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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » When Dooryards First in the Lilac Bloomed

Author Topic: When Dooryards First in the Lilac Bloomed
B. Morris Allen
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The thrush led me astray. He with his puffed-out speckled chest and spindly legs, his impudent beak gated open and closed in song. He that stole my love, and left me desolate, cold, and lonely in the night. That secret, eremitic bird, with his liquid, taunting morning song. From high in the cedars, he sang my love away, and me awake.
In the week after the interment, he sang to me his joy of the spring, his pride in courtship, his love of life. It came to me as mockery, as cruel jest, delight in death. And so I rose and took my borrowed shotgun out in search of peace.
Peace. A thing we had in plenty. Peace and harmony. Peace in our time. Peace in the Middle East, for gods’ sake. Peace and stagnation; the death of ideas, innovation, discovery.

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Seems like a poem, or prose-poem. The first line works as a nice opening, but my focus immediately wandered at line two because the narrative's focus shifts rather abruptly from the POVs thoughts to a dense description of the thrush that seems to have no purpose besides sounding flowery.

And that goes for basically all of the rest of it. Flowery prose not pushing the story forward. I don't often say I would stop reading after an opening, but I think the superfluous nature of the writing is a pretty big turnoff for me. This feels like warmup writing that can be cut. I can imagine the story actually beginning later, perhaps somewhere on page 2.

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One last point about the title. I think that readers have to feel that there's something to gain when they're face with enigmatic lines. Looking at the title, I wonder if it would be worth my effort to decode it, and right now I'm not convinced it would be for a couple of reasons, mainly though that I'm left unsure whether or not the way you've phrased it is optimal in getting across whatever point you're going for. Which would make decoding it on my part a wasted effort.

Simpler is usually better.

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Bent Tree
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There is something about this voice that I really enjoy. Perhaps a flowery, cynical prose reminiscent of Robin Hobb.

That being said, there is enough of a hook (the promise of a shotgun) that turns me on in a way. Something in the contrast of devastation and beauty.

So what am I left with? I would turn the page on this, but I feel I would be hooked beyond escape if this were slightly more focused. A little refinement here can result in top notch writing. You have the gift for prose. What is needed here is a little better introduction to the MC. What can you show us to reveal more? intention, empathy.

What i love about this is that you are not 'telling' anything. The POV is great.

I almost want to say leave it as it is because the rambling way does demonstrate a lot about the MC, but this could be a two sided sword to a slush pile editor who may be reluctant to tread through something that is frolicking.

I recommend just giving a little more focus on motive. Why now now? Why does the story start here? What made the MC grab the shotgun?

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I could see both sides of the coin here. It is doubtless well written. I love the title. I think it gives you a good expectation for what you're getting into as a reader.
I like the rambling poetry that is stopped suddenly by the shotgun. It's jolting in a captivating way. Perhaps the main thing that holds me up is that there seems to be more rambling after the shotgun instead of diving into the story from that point. Thus far, I know almost nothing of the story but some insight into the character.

Good stuff!

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A pesky songbird -- a thrush -- wakes an agonist from a peaceful dream about a love interest, now deceased. The agonist takes up a shotgun to still the bird's intrusive song.

Pastoral elegy, hyperbaton, caesura, a recogizable enjambment style rarely seen in prose, dactyl-like, arsis to a degree, loose footed, free accentual verse, "dooryard," "lilac," "bloomed," "thrush," and "death" -- if the title's emulation of a classic wasn't enough, the rhetorical style identifies this as an emulation of Walt Whitman's poetry and his voice: Leaves of Grass, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."

Emulation may risk passing unaware readers over and miss meaning borrowed from an allusion's influence. On the other hand, emulation and imitation are beneficial exercises. Emulation's delightful practices are parody, lampoon, satire, and social commentary.

I'm not sure what the intent of this fragment is. The language is poetic, several of the allusion's evocations are promising, the verse may be passable, diction may be a degree problematic in several cases: "eremitic," "taunting morning," and "stagnation, for examples.

The fragment makes an artful departure from Whitman's usual boisterous aesthetic, a departure from the original elegy's sorrow too, to an emotion of wrath. Wrath is not Whitman in any case.

The "peace" repetition empasis signals peace, or its opposite actually, is a main complication theme, and wrath toward the bothersome thrush. Shoot it, make it stop, so peace and quiet return. Might as well kill all life so peace will reign.

Unwarranted comma "sang my love away, and me awake." Though almost syllepsis: "When a single word that governs or modifies two or more others must be understood differently with respect to each of those words. A combination of grammatical parallelism and semantic incongruity, often with a witty or comical effect. 'Fix the problem, not the blame.' —Dave Weinbaum" ("Syllepsis" Silva Rhetoricae).

Misplaced apostrophe or number agreement consideration "for gods’ sake."

This may be the theme pf substance for the whole, the claim assertion of the argument, so to speak: "Peace and stagnation; the death of ideas, innovation, discovery." That's an artful contrary to killing a songbird so peace returns, killing improvisation.

A first caesura is the introduction of the shotgun among the otherwise figurative language's poetry. Change from wrathful language to determined language. A second caesura is the self-reflexive language debate about "peace."

I think a stronger, tighter emulation of Whitman's style though no less, if not more, unique from the emotional differences is warranted. Also, I feel the fragment could cue up a stronger premise for the story's overall complication. Not much problem or stakes in shooting a bird with a shotgun, nor from the thrush leads the agonist "astray" or awry. What texture is under-developed. I cannot venture a guess what that what might be suitable for a short fiction prose poem. If allowed to project, I'd venture a tumble down a rabbit hole or into murder and mayhem or both.

[ January 17, 2015, 12:58 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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B. Morris Allen
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Thanks to all for the helpful comments!
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