens
me, and as repeating your
own name contaminates the same way
a human’s touch repels a mother bird
from her eggs, I don’t think

So, just in these two stanzas, you can really see the jumps she makes that are evocative, and give a less catalogue-feel. She goes from the butterfly knife, to the manila folder, back to the blades of the knife, and then to a mother bird’s eggs. And simultaneously as the reader, you really have to think how these leaps can be made and how they all connect to one another. So the poetry, while difficult to read, really works hard in itself, and makes the reader work as well which speaks to its consistency.

Since both parties are working so hard to get some meaning out of words on the page, I definitely think there’s “enough” to get a meaningful read out of the poem. It’s not as overt as other poetry may be in reader relation, but I definitely think that if I spend enough time with a single poem, I can get a lot out of it. I think sometimes if it’s too difficult to derive a meaning though, you sort of just have to leave it in itself. And I do feel that way about some of the poems in this book but I think there is enough on the page if you really dissect it, especially in the poem I am working with.  


On the Contrary, My Dear Watson

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2009 by Allyson

I decided to take a look at the poem “Heroic Couplet” on page 57. It goes a little something like this:

This is an

astral projection

left angular gyrus

When I came home last night I had my keys
but rang the bell so as to be received

by you

perceived location
actual location

With this poem, Schiff is structuring the poem in order to give the reader a feel of normalcy. The lines are single, couplet, repeat. I also noticed that the first two couplets have 5 syllables and then 10 per line, and then the last couplet has 5 syllables per line (depending on how you say actual). This gives the reader a subconscious pattern that they can hold onto while they read a poem they may not necessarily understand.

“Heroic Couplet” could mean several things, but the one that I used to analyze the poem was ” pair having characteristics of heroes”. Using this, we can attempt to pull something from the poem.

Heroes tend to do things without regard for themselves in the name of a greater good, and according to the Greeks, stars were equivalent to the gods– a greater good. Also, they believed that the soul was far more important than the body, which is where (I feel) the disembodiment comes from.

The next couplet is about the speaker having keys but ringing the doorbell anyways to be received. Heroes were welcomed everywhere back in Greece, even today. If someone does something Heroic (like a general or soldiers) we would have big parades and welcome them home (not so much today, but definitely during WWI and WWII. I guess today’s equivalent would be clapping in the airport for the soldiers that come home.).

The last stanza means “where you want to be. where you really are.” which is an arrangement I love. What if the two correspond? I’d imagine that while heroes are out and about fighting terrible monsters that they’d want to be somewhere else- even today’s soldiers. And I think that sense of longing is a terrible feeling, but a proper way to end this poem. Even though heroes are out saving the masses, they are still only human and probably longing to be somewhere else, with someone else.

Given the amount of explanation I just gave, you can assume what I am going to say next… Schiff  likes to give us as little as possible, but she does give a reader “enough” to pull something meaningful away from the poetry. This is something that I’ve aspired to do (and tried to do) but I don’t think I can write this “bare-minimum” because there is an instinct as a poet to worry about the reader. I have a little voice saying “What if they don’t get it?” and I guess that doesn’t really matter.

***side note: We don’t really know specifics into the relationship between the you and the speaker. We know they are a “couple”, but what kind? Sisters? Lovers? Friends?– Does it really matter???

McCormick’s Reaper

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2009 by bennett89

There are a few elements Robyn Schiff’s “McCormick’s Reaper” that holds the poem together and to allow it to become more than simply a catalogue of object traits.

The historical content of this poem is important to note. I was first introduced to McCormick’s Reaper (the actual machine and not the poem) in a marketing class. McCormick invented a horse-drawn machine with a wheel of sickles that followed behind. This wheel chopped down the wheat. The Reaper was much more efficient  in harvesting  wheat by hand, but because it was the only one of its kind, the price was jacked up extremely high. It also took a few tries to get the machine perfect. In reference to Schiff’s poem, the structure of the lines resemble the image of the blades on the Reaper. It is also through Schiff’s words that express the general idea of this:

“isolates / the wheat” -what the machine does
“an acre gives ten men / to only five” -how many people it takes
“I rise, my guarantee.” -the price

Another interesting thing that holds this poem together is the speaker. There is a strong voice that comes through. It is interesting to think that Robyn Schiff places herself back in the 1800’s and writes in the persona of Cyrus McCormick.

Also, Schiff focuses a lot of the syllable count. Each one of the first four stanza starts off with a line that has 8 syllables, followed by one that has 6. The other two line vary between 6 and 10 syllables.

I had some trouble connecting the final staza to the rest of the poem in more ways than one. Introduction of the “rattlesnake” really throws me for a loops. This stanza also breaks the syllable form; every line has 9 syllables in it.


Separating the self in “McCormick’s Reaper”

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2009 by VV

Robyn Schiff threads a constant theme through her poem: that of separation. The poem itself appears to be about a farming implement, a sickle of some type, which in itself is an object designed to separate, to cut. She expands this into a larger concept in the very first line by using the word “isolates,” and offers a juxtaposition in the third line with “attachment.” The idea of cuting in half is then expressed numerically in the second stanza: “the yield an acre gives ten men to only five; halves them” and also literally: “halve him”.

In the third and fourth stanzas things continue to get more complex, where a separation seems to develop within the person addressed as you: “…Come/to the window, see for/yourself: Are you not in the house?/Are you not in bed hearing/yourself in the acre binding/shocks together with one/self-same stalk containing hundreds?” A lot presents itself to unravel here. The “you” appears to be in several places at once: in the house at the window, in bed, in the acre. More interestingly, in one place (the acre) the “you” is “binding shocks together,” the opposite of separation. But not somply binding. Binding with “one self-same stalk containing hundreds.” Again the theme of one self divided into parts, but in this case, not separated, but bound back together.

The last line of that stanza (“I rise, my guarantee.”) and from there the final stanza, takes then what might be a jarring turn, where for the first time the “I” appears, and is put in conjunction with the you. “I rise so you don’t have to.” Again, what appears to be a separation, but the compassionate or generous intent (“so you don’t have to”) implies, in contrast to the unfolding separation, a personal or emotional connection or attachment between the two people, whoever they may be. So here we have a case of separation that was helped to be brought about through attatchment.

The final lines of the poem, “Every/now and then a rattlesnake shimmies/into the shock and rises with me,” presents a case somewhat different – what one might call a holding on or attempt to prevent separation. Althought in this case, the rattlesnake’s entrance into the shock seems unintentional or accidental with regard to being separated from the person, and so is harder to analyze.

Overall, though, Schiff keeps the theme consistently present and gives the reader a hold with which to grasp the poem.


Lustron: It’s so safe here, porcelain flowers live forever in a porcelain-reinforced saferoom

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2009 by Melissa Goodrich

In Lustron: The House America Has Been Waiting For, Schiff employs a voice consistent with her subject matter (rather than, perhaps, her usual poetic voice or style) to hold the poem together and allow it to work on a new level.

This piece reads as an advertisement – and thus Schiff abandons her long-winding, enjambed sentences in favor for the “catchphrases” indicative of a salesman. “Room for all our sons. Time/ saver. Put away your hammer,” read like various slogan ideas at a meeting where all the salesmen gather to pitch slogans for their new product (in this case, the Lustron). The only time she noticeably abandons this technique of choppy, short sentences is in a long run from the bottom of page 42 to almost the middle of page 43 – a long moment which stands out as the rapid-fire disclaimer salesmen are so known for slipping in, especially the lines “unless you’ve already/spend so much backyard dynamite preparing your lot for your new house that you’re /wading in the curls of/ spent firecracker wrappers contemplating the boundless footfalls you// spent mounting the backstairs of Victorian/ life while the future parked around the corner was ready to pull up to your curb and/ deliver the dreams you earned on the battlefield where you/ spent your body.” And yet, the voice has never changed (it is still the voice of a salesman, and he has to throw in his safety net somewhere).

What’s more is that the pitch is revealed little by little as something of a scam, as salesmen are also apt to do (so they can throw in a little “I told ya so” when the customers start complaining). On security, the speakers says both:

…Imagine a whole

life that feels like the satisfaction of passing through security with undetectable

weaponry in your carry-on.


…Imagine a house so poised you can live in its

teacups. Four rooms and a creamer. They survive revolutions.

There is something off about the idea of safety here, but a consistent voice allows the idea to be complicated. I know my own ideas about safety generally include checking for handguns in airports, but maybe another kind of safety is the ability to arm the self (as is our right). And yet another person’s idea of safety is a home so monitored and secure that one could sleep in its china and (assumably) nothing would go horribly awry. Both aspects of safety come to terms with power – the power of carrying weaponry, the power to control the incontrollable (who can prevent a teacup from breaking if it wants?) – and with a common voice are linked within the idea behind this particular poem and also making those individual details (weaponry and teacups) more than arbitrarily chosen objects.

Then the speaker complicates this particular idea of weaponry on a plane further by recalling it:

…You can’t change your

life so why not enjoy it safe in the knowledge you already live in the porcelain-

enameled mythical Glock everyone’s always talking about smuggling into the


And near the end of the poem:

Throw things into the river, but

save the Glock; you can take it with you.

The salesman is moving beyond Lustron and convincing you of its safety – now he’s trying to convince you of any notion of safety at all (which, again, complicates this poem from a very calculated “pitch” to the “outburst” of fear created by human association). “You can’t change your life” and “Throw things into the river” are both indicative of desperation, melodrama, fear, an out-of-control being…these are not things we think of when we imagine this clever, smiling salesman at the beginning who starts us off with the brotherly idea of a home with “room for all our sons.” But this, again, makes the poem more interesting. The salesman-speaker is still here (see how quickly he recovers – “so why not enjoy it”), but has evolved into a human being as well…and this is not only appealing to us as readers, but is a brilliant advertising tactic (that’s why we see puppies and babies in commercials so much).

Generally, I struggle with approaching Schiff’s work in an intelligible way – but what I do recognize is a complexity operating under a lot of regiment (as in Marianne Moore) as well as association (as in the huia). But I think her poems ask us to go even slower than we may be used to when reading – and in reading and rereading, circling common themes, tracing the association of words, and doing some research (what is a huia or a Glock?), we are allowed in the space of her psyche, where apparently everything’s complicated on the inside.

Blog Group A: Post 3

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2009 by karlakelsey

Select a poem from Revolver to work with. What are some of the techniques that Schiff uses to hold the poem together and to allow it to become more than simply a catalogue of object traits? Do you think that she gives us “enough” to have a meaningful experience of poetry?

Billy Collins and the Push

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 by superduder

When I was in High School my creative writing teacher was obsessed with Billy Collins. When I started reading his work, well when she made me start reading his work I realized that many of his poems seem to be grounded in emotional or lived “truth.” Although his poem “Personal History” begins with pre-historic language which no poets can personally write about today, the end of the first stanza introduces the word “us.”

to settle down and become continents,

someone introduced us at a party.

The language in the second stanza follows the language in the first stanza. The second stanza mentions the renaissance and the sonnet. The third stanza continues in this fashion using language and images from before Billy Collins’s time.

We married during the industrial Revolution,

coughing on a brown lawn above a city

humming with fly wheels and drive belts.

The ceremony went like clockwork.

The idea that the couple could have been married during the Industrial Revolution makes this poem seem like it cannot be personal or lived “truth,” but I think that this is just the way that Billy Collins writes. He mentions the war and continues using his language about the past, but in stanza five he uses the work “now,” and the sixth stanza places the couple in the immediate present. Although the images portrayed throughout the poem vary in time, from the creation of the continents to the war, the romantic element remains the same.

The way in which Billy Collins changes the time periods depicted in his scenes to make it seem like he has been with the addressee of the poem forever pushes the work beyond a confession. Collins does not only confess his love to the addressee of the poem, but he makes his love somewhat of a metaphor for the passing of time. I think that it is important for me to push my work beyond what it is now, but I do not think I will ever reach the level of some poets. I rarely write about my everyday life, but if I did I think that it would be rather superficial.


grapple with the imperfections of lived life

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 by stephroush

Some of the explanation in the Retrospective-Prospective chapter covers the question of pushing beyond. I particularly like the Yeats example in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” and the claim that “he must begin to grapple with imperfections of lived life.” I would put this phrase up as my notion of what it means to go beyond in confessional work. Also, I have employed this form in poetry before and though it states a change from the past reflection to a present prospective. I find, in general, the interplay of time is a versatile structure. I actually tend toward a past informed by the present a bit more than a present informed by the past. Poetry is a unique space for these revisions of lived life.

I think there is always space for the confessional and material of everyday-life but it should move beyond “this happened to me, really.” Confessional material can be a great tool for grappling with larger concepts of shared obstacles and observations without definite answers. Part of what I see Yeats’ poem doing is using confession to understand how the present revisions the past or vice versa. While Yeats presents the characters of his poetry taking away from his “real” life, the “emblems” of the players on his stage, I think the last lines: “I must lie down where all ladders start / in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” present a redemption in grappling with lived life. The content opens with a realization of what he deems a misuse and the resignation: “I must be satisfied with my heart.” By the end of the poem these opening statements are infused with some hope in the concept of the “ladder.”

Yeats employs the tools of characters as comparison for the mirroring he feels is incomplete. The descriptions of his use of characters in his poetry create an emotional truth. One way is the repetition of “vain,” introduced in the beginning as categorizing his creative work and then used to describe the Oisin character with “Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose, Themes of the embittered heart.” Yeats comes to realize the true emotion behind his early creative work and is wholly dissatisfied. Yeats also uses distance against the characters he creates in “the name I gave it.” The work achieves more and more separation from the poet as well as the emblems of life they were based on. Another tool I see is word choice like “fanaticism and hate enslave it” or “engross the present and dominate memory.” Strong emotional judgment and abstraction strikes a third blow at the work. The various elements make his distaste so apparent that the emotional truth of the final section becomes necessary as a redeeming quality of the speaker’s life.

Do I deceive anyone?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 by erinl09

Natasha Trethewey’s Letter Home is both tender and disheartened.  A young black (or at least biracial?) woman seeking a job in New Orleans in the early 1900s, she begins with a saddened account of her struggle to find work.  Although she is educated, she is still a “girl,” a “negress,” and she wears out her shoes looking and looking for more-than-menial-employment.  “Do I deceive anyone?” she asks. The poem turns from the account of her unsuccessful days to a reflection on who she is.  She sees laundresses working and feels closer to them than the white world she is trying to enter. She wonders whether or not her education truly has lifted her out of her situation, whether it could do so.

How does this poem move beyond confession? It is not a woe-is-me poem the way it could easily be; she is not focusing on her disadvantages or admitting to how she fits into this.  No, she is wondering whether or not she wants to enter this strange, unfamiliar world, even if she can.  The confession becomes a reevaluation of her motives, a conversation with herself.  The turn, which I thought occurred at the line “Do I deceive,” is toward herself.  She begins this letter to (presumably) her mother whilst facing her mother, but at the turn, it is as if she holds up a mirror so that she may still look at her mother, but also have perspective on herself.  The confession becomes more than validating herself to her audience, it changes from confession into self-review.

I consider it imperative for my poems to push beyond the everyday; as a personal standard, I want my poems to be multi-layered, I want my reader to have to work a little to get at them.  I think as we engage any kind of literature, we are seeking something beyond the actual words.  So why should a writer not deliver another layer?  We read as a method of seeking larger truths (whatever they are, whether we realize it or not), and I think it is the writer’s duty to deliver suggestions to those higher truths.

I Wonder What Else Doesn’t “Exist”

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 by Mary-Kate

This may seem kind of ridiculous of me to do because it is barely grounded in much, but I want to look deeper into the poem Exist by Brian Swann. In this poem, like Mark Yakich states, realized that the majority of the poem is in the prospective part of the poem instead of it half-and-half with the retrospective point of view. I find this extremely interesting considering the fact that it seemed like the poem had to have somewhat of a combined structure between the two. I like that this poem differs from the rest and i also find it interesting how he can use about three lines of retrospective before he moves into the prospective phase.

In the poem he hints to having different experiences with ‘pain’ then everyone else which takes up the retrospective point of view, then he never really tells what the experiences were with pain unlike some of the other poems in this chapter that go on to explain all. He writes:

“As a kid I never thought of “pain” as

something I felt. What I felt I could not

name or share.”

It gives a sense that he had experiences that scarred him out of this part of the poem. I love how he leaves the reader with a sense that pain has a higher level then what we name it, that it beyond words and can only be felt.

He then goes into the prospective point of view with the next line starting with “Now out the window…”. I couldn’t get over though a different feeling that I got from the poem. It seemed like Swann gave me a word that he said he couldn’t really describe because he could only really feel it and then he made the reader feel the same way about the rest of his prospective view within the poem. In a way, he moves past his own experiences by not even going into them, by pretty much telling the reader that there is no way that he could really even begin to talk about.

He also hints in the rest of the poem that a lot of things don’t ‘exsit’, including himself sometimes. This may just be my interpretation probably going off on a limb, but I like that if you take this poem just in consideration of the retrospective-prospective structure, Swann seems to be showing that his retrospective side doesn’t really exist either.