Ulysses in Burlington, Vermont

Ulysses in Burlington, Vermont

Ulysses in Burlington Vermont (Block Print)Here is a poem I wrote a while back. It’s one of my favorite poems. However, nobody else likes it. I have submitted it to several publications and none of them show any interest. In one case, the poem was met with outright hostility. So, either the editors are stunningly poor judges of poetry, or I am.

I am always amazed at how some artists can’t recognize their own mediocrity. Alfred Austen (the poet laureate of England after Tennyson’s death) being a prime example (The Joy of Bad Verse by Nicholas T. Parsons). Here was a man whose breathtaking mediocrity was only rivaled by his sense of genius. Maybe I fall into that category. You be the judge.

Anyway, one of the reasons I like the poem so much is because it was fun to write. I took Tennyson’s Ulysses and tried to “modernize” it. At the same time, I closely followed his grammatical style and used much of his vocabulary. This gives the poem the odd feeling of being in two worlds at once, I know. I came up with the idea a while back when I read that student Edward Elgar (an English late-romantic composer), came up with the idea of re-writing Mozart’s (40th or 41rst?) symphony while using all the same note “values”. In other words, he changed the melody but kept everything else the same. I wanted to know how that would work in poetry.

It’s a pastiche. In the musical sense, this means that we take an old song and put new words in it, giving it a new meaning. For my part, I tried to turn the whole thing upside down.




33 responses

  1. you wouldn’t understand this unless you have lived in burlington. thats why the people do not like it. i believe that this poem has captured the essence of being a member of the burlington community. Longboarding in burlington is one of the greatest things in the world. one of the most euphoric experiences i have ever had was the last day of my freshman year, running down main street all the way down to the water to say goodbye to the lake that had been so refreshing in spring and fall, and so bitter in the winter. I loved the poem and keep up the good work!


    • It’s great to hear your response. I love Burlington. If I could live there and longboard with my girls, everyday, I would. As it is, I’ll be bringing them up to Burlington for the all girl’s skate camp at Talent. And the winters… love the winters in Burlington. You must know Ridin’ High. I’ve always wanted to get my poem in there.


  2. Hey Matt! I used to Facebook but lasted about 1 week. Don’t trust the company. Most of my work is online. And yeah… I’d love to longboard if you don’t mind my two eight year old, longboarding girls tagging along!


  3. An excellent effort overall. Admittedly, I think there were some lines which didn’t quite work (either because they distorted the overall rhythm or because they were too direct- i.e. they ‘told’ instead of ‘showed’) but you’re going to get that when you attempt something like this. Really it’s an epic, with strong echoes (for me) of J. Alfred Prufrock, with a lesser similarity to the rhythms of Frost.

    I can see immediately why it’s one of your favourites. It’s such an ambitious poem, like you’ve tried to collate all your philosophies and poetic techniques together, amongst the backdrop of Burlington. Indeed Burlington itself comes across as a projection of your world-view. Perhaps there are no good or bad places- they are only what we project onto them.

    Anyway, enough rambling. Like I said, it’s excellent. I’d never heard of Burlington before this, but that only added to my enjoyment of the poem. I will be re-reading this; it’s something for me to aim towards.


    • Thanks Phillip, for reading and, above all, for commenting. I consider Burlington, if I haven’t already written this, one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I should make a recording of the poem. The problem is that I’d rather have a woman read it, since that’s the poem’s persona. Everything is turned on its head, including the narrator. Some of the lines might make more sense to you, metrically, (or maybe not) if you heard them read. Would be interesting to find out.


    • I agree, I think that’s a great idea. I think you can often hear the subtleties of a poem better when you hear it read aloud.

      If you could get a Burlington woman to read it, that would be perfect.


  4. Hi,
    I could really get into this question or bemusement regarding publications rejecting this poem.
    I have a feeling that you left out indicating how their rejection letters generally went. I’m sure
    some of those letters recognized the good work you’ve done here. They may even have
    said something like “Well done, but too of another era and style (Tennyson’s?). Anyway,
    I’ll have more to say when I’ve really given your poem a genuine read. Thanks, Bob Burr (we connected briefly a month or two ago over Emily Dickinson and “Fourteeners.”)
    Also, I agree about Facebook. It’s harmless, but awfully time-consuming and basically
    impersonal—a bunch of self-advertisement masked by some interest in the work of others.


    • //I have a feeling that you left out indicating how their rejection letters generally went. I’m sure
      some of those letters recognized the good work you’ve done here.//

      Hi Bob. Only once, in all the years I’ve submitted poetry, has anyone “indicated” why they rejected a poem; and that one time was from a “friend” who asked me to submit a poem (talk about a slap in the face). Editors, by in large, do not explain themselves; and I can understand the reason why. They don’t want to get in arguments with piqued poets.

      I frankly think its better that editors don’t give opinions. I don’t mind if a plumber asks me to make room for his copper, but he shouldn’t be giving me building advice. Let plumbers be plumbers, and I’ll do my job. There’s a reason I’m the builder.


  5. Greetings & Salutations!

    First let me say right off the bat, that I am in no way, shape, or form, a poet, a critic, or even a great lover of poetry. I am just a 40 year old woman currently enrolled in college and have picked “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost as the poem in which my final paper for this class will be built around (I’m not going to lie…building 8-10 pages out of an 8 line poem is a little daunting!). Upon hitting the internet to look for “scholarly” sources in which to cite from, I happened upon your article “The Making of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. I do have to say it was a good read, which surprises me, to be honest. My reasons for choosing this poem are a bit more shallow than most, and personal I guess you could say. Autumn is a favorite time of the year, and this poem is also featured in one of our household’s favorite movie’s: “The Outsiders”. I first saw this film in high school, many moons ago, and the poem has stuck with me since. It also helps that I am from Vermont, and can identify, and envision, much of what Frost writes. I no longer live in Vt, but am still in the North Country.
    The information I now have regarding this poem due to your article is great. It was interesting (and in a good way..not the “interesting” that we use when we lack something good to say!) I found the full version of the poem to be a good bit of knowledge. I had no idea that there was indeed a “full” version.
    I also took the time to read your “Ulysses in Burlington Vermont”. Again, I have not read the version this is based on, and again, I am no poet critic…but I was able to connect with the poem due to growing up in Burlington, around the Old North End, and spent a fair amount of time on Church St. Granted, this was before the “boarding” was popular, but the basis is still the same. So, thank you for taking me back to some great old memories, and for giving me some new insight into “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.
    Keep up the good work!


    • Hi Tina, fellow Vermonter, your message was a real treat. As you say, writing 8 to 10 pages on such a short little poem is going to make you sweat. Maybe my post will give you a little head start. And I’m glad you liked “Ulysses in Burlington Vermont”. Fortunately, I guess you don’t have to know Tennyson’s original to appreciate it. I hope you get to visit Vermont every now and then.


  6. I love line 20-21: “The world that never can be fully traveled,/Whose end is my own ending.”

    The pastiche is a cool concept, why did you choose Ulysses to experiment on?


    • I don’t fully remember, but I was reading the poem at the time, have always liked it, and was longboarding. The idea occurred to me: What if Ulysses were a woman longboarding in Burlington? And from there I liked the idea of flipping the whole thing on its head, instead of a man, a woman; instead of a son, a mother, instead of a warrior, a lover, instead of a limitless outer world, an inner world. :-)


    • I was wondering if the poem was meant to “answer” the philosophical view in the original with your own. By the time I reach the end I feel inspired to go out into the world and do…something, not sure what exactly…just live :)


  7. Pingback: March 20th 2016 « PoemShape

  8. O.k. Then that probably explains the hostility you got. I would change the POV to a schoolboy and lighten up a bit. Something like:

    It little profits that a boy stopped
    By a traffic light in Burlington, Vermont
    With his snowboard
    Thinks he’s Tennyson—but one girl
    Smiles while the boys around her
    Scoff and call me queer. She
    Walks my way, leaving leers behind
    Her dimpled warmth approaches step by step
    I’m more anxious than a quad cork off a mountain
    O Ulysses, speak through me again!

    Anyway, you get the drift. It’s a great poem but I think it would work more authentically with you narrating as a boy.


    • Well, yes, but that misses the point. (Also, you need to turn that into blank verse.) :)

      The missed point is that Ulyssess is uncompromising and so is she. She doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks and neither does Tennyson’s Ulysses. She still doesn’t. To give to a woman what’s normally considered a man’s voice and prerogative is to turn the original upside down. To make the narrator a boy, with a smitten girl chasing him, puts the narration back in the male domain and makes the poem an adjunct to the original rather than a kind of refutation and dare.

      If readers are offended that I’ve made Ulysses a girl, who likes other girls, then so be it. That’s the kind of offense-giving I can live with.


  9. Then try it both ways and run it through a focus group. Plus this ending:

    “Oh, my dear Ulysses, you are quite the trip
    And worthy of a kiss from me
    But on the cheek or lips?”
    “Let’s try both—I’ll let you know
    And we can go from there.”
    “Umph. Or as I thought—what eloquence
    Yet just like every man.”

    You are welcome to own the lines. Several of your haiku initiate my full-length poems.


  10. I think this poem has the potential to be another gem of the English language. Allow it me to rewrite it from the point of view of a schoolboy and I’ll post it on my wordpress site crediting us as co-authors with a link to your original version.


    • You can alter it however you like, but don’t call it “co-authored” since that’s not really what it is. Better to call it your own spin on on my poem, or inspired by it, or a variation on the same. And feel free to call it a breathtaking improvement if you see fit. :)


  11. I was reading this poem closely again tonight as I have Tennyson’s version. Like several of your haiku, it’s one of those that makes my mind race with possibility—particularly if it were also narrated by a schoolboy—and one rested day I plan to recast it to a boy’s meet the girl’s point of view. Nevertheless, I still risk a pitfall similar to yours as a girl: That is, my fictional schoolboys tend to ruminate like philosophs way beyond their years qualified only by an equally precocious romantic twitter with tweens like your narrator. We could account for this pitfall by raising the age of our narrators to 21 perhaps, and making them philosophy majors at Swarthmore. Or we could have these outliers meet, as I plan to do in my version of the poem, and convey Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer into the 21st Century. From the standpoint of your narrator, what does mine need to know?


    • Don’t know about you, but I was more philosophical, and experimentally so, when I was a teen. But I’ve always been strange. The only difference between me then and now is that I probably wouldn’t have been as coherent; but then you, as a reader, either accept the poetic convention or you don’t. Nobody is going to expound/soliloquize on their lives in blank verse while riding downhill on a long board. If you’re going to fuss over verisimilitude, then you should probably stick to free verse and write a teen-aged version of a Charles Bukowski poem, for shorter (modern) attention spans. As for advice, yours needs to know that she’s not into boys. It’s in the first couple lines. :)


  12. “As for advice, yours needs to know that she’s not into boys.”

    I had no idea. Nevertheless it is possible that having the girl see other girls as potential lovers is a heteronomative artifice that allows you to develop her character more comfortably by having her like girls as you do. Moreover, I’ve heard several men say w/w love scenes (especially in film) tend to catalyze their heterosexuality. Of course, by the same paradox, I could be using girls to like boys to like girls, to catalyze my own heterosexuality–or what’s left of it– through some byzantine dynamic of object identification with an ideal self. I’m little rusty on Freud, but suffice it to say we could be really fucked up. So much so, I’m rather amused.


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