Poetry and Politics in New Hampshire

How about this for an exciting new kerfuffle: A New Hampshire politician, “someone on the legislature”, has decided the state needs an official “State Poem”. The choice is potentially going to be made this Thursday — apparently. How did I get wind of it? Another local poet, Dave Celone, forwarded the following:

Dear NH Poets and Readers,

There is a proposal that there be a state poem, being considered this week, on Thursday.

I am writing to you to ask if you would read this and get in touch with your representative (see info below) about it. My feeling is that this poem is inappropriate for a number of reasons. One is that, in a state where Jews (such as myself), Muslims, Buddhists, and people of other faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists, live, a poem that speaks of “Christ our Lord” is not a good choice. Even our Governor speaks passionately of inclusion. Other reasons not to choose this particular poem include the fact that it simply is an amateur work, and we live in a state that has fostered, and continues to foster, serious, skilled poets.

Yes, one could argue that there is much that is lovely, heart-felt and NH-based in this poem; but, for a number of reasons, I, along with other poets I’ve spoken to, including the president of the NH Poetry Society, Don Kimball, would like to see a different approach to this interesting idea of a state poem.

My proposal is that it would be wiser, and more exciting, to put out a state-wide call for entries. These could be poems already written, that poets and readers in our state would like to submit for consideration, or ones that we NH poets write. A committee made up of a team of knowledgeable readers and writers would choose from among the “candidates” submitted, looking for a worthwhile poem, with language that would inspire more inclusion as well as reflect the best in NH, to represent poetry in our state, and make a recommendation to the legislature.

Please read the proposed poem and contact your state representative. If you agree with me, let him or her know that this is not the poem for NH today or for the future, and that you would like to see implemented a process such as what I’ve outlined above, in order for us to make an informed, valid choice for this consideration of a state poem. Remember, the vote happens this Thursday morning! Thank you. And please spread the word!

The email goes on to cite the bill: “HB 152, the one proposing establishing a state poem, is scheduled for discussion in the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee on Thursday 1/22 at 11:00 AM in the Legislative Office Building, Room 306.I was skeptical at first — my chain-mail alarms were going off — but, no, the bill’s for real. Here are the details, taken from the New Hampshire’s legislative website.

HB152
Session Year 2015
Bill Docket
Bill Status
Text [HTML] [PDF]
Title: establishing a state poem.

G-Status: HOUSE
House Status: IN COMMITTEE
Senate Status:
Next/Last Comm: HOUSE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND ADMINISTRATION
Next/Last Hearing: 01/22/2015 at 11:00 AM    LOB 306

Just back in July, and down south, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory nominated — by executive/royal fiat it seems — Valerie Macon. For an artistic form that nobody cares about, all hell broke loose. The typical complaint leveled against Macon was the following:

“Valerie Macon is a beginner in her poetry career. Laureate is for people with national and statewide reputations. If you don’t honor that basic criteria of literary excellence and laureates being poets at the top of their game, than what’s the purpose of the laureate position?” [Melville House]

The counter-example was North Carolina’s prior poet laureate Joseph Bathanti, six books of poetry in tow and a recipient of awards and fellowships. Personally, I’m not the least impressed by Bathanti’s poetry. A count of books published is next to meaningless; and awards and fellowships are a dime a dozen. If poetic quality were ever a requirement for Poet Laureate-ness, then we’d have few, if any Poet Laureates. So, I personally wasn’t buying the she’s-not-a-good-enough-poet objection. Neither was Bathanti (and neither is our current Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey). They’re competent.

The real complaint (and not without some legitimacy) can be summed up as follows:

“Pat McCrory made his selection with no input from the North Carolina Arts Council – which oversaw nominating and vetting in previous years – North Carolina’s poetry community reacted to her appointment with swift vehemence.” [&newsobserver.com]

In short, McCrory passed over the self-appointed guardians of literary-choosing — they who sit on the North Carolina Arts Council. How dare he. It does need stating, however, that there is no law requiring a governor to vet his choice with the Arts Council. That said, neither side, in my opinion, handled themselves well. Those offended by McCrory’s decision saw it as a partisan Republican snub, presumably, of liberals’ self-appointed, artistic pretensions:

“…this particular maverick political act doesn’t rank with McCrory’s legislative disdain for women, children, the middle and lower classes or the environment, but his cultural disdain for the people of North Carolina is almost as insidious. …could McCrory be sacrificing the hapless Macon in an effort to eliminate the laureate program altogether? You can anticipate his smug 2016 statement: “We’ve evaluated the effectiveness of the poet laureate over the last two years and have decided the position no longer merits taxpayer funding.” The budget line item is, however, tiny—the News and Observer reported the laureate’s stipend as between $5,000 and $15,000. That’s around 5 percent of the taxpayer funds McCrory had planned to spend to renovate his Executive Mansion bathrooms until public furor flushed his boondoggle last year.” [Chris Vitiello: IndyWeek]

While accusing McCrory of boorish manners, the same crowd eviscerated the hapless poet Valerie Macon — and that’s what nettles me. The North Carolina Arts Council (and individuals like Chris Vitiello) had a chance to step up. They could have accepted Macon, encouraged her, and shown some real class and humanity. Instead, they decided the whole affair was about them,  and effectively eviscerated Valerie Macon. Sure, she may have self-published her books — so what? — and she may not have been the recipient of awards or fellowships — so what? — but she might have been a great Poet Laureate. It doesn’t take much to be a good Poet Laureate — writing decent poetry is not a prerequisite. In the meantime, Macon appears to have closed her website and withdrawn from public view. That’s a shame.

The best post I’ve found on the subject has this to say:

“North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is a Republican and most definitely not a fan of the liberal arts. He’s also anti-gay, hates the Affordable Care Act, cut unemployment benefits, has been accused of voter suppression and believes the “educational elite” (that’s GOP code for pinko, homo, commie, hippie liberals) have taken over the schools and universities. So, his selection of Valerie Macon as the new state poet laureate should come as no surprise.

McCrory bypassed the North Carolina Arts Council and selected Macon on his own. Some believe that McCrory picked Macon because she’s a fellow Republican who speaks and writes in a voice far removed from the “elitists” he disparages on a regular basis. Of course, by selecting the hapless Macon, the governor has made her both a political and artistic football. Despite her political leanings, I have no doubt that Macon is mortified and hurt by the vitriol unleashed upon her by fellow poets, the press  and on social media. By all accounts, Macon was just as surprised as anyone else by her appointment and was not seeking the job.”

And getting right to the point:

“The North Carolina Arts Council has seen its budget slashed, which is a typical move in Republican controlled states. Reading accounts of last year’s political maneuverings, it’s obvious that if the GOP had its way the arts council would cease to exist. So, it also comes as no surprise that McCrory would not seek the advice of a council that he would like to abolish. When pressed by the media about appointing Macon, the governor made some remarks about opening up opportunities for people who aren’t part of an “elite group” (note the use of “elite” again) and that he believed it was a good idea to “welcome new voices and new ideas.” [Collin Kelly: Modern Confessional]

But getting back to Governor Pat McCrory, the bruhaha demonstrates just how thoroughly anything and everything can become partisan. And that brings us back to New Hampshire. What kind of poem might the New Hampshire legislature adopt? Here it is:

 My Homeland Sea

Sitting alone on a coral beach,
I looked far out to sea,
And memories cherished reflected then,
Of days that used to be.

The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
The quiet woodlands, the New England farm,
The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
Are only a few of the visions I saw.

Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
The day that Christ, Our Lord, was born,
New Years – birthdays – weddings – and births,
Burning embers in hand hewn hearths.

Will I see them again, I then asked of myself,
These things man can’t buy with material wealth?
Will I again see those mountains and the valleys below,
All covered in winter with a blanket of snow?

Will the church by the roadside with its white steeple high,
Still be sheltered by willows beneath the blue sky?
Will the robins in springtime still play on the lawn,
And the sleeping flowers blossom at each waking of the dawn?

The air of pines, the morning fog,
The singing loon on the cranberry bog,
The rockbound coast, my homeland sea,
Will they still be there awaiting me?

And the lovely lass I left behind,
Those memories, too, are on my mind.
Will she still be there when war is done,
And proudly sailing home we come?
And clouds once dark turn fleecy white,
And men no more for freedoms fight.

When human hearts rejoice in peace,
And America ours for life to lease,
When guns are silenced and lands are free,
The answers then will come to me.

Richard T. Hartnett
Navy Patrol Bombing Squadron 16
Saipan, Marianas Campaign
November 1944

It’s a wonderfully heartfelt poem written by a poetaster.  To the extent that it’s a private poem, I have no quarrel with it. But as a poem thrust before us as the poem of the state of New Hampshire? I reluctantly critique. It’s a well-meaning poem rife with all the expected flaws of an amateur poet – mawkish, sentimental, precious. What’s not to love if you’re a politician?

And memories cherished reflected then,
Of days that used to be.

newhampshire1895As always, there’s a difference between writing poetically, and writing poetry. Hartnett’s poem is a prime example of the former. The archly poetic phrasing of “memories cherished reflected then” is so precious and syntactically contorted as to be almost incomprehensible. Nobody talks like this. Experienced poets don’t write like this. This is the kind of stuff that made Ezra Pound cringe. It’s a throwback to the aesthetics of the Victorian era.

Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
The day that Christ, Our Lord, was born…

The poem obviously presumes a Christian readership — and that surely appeals to a certain brand of politician. If the poem is to be the representative poem of New Hampshire, then the message is clear: We are a Christian state and Christ is “Our Lord” — and your Lord too (by the way). But setting that aside, more of the author’s amateurishness is on display. What else is Christmas morn but the day that Christ was born? It’s more than a little redundant. The two lines come off as mawkish with a touch of Sunday-school pedagogy. The truth of the matter is that born rhymed with morn. Hartnett, like any amateur poet, sacrifices quality for the easy rhyme.

Will I again see those mountains and the valleys below,
All covered in winter with a blanket of snow?

Hartnet wants to rhyme with snow, so he writes the completely gratuitous below. Ask yourself, when has a valley ever been anything other than below? Mountains below? Valleys above? The next line descends further into rank amateurishness. All covered as opposed to covered? A thing is either covered or it isn’t.  Hartnett is simply padding the line. So, the valleys are all covered, but even that’s not enough. Hartnett then adds the superfluous blanket. There’s not much going on in these lines.

Will the church by the roadside with its white steeple high

A grammatical inversion for the sake of rhyme. The hallmark of the amateur formalist.

Still be sheltered by willows beneath the blue sky?

When has a steeple been anything other than beneath the sky? More gratuitous redundancy.

…waking of the dawn…

Pure cliché.

The air of pines, the morning fog,
The singing loon on the cranberry bog,

Possibly the best lines in the poem. No redundancies. No syntactic pirouettes for the sake of rhyme.

 Those memories, too, are on my mind.

As opposed to where? Where else would those memories be but ‘on his mind’? More gratuitous padding.

And clouds once dark turn fleecy white…

Yes, the cliché of clichés — ‘fleecy white’. It doesn’t get better than this if you’re a connoisseur of clichés.

When human hearts rejoice in peace,
And America ours for life to lease…

The second of the two lines is a syntactic disaster, utterly distorted and almost incomprehensible — all for the sake of a bad rhyme.

My advice? This is a wonderful, personal poem written by a young soldier yearning for an end to war. Leave it at that. It was never meant to be New Hampshire’s state poem. There are much better poems, better written and more inclusive. What about Robert Frost’s New Hampshire, written in Vermont?

In the meantime, I notice that another poem has been forwarded as an alternative, one by Andre Papillon.

New Hampshire Impressions

This bridge of land has been unlocked
From careful hand to masts of rock
That loom and stretch the ribboned road
Has quarried most, that green she coats
Then inks to black where eyes of doe
Flit swift and cold near boulder’s throne

By cutting gullies, frothing white
The heads of moss poke holes through night
And burdened there with cat-like eyes
Are sparkler brights on country heights
Whose patient rovers crossing lanes
Drop tracks of rolls and coffee stains

& Etc…

My apologies to Andre Papillon, but this isn’t any better. The use of meter and rhyme does not excuse poor grammar and incomprehensible syntax. If we take the first stanzas and turn them into prose, this is what we get:

This bridge of land has been unlocked from careful hand to masts of rock that loom and stretch the ribboned road has quarried most, that green she coats then inks to black where eyes of doe flit swift and cold near boulder’s throne by cutting gullies, frothing white the heads of moss poke holes through night and burdened there with cat-like eyes are sparkler brights on country heights whose patient rovers crossing lanes drop tracks of rolls and coffee stains (period?) …

This is doggerel. My advice to poets writing traditional poetry is this: If it’s not readable prose, then it’s not going to be readable poetry. A passage that utilizes rhyme and meter should withstand a turn to prose. That is, the rules that govern prose govern poetry. E.E. Cummings, you object! Yes, but E.E. Cummings choices were a careful and deliberate departure. It’s not easy, and there’s only been one E.E. Cummings. Emily Dickinson? Sometimes she’s successful. Sometimes not. Despite her genius, her poetry can be incomprehensible without annotation.

Beyond that, Papillon’s poem suffers from the same flaws as Hartnett’s, in one instance indulging in precisely the same gratuitous excess (for the sake of rhyme):

A cloud of crow, a wash of dove
Round heights that ice has gripped above

Just as with with Hartnett’s “valley’s below”, Papillon gives us ice that has “gripped above”. As opposed to where? Below? This kind of gratuitousness is the hallmark of the inexperienced rhymer — the sort of thing that makes free verse practitioners groan.

My advice to the New Hampshire legislature: Make it an inclusive poem, yes; but make it a good poem. If you’re not a carpenter, you might want to think long and hard before you build your own house. Likewise, don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice from those with some experience in the poetic trade. It’s not about elitism. It’s about choosing a poem that represents the best in poetic craftsmanship — and New Hampshire.

Written from up in Vermont: January 19th 2015

Or as Robert Frost once put it:

It’s restful to arrive at a decision,
And restful just to think about New Hampshire.
At present I am living in Vermont.

Poet-Robert-Frost-in-Affable-Portrait-Axe-Slung-over-Shoulder

28 responses

  1. The poet laureate position is all about public relations and representing the craft to the community, and that was Governor McCrory’s main consideration. Scratch any one of the critics of his choice of Mrs. Macon and what will reek is an Ezra Pound of the left. If these persons were honest with themselves they’d be satisfied with their monopoly of the UNC system and welcome the communal tokenism of McCrory’s selection. The inveterately pleasant Mrs. Macon would have been paid a paltry $10K to represent poetry to the public schools, community colleges, and proletarian taxpayers–$140,000 less per year than UNC’s highest paid poet in residence. I am a T.S. Elliot of the right (without his talent admittedly) and I can be honest with myself. I have absolutely no business reading my poems in elementary schools or public libraries and certainly not on the taxpayers’ dime. There are only a very few liberal and conservatives poets who have the balance of content and social skills to ingratiate broad audiences or to talk nice to everyone on the phone, and I do not begrudge them. They are a necessary pro-social, pro-humanitarian component of civil society, and they cover for those of us poets (right and left) who’d rather not, permitting us the liberty to doubt and brood and polemicize in solitude wherever that leads us. Thank God for them! Sing their praises! Which brings me to the current New Hampshire state poem. Granted, Patrick, your critique of its technical merit is spot on. But I have to say I absolutely trust this poet’s sincerity and devotion to New Hampshire. A technically perfect poem could be written by a sociopath. Does your idolization of talent have no limits? As for the Jewish gentleman’s objection and his concern for “inclusion,” everywhere this argument has been embraced it has turned out to be a smokescreen for molding reality rather than reflecting it. For example, initially it found its most receptive audience in the Ivy League schools, with the result that today the most underrepresented ethnic group at Harvard is gentile whites—in a country in which they are a majority, though admittedly a dwindling majority in their self-fulfilling role of late—notably as designated fall guy for “white privilege,” sexism, racism, colonialism, and dozens of other grievances and critiques generated by (increasingly tenured) “historically oppressed minorities.” In view of these facts, New Hampshire should seriously rethink its intention. Is it really soliciting a more representative state poem or unwittingly opening its borders to a trojan horse of dispossession, displacement, and compulsory guilt?

    • Sounds like you’re very familiar with the whole McCrory episode. I thought about writing a post at the time, but for some reason didn’t. The criticism that Macon hadn’t published any books or received any awards certainly smacks of elitism — as if she hadn’t played the approved game, hadn’t payed her dues to the system, hadn’t properly kowtowed to the self-appointed select. Sure there’s more to it than that but

      As for me and my idolization of talent — interesting question. Are there limits? Limiting the question to poetry (or music), then no. There are no limits to my — appreciation of, fascination with, study of — talent/genius. I question whether a sociopath would be capable of producing great art — being that great art, in my opinion, relies on the artist’s compassion, insight into human nature, capacity to love, sorrow, suffer, rejoice, forgive, celebrate. A sociopath, by definition, suffers deficits in all these traits (if they’re present at all). So, a sociopath might write a “technically” perfect poem, but would it be any good? Technical perfection doesn’t, in and of itself, make great art — I think the Restoration more or less settled that question.

      As to inclusiveness… I’m not sure racial quotas are comparable to choosing a state poem. I just don’t think there’s a parallel (but for the use of the word “inclusive” or “exclusive”). There’s no need for a state poem that establishes Christ as “our Lord”. Choosing a more “secular” poem, like “Stopping by Woods”, isn’t a Trojan horse that’s going to dispossess or displace anyone. So, I guess I reject your analogy (though your points are worth a separate discussion).

      I guess one could choose a new state poem every year (like a Poet Laureate) but that would open a Pandora’s box. If anyone ever thought poets were an unpleasant breed before, this would cement the proposition.

  2. New Hampshire Live

    The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
    The woodlands and New England farm,
    The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
    I see them from the battlefield.

    Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
    The day that Christ, my Lord, was born,
    New Years, birthdays, weddings, births,
    Burning embers in wrought-iron hearths–

    I see New Hampshire when they fire
    And facing death today—again–
    I ask my God to let me live
    For New Years, birthdays, weddings, births

    The things a man can’t buy with wealth
    The sight of mountains, valleys, green
    Or covered white in blanket snow
    The steepled church of my boyhood

    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Just as did my girl and me
    Beneath the breathless willow’s bloom
    Promise marriage to the sky.

    The sleeping flowers blossom dawn
    The scent of pines, the morning fog,
    The singing loon on cranberry bog,
    The rockbound coast of homeland sea,

    Will that New Hampshire stay for me?
    The lovely lass I left behind,
    Our family growing by the year
    If I survive this war’s lament.

    But if I die before there’s peace
    May living hearts not miss a beat
    Dark clouds will turn to fleecy white,
    Another spring New Hampshire lives.

    Richard T. Hartnett
    Navy Patrol Bombing Squadron 16
    Saipan, Marianas Campaign
    November 1944

    • Well, aside from a couple Hail Marys, like “Just as did my girl and me…”, I’ll be damned if you didn’t improve the poem — and greatly so. It’s still “bad”, but bad in that good, populist, smarmy way that’s the hallmark of successful patriotic pomposity. You need to change the author, though. It’s no longer Richard Hartnett, but Hartnett ~ as revised by Cliff.

      Also, I was sorry to see “When guns are silenced and lands are free…” removed from your revision. If that little piece of anti-gun/2nd Amendment (sort of) sentiment slips under the radar, it’s gonna’ totally make up for the “Christ, our Lord” bit. You should put that back in. I’m going to have a field day with that line when New Hampshire, the live free or die state, approves the poem.

  3. Clarification: the bill is not to solicit poems but to establish “My Homeland Sea” as the official poem. I missed that point in my initial reading of your column, which helps me with your objection. But I still like the poem. It has soul; otherwise I couldn’t have tuned into it. An element of that soul which non-believers might appreciate is the undercurrent of pantheism that runs through it.

  4. My schedule is a little off today. Time to give this a rest. See what you think of the subs. Maybe a little too “ethereal”???

    New Hampshire Live

    The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
    The woodlands and New England farm,
    The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
    I see them from the battlefield.

    Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
    The day that Christ, my Lord, was born,
    New Years, birthdays, weddings, births,
    Burning embers in wrought-iron hearths–

    I see New Hampshire when they fire
    And facing death today—again–
    I ask my God to let me live
    For New Years, birthdays, weddings, births

    The things a man can’t buy with wealth
    The sight of mountains, valleys, green
    Or covered white in blanket snow
    The steepled church of my boyhood

    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Inspiring me to join them—climb
    The breathless willow’s branch
    Promise marriage to the sky.

    The sleeping flowers blossom dawn
    The scent of pines, the morning fog,
    The singing loon on cranberry bog,
    The rockbound coast of homeland sea,

    Will that New Hampshire stay for me?
    The lovely lass I left behind,
    Our family growing by the year
    If I survive this war’s lament.

    But if I die before there’s peace
    May living hearts not miss a beat
    Dark clouds will turn to fleecy white,
    Another spring New Hampshire lives.

    I hear the robins happy sing
    Of silent guns and lands now free
    And so can you who climb my branch
    And see me smiling in the sky.

  5. o.k. a day later and everything seems organic except stanzas 5 and 9, the last. Willows are too flimsy to climb, especially their branches. Then I see where the New Hampshire state tree is a birch. Plus, “marriage to the sky” is too artsy for a soldier. So:

    (5th)
    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Inspiring me to join them—climb
    The breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to the sky.

    (last)
    I hear the robins’ happy sing
    Of silent guns and lands now free
    I climb the breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to the sky.

    But my mind races even now. An official state song in which the protagonist pledges allegiance to the sky—maybe “her sky” to indicate New Hampshire’s sky:

    (5th)
    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Inspiring me to join them—climb
    The breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    (last)
    I hear the robins’ happy sing
    Of silent guns and lands now free
    I climb the breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    Or, perhaps a single robin’s sky:

    (5th)
    The springtime robin’s happy song
    Inspiring me to join her—climb
    The breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    (last)
    I hear the robin’s happy sing
    Of silent guns and lands now free
    I climb the breathless birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    Other considerations: while a willow tree’s branches look breathless a birch’s do not. “Branch” sounds better than “bough.” The finch is the New Hampshire state bird, and it is a song bird. “cajoling” sounds less academic than “inspire.” So now:

    (5th)
    The springtime finch’s happy song
    Cajoling me to join her—climb
    The mighty birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    (9th)
    I hear the finch’s happy song
    Of silent guns and lands now free
    I climb the mighty birch’s bough
    Pledge allegiance to her sky.

    Yet more considerations: “bough” vs. “branch,” “her sky” or “the sky” etc. But overall I think the tone is more authentic for someone fighting a war.

    well, time for another rest. Have at it. And thanks.

  6. Incidentally, as far as revised authorship goes I like the sound of “Poetry Team Hartnett”

    Richard T. Hartnett
    Navy Patrol Bombing
    Squadron 16
    Saipan, Marianas Campaign
    November 1944

    Cliff & Patrick
    January 2015

    His is the soul of the poem and we should honor that. I have about 4 hours in it and my compression of the material was informed (driven?) by your analysis of its technique. But seeing how I live in NC and you live in Vermont good luck finding a New Hampshire state congressman who will introduce it. It might help though if you lighten up a little on your view of politicians.

    • Okay, first of all, there’s no such thing as a “mighty birch”. You’re obviously a flatlander. Even standing under one of the big ones makes a man nervous. (There’s a reason Frost was a “swinger” of birches.) Secondly, birch’s aren’t known for their “boughs”. They’re more like overgrown toothpicks. And why would you pledge allegiance to the “sky”? Also, and unfortunately, you retain the redundancy of “covered” and “blanket”.

      “The singing loon on cranberry bog…”

      If you ever show up on my blog again without a proper indefinite article, I’m going to shoot you. (And the NRA will back me up.)

      “May living hearts not miss a beat”

      As opposed to ‘dead ones’? :-)

      All of your revisions are improvements over the original (as far as a properly jingoistic state poem goes), but I still lean toward your first revision as your best. I think your last revision, esp. the last stanza, tries a little too hard — sort of takes the reader by the gushing, sentimental throat.

      And “Poetry Team Hartnett”? What, is that like “Team America”? — or the “A-Team”? You crack me up…

      Edit: Just yesterday, the US Senate couldn’t agree on the causes of Climate Change, and you want me to lighten up on Politicians? I guess we’ll find out today whether Hartnett’s poem becomes the official state poem. I don’t expect it will, but wonders never cease.

  7. You are the Ricky Roma of poetry critics—one of my favorite movies by the way. So I guess I’m at the right place. I’ll sort through your leads and see what I can do with them. But, please, go easy on Williamson.

  8. Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed. Whew. 5 and 9 remain a Sisyphean merry-go-round or whatever the metaphor is. Strange, everything else was effortless. This is where poetry should be a collaborative effort like theater. Call in Wallace Stevens to deal with the birds. Or Alfred Hitchcock. Or Vermont. Well, this version does seem more “down to earth” so to speak. A lot less skywalking. And it can be read to a child—which, as you pointed out in your blog, is the sign of a good poem. Incidentally, I toned down the religion in this version to keep the sentiment more voluntary. Mark, amend, substitute as you please.

    New Hampshire Live

    The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
    The woodlands and New England farm,
    The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
    I see them from the battlefield.

    Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
    The day mom said my Lord was born,
    New Years, birthdays, weddings, births,
    Burning embers in wrought-iron hearths–

    I see New Hampshire when they fire
    And facing death today—again–
    I ask my God to let me live
    For New Years, birthdays, weddings, births

    The things a man can’t buy with wealth
    The sight of mountains, valleys, green
    Or sloping white in blanket snow
    The steepled church of my boyhood

    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Cajoling us to sing along
    Of birches peaking in the sky
    Yet keeping promise to the ground.
    .
    The sleeping flowers blossom dawn
    The scent of pines, the morning fog,
    The singing loon on the cranberry bog,
    The rockbound coast of homeland sea,

    Will that New Hampshire stay for me?
    The lovely lass I left behind,
    Our family growing by the year
    If I survive this war’s lament.

    But if I die before there’s peace
    May every heart not miss a beat
    Dark clouds will turn to fleecy white,
    Another spring New Hampshire lives.

    I hear the robins happy sing
    Of silent guns and lands soon free
    And so will I when this war’s done
    Sing when landing back to earth.

    • Your first effort, flaws and all, remains your best.

      “The day mom said my Lord was born…”

      Really? The day your Mom told you? Cliff. Honestly.

      “I ask my God…”

      As opposed to the enemy’s God?

      “For New Years, birthdays, weddings, births…”

      Deja vous all over again.

      “Or sloping white in blanket snow…”

      Yeah, keep beating that horse. It’s not dead yet. Still redundant.

      “Of birches peaking in the sky…”

      As opposed to the birches peaking in the livingroom?

      “The sleeping flowers blossom dawn…”

      …blossom[ing in the]…

      “The rockbound coast of homeland sea…”

      …[the] homeland sea…

      “If I survive this war’s lament…”

      Lament? Isn’t that putting it a little mildly?

      “May every heart…”

      As opposed to “this or that” heart?

      “I hear the robins happy sing…”

      …happ[ily]

      “And so will I when this war’s done
      Sing when landing back to earth.”

      Good thing you wrote “sing” again, cause when you wrote “so will I”, I thought you meant ice skate.

      Think of my sarcasm is the playful kind, one chump to another… ;-)

  9. Thanks. I’m going to let it rest a couple of days…drink some Keats…and come back to it… These knots never untie in a rush.

    Btw, I checked out Frost’ poem on New Hampshire and it was awful. I had no idea Frost could write that badly. But that was encouraging in a way…

  10. Incidentally, when you have the time could you do an article on line breaks and indentation…this kind of thing,,,

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX

    When are they for emphasis, timing or drama and who has used them most effectively. Or maybe you can recommend a website.

    Thanks.

    • I’m not sure what you’re asking for. If it’s a reference to free-verse, then there’s really no “prosody” of line length. It’s basically whatever the poet says, and if the poet’s dead, then it’s open season for the reader or critic. I reviewed another book a while back called Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody. The author, Charles Hartmann, tried to establish a prosody of free verse (which necessarily involves line length) but was unconvincing in my opinion.

    • Yes, your article is a good place to start…like…

      Shadows cast by the street light
      ·······under the stars
      ··············the head is tilted back,
      the long shadow of the legs
      ·······presumes a world
      ··············taken for granted
      on which the cricket trills.

      What is gained by that vs. total left? I never use it because it seems a distraction.

    • In my own opinion and experience, which may not be the same for other poets, these kinds of line indents essentially serve the same purpose as paragraphs in prose – especially fiction. A paragraph denotes contiguities of thought and narrative (for lack of a better explanation). You’ve probably done it yourself a thousand times when writing a letter, email, or whatever. You know, with a little shift of thought and focus, that it’s time for a new paragraph.

      There’s also another analogy to be made, and that’s to coding. Each indentation of code generally indicates that X is a subset of instructions pertaining to Y. So, you indent X in relation to Y to denote that it is a subset of Y. If you look at WCW’s method, you can discern a similar sort of thing going on. The indentations give a sort of visual cue to the ordering of ideas within the poem. In certain ways, the method is strikingly like a sentence diagram. Free versifiers in general (perhaps unaware of their method) essentially break down their lines into syntactic units (syntactic verse). WCW breaks down his lines into discrete prepositional phrases and appositives.

      It primarily gives the poem a certain visual elegance and (usually the illusion of) structure distinct from ordinary prose; but is utterly meaningless aurally.

    • Thanks for your response (of January 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm ). I see now. And I had googled and googled on this without ever getting close to your clarity.

  11. O.k. Maybe I’ve got the thematic unity taken care of, especially between the 5th and 9th stanzas, and it’s clearer he’s a pilot. I see a dozen or so word subs I could make or fiddle with all day. “Climb” or “light” or “seize”; “bent” or “bowed” or “puffed”; “just now” or “we took” ; “Shep or dog” ; and on and on and on. “Shep” or “dog” you might laugh, but in my uncle’s WWII letters from the European theater he asked about Shep in almost every letter. Regarding adverbs, the speaker is flying a combat mission—and even I under comparatively lighter stress scrimp on my grammar. Also, I happen to feel/see the image better without the “ly”. Btw, if you still miss the “silent gun/land free” trope I could address that in a separate stanza.

    New Hampshire Live

    The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
    The woodlands and New England farm,
    The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
    I see them from the battlefield.

    Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
    The day that Christ, my Lord, was born,
    New Years, birthdays, weddings, births,
    Burning embers in wrought-iron hearths–

    I see New Hampshire when they fire
    And facing death today—again–
    I ask dear God to let me live
    For mom and dad and Trish and Shep

    The things a man can’t buy with wealth
    The sight of mountains, valleys, green
    Or birches bent by drifting snow
    The steepled church of my boyhood

    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Inspiring us to join them, climb
    The breathless willow’s branch
    Seek for union with the sky.
    .
    The sleeping flowers blossom dawn
    The scent of pines, the morning fog,
    The singing loon on the cranberry bog,
    The rockbound coast of homeland sea,

    Will that New Hampshire stay for me?
    The lovely lass I left behind,
    Our family growing by the year
    If I survive this war’s torment.

    But if I die before there’s peace
    May every heart not miss a beat
    Dark clouds will turn to fleecy white,
    Another spring New Hampshire lives…

    I hear the robins’ happy song
    Sweeter than the flack just now
    Look and see me in the sky
    Wave hello and I’ll wave back.

  12. Re: Creative redundancy:

    The day that Christ, my Lord, was born

    The place where Christ, my Lord, was born

    The Star that says my Lord is born

    The land where Christ, my Lord, was born

    The manger of the Prince of Peace

    The magi’s hopes beneath the tree

    The manger of my Savior Lord [!!!!]

  13. New Hampshire Live

    The wintry blasts, the summer calm,
    The woodlands and New England farm,
    The sleeping pines, the springtime thaw,
    I see them from the battlefield [battlespace].

    Thanksgiving day and Christmas morn,
    The manger of my Savior Lord
    New Years, birthdays, weddings, births,
    Burning embers in wrought-iron hearths–

    I see New Hampshire when they fire
    And facing death today—again–
    I ask dear God to let me live
    For mom and dad and Trish and Shep

    The things a man can’t buy with wealth
    The sight of mountains, valleys, green
    Or birches bent by drifting snow
    The steepled church of my boyhood

    The springtime robins’ happy song
    Inspiring us to join them, climb
    The breathless willow’s branch
    Seek for union with the sky.
    .
    The sleeping flowers blossom dawn
    The scent of pines, the morning fog,
    The singing loon on the cranberry bog,
    The rockbound coast of homeland sea,

    Will that New Hampshire stay for me?
    The lovely lass I left behind,
    Our family growing by the year
    If I survive this war’s torment.

    But if I die before there’s peace
    May every heart not miss a beat
    Dark clouds will turn to fleecy white,
    Another spring New Hampshire lives…

    The burst of shell at nine o’clock
    The starboard engine’s deathly roar
    Is not enough to wound my dream
    New Hampshire free, then us, again…

    I hear the robins’ happy song
    Sweeter than the flack just now
    Look and see me in the sky
    Wave hello and I’ll wave back.

  14. I’ve been through so many iterations of it I’m not sure which the original is. Why don’t you give it your best shot or tweak? It’s a good exercise in “Theory of Mind” –theory of a politician’s mind. True, this probably involves a little less dissonance for me, since my original ambition was to be a politician. I’ll email the results to the pertinent New Hampshire legislator, ask him for his or her thoughts on it, and maybe he’ll see fit to enter it into the transcript with appreciation to Poemshape or even to model it before their Arts Council as an exemplary State Poem. In this manner, it might also serve as a positive incentive to get local New Hampshire poets going on this. I mean, if Vermont and North Carolina can find such treasure and faith in New Hampshire why can’t they?

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